10 Jan 2015

“But Who Would Build the Roads?”

Libertarianism, Shameless Self-Promotion, Tom Woods 10 Comments

Tom Woods and I tackle this old chestnut. Show notes here with lots of links.

10 Responses to ““But Who Would Build the Roads?””

  1. Z says:

    Fine, I’ll build them.

  2. Brent says:

    One thing you guys didn’t mention was that environmental rules are a big deal with logging rules.

    • Brent says:

      *logging roads*

    • Z says:

      Here’s the real question they missed: What about the squirrels who have properly homesteaded the tree lands and have to be forcibly removed by eminent domain to build the roads? What recourse, legal or otherwise, do they have?

      • guest says:

        The married squirrels could get jobs entertaining prairie dogs.

        *Crosses fingers*

  3. Bob Roddis says:

    That blog post is amazing. The guy shows that roads can be and are built by private business. Then, of course, he is unable or unwilling to discern the difference between voluntary cooperation, exchange and enterprises and projects that are based upon the initiation of force. Finally, he knows nothing about the essential information provided by undistorted prices which allow for economic calculation. This reminds me of Stiglitz last week claiming that NOBODY ever thought about QE promoting inequality.

    Our opponents being oblivious is what makes us the idiots.

  4. Warren says:

    Note: I have not yet listened to the podcast so I might be covering some of the same ground. My apologies if this sends people into a murderous frenzy.

    —-Remember, no large corporations exist without government in Libertopia (haha, I know).—-

    This destroys his argument completely. If he thinks this is what libertarians think then his whole argument is faulty. I’m guessing he only reads criticisms of libertarianism and not actual scholarship. And is not educated enough to understand the difference between a coercive monopoly and a “large corporation”. I’d like it explained to me how, even with no coercive barriers to entry, large firms would not come about.

    ——-Gates, gates, gates: I can’t tell you how many hours I spent unlocking, locking, and going through multiple and often redundant gates between property owners. The thought of highway-level traffic volumes going through these roads is laughable. Don’t even get me on started on key management. ——–

    This is something that I encounter a lot, this idea that in “Libertopia” businesses will do things in the hardest, stupidest way possible. Notice the references to EULAs in the comments. As if it would be in any way profitable to do that for every transaction. These people don’t seem to get that businesses routinely work to reduce costs AND to increase customer happiness. Lowering transaction hassles does both, but apparently no one will notice and you’ll have to sign a contract every time you buy a hotdog from a wiener-slinger.

    Also the effort to reduce costs leads to the discovery of new ways to do things, not just altering the old way but finding a whole new way. If private roads were persistently unprofitable then other modes of transportation would be invested in. Maybe more trains? Or once aircraft were invented maybe those would have become to big modes of transport.

    But given how incredibly useful roads are they would have been profitable, if not via tolls then through second order effects. For example roads in early America were often not money-makers directly (gov’t interference was a large part of this) but the connecting of a little town to the wider market was very profitable.

    One of the faults of statists (amongst many) is their inability to grant that others are perhaps as smart or smarter than they and thus can see how to make something that is difficult to do, work.

    —- Payment can be anything. Commonly it can be a one time fee to access a timber sale, agreeing to keep the road in good condition, paying per truck, paying per thousand board feet, the possibilities go on and on.—-

    I love this one. See business has numerous ways to get folks to voluntarily make a trade and this makes private roads impossible. Eh? Meanwhile gov’t has one way “Do what we tell you or die.” And that’s the better approach? Brutal efficiency over ethics I guess.

    And we’re not smart enough to build private roads but we are smart enough to create a system that can create roads at one remove? The expertise to create roads can only exist if gov’t exists? All the things that business has done, all the very hard things that have been accomplished and yet roads are what stymies the human race?

    Finally, if we’re responsible for all the hypothetical bad outcomes that exist in their strawman-filled heads, are they not responsible for all the real horrors that gov’ts have caused?

  5. Harold says:

    I understood the real argument to be not that there would be no roads, but there would be too few roads. I don’t think it is realistic to argue that roads would not exist at all. Comparison of public roads with forest roads is of limited use, since they are designed to do different things. For example, gates are not much of a problem on a road designed to take a very low volume of very heavy trucks. However, it is conceivable that the forest roads are under-used because of the difficulty of arranging small fees for limited use of the infrastructure.

  6. Tel says:

    Sydney has been expanding with a lot of privately built toll roads, not fully private, they are built to government contract and in return the private company does get access to eminent domain (I think we have a different name for it, but no one in Sydney owns their land anyhow, we have Torrens Title which is closer to a perpetual leasing agreement). The private company is allowed to operate toll gates, with support from government enforcement. Naturally, the State reserves the right to apply its road laws and police to these privately built roads (they aren’t about to give up that revenue stream).

    It’s worked OK, private companies do a much better job of building that the old government workers ever did, and the private investment money means the State can avoid pushing itself deep into debt. They also attract international investors this way.

    Also, the private company takes the risk, so if return on that particular project isn’t what was hoped for, that’s just too bad. This is in many ways a modern revisiting of the old “Turnpike Trusts” from the Industrial Revolution days, but with a limited contract time, after which the road reverts to public ownership.

    One particular example was the Cross City Tunnel which was a commercial failure, and also it was a public relations failure; with the government signing a secret contract (and apparently under agreement to keep it secret, regardless of public interest) and surface roads being adjusted in an attempt to force traffic to use the new tunnel. Citizens reacted very badly to this, and many refused to use the tunnel, eventually driving the operator corporation into bankruptcy. This government corruption (there’s no other name for it) and other dodgy incidents that came later resulted in the governing party being booted out (although the replacement haven’t been much better).

    On the good side, the government was put under pressure to bail out the investors, and they stubbornly refused.


    Many people have run around saying that the Private / Public Partnership (PPP) concept has been shown to be a failure because some projects were commercial failures. On the contrary, the PPP concept has been an excellent success, the consequences for a failed investment should rightly fall on the investors, not on the taxpayer. Being able to understand which projects were successful, and which were not is fundamental for future decision making, hiding it all under a government budget that provides no profit/loss statement is a dangerous promotion of ignorance. Some percentage of projects should fail, that’s part of the discovery process.

    I would say that one thing we need to improve is that all future PPP’s must involve 100% contractual disclosure, and that’s still being resisted but people are pushing for it. After all, if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to worry about, that’s what the guy at the airport says, and he had a uniform so he must be right.

  7. Bob Roddis says:

    Don’t government freeways and funny money loans cause sprawl and Global Warming? I think we’ve found a cure.

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