In a previous post, I noted with irony that Eugene Fama listed roads matter-of-factly as an example of where government spending could be quite productive. In case some readers don’t understand, this is funny to Internet anarcho-capitalists, since a popular meme for us is, “Who Will Build the Roads?” I had asked if anybody knew whether Fama really thought government did a good job with roads (compared to the outcome in the private sector), or if perhaps he was just giving a standard example to show that he wasn’t preaching anarchy in his opposition to the Obama stimulus package.
Anyway, in the comments I was surprised to see some of the regulars here taken aback by most post. I thought the prima facie case against government ownership of roads was obvious, but OK:
One of the obvious flaws in government roads is that they don’t charge enough. That’s what causes traffic jams during rush hour. This isn’t a rare thing that happens on the day before Thanksgiving; it happens twice every workday. There are several hours when you just know “don’t try to drive if you can avoid it” if you live in a crowded area.
Whatever inefficiency Fama sees in the form of collecting payment on privately-produced roads, I have to imagine the lost productivity just due to New York City rush hour would dwarf it. I bet there are easily a million professionals who spend an extra two hours in traffic per workday, than they would have to in a private road system. Let’s say they generate an average of $50 per hour. So that’s easily $100 million per workday just in New York City alone.
Walter Block has written extensively on this topic. He likes to stress the large number of traffic fatalities that would undoubtedly be lower in a market road network. In other words, it’s not a fact of nature that such-and-such people die each year in traffic accidents. There are certain intersections and other areas that are notorious for accidents, and the political rulers aren’t nearly as concerned about fixing the problem as private owners would be.