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Saturday, December 06, 2014

We're On A Road To Nowhere

Ahh, I'm gonna need you to go ahead and not pay attention to this meme, m'kay? 

One of the things the statists always cry for is roads. They frequently say “Without government, who would build the roads?!” It’s become a common argument used against libertarians, but also something that libertarians love throwing back in their faces. We know that private companies will build roads because they’ve been building toll roads for hundreds of years in this country. In fact the first paved road in this country was built by a private company in Pennsylvania in 1795. If private companies could do it then, they can certainly do it now. The government is completely unnecessary.
...
We should be investigating incompetence and corruption and eliminating it. It will eventually happen to the government as the people learn the folly of big government and the importance of liberty once more. We’ll get rid of government’s providing services like roads and hire private companies ourselves.

Oh, jeebus fuck, where to even begin?

In fairness I guess I should grant that libertarians are right, in general, that the government does not actual send out civil servants to build the roads.  Nor does NASA build rockets.  Nor does the DoD build drones.

What of it?

As free marketer Adam Smith observed in Wealth of Nations:

The third and last duty of the sovereign or commonwealth is that of erecting and maintaining those public institutions and those public works, which, though they may be in the highest degree advantageous to a great society, are, however, of such a nature that the profit could never repay the expence to any individual or small number of individuals, and which it therefore cannot be expected that any individual or small number of individuals should erect or maintain...[The] works and institutions of this kind are chiefly those for facilitating the commerce of the society, and those for promoting the instruction of the people.

Government is supposed to do some shit because even the Invisible Hand doesn't want to be sullied by certain things important to the public good.  To amplify, here's Mr Libertarian, Freddy Hayek, writing in The Road To Serfdom:

Where...it is impracticable to make the enjoyment of certain services dependent on the payment of a price, competition will not produce the services; and the price system becomes similarly ineffective when the damage caused to others by certain uses of property cannot be effectively charged to the owner of that property. In all these instances there is a divergence between the items which enter into private calculation and those which affect social welfare; and, whenever this divergence becomes important, some method other than competition may have to be found to supply the services in question.

Thus neither the provision of signposts on the roads nor, in most circumstances, that of the roads themselves can be paid for by every individual user. Nor can certain harmful effects of deforestation, of some methods of farming, or of the smoke and noise of factories be confined to the owner of the property in question or to those who are willing to submit to the damage for an agreed compensation. In such instances we must find some substitute for the regulation by the price mechanism...

What's more, even allowing that competition in a private road-building market would be a good thing for society:

An effective competitive system needs an intelligently designed and continuously adjusted legal framework as much as any other. Even the most essential prerequisite of its proper functioning, the prevention of fraud and deception (including exploitation of ignorance), provides a great and by no means yet fully accomplished object of legislative activity.

Consider the paved road referred to above.  Indeed, it was built by a private company.  Of course, the Commonwealth had been building roads itself for decades, had planned roads with the common weal in mind, and when the People asked for a new road, they asked the government to deliver for the public's utility.

Only then did Pennsylvania turn to the private company in question.  Which, at the time, didn't even exist.  So the Commonwealth had to pass an act of incorporation and make sure that the share subscriptions remained above board.

Government was also called to service by the company to enforce measures that protected toll revenues, as well as gave the company the powers of eminent domain to acquire needed land to build upon.  And the company didn't physically construct the roads, but rather hired contractors.

So...government is unnecessary?  Sounds fundamentally, absolutely necessary for the private company to get a chance to make a profit.

And really, how would the taxpayers even make this happen?  Am I supposed to go comparison shop for road building companies, then contract with them and landowners to get them laid down?  How do I work out conflict with other citizens?  Who supervises to make sure there's no fraud on the part of the companies doing/subcontracting the work?

Maybe I could appoint somebody to take care of that shit.  We could call it...George.  Or, maybe 'Government.'

ntodd

December 6, 2014 | Permalink

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Comments

No fair quoting Adam Smith to conservatives.

Posted by: Joseph Nobles | Dec 7, 2014 4:39:36 AM

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