06 August 2007

Freeways Aren't Free

I've never really thought much about roads (have you?). Even though I drive on them all the time, I never spent much mental energy thinking about how much it costs to build and maintain them, who pays for it, etc. I sort of assumed freeways were some kind of divine right, without giving it much thought. If I thought of them at all, I guess I thought of them as some sort of community commons, benefiting everyone equally. It turns out I was probably wrong.

The Distributist Review has a fascinating entry today about free markets and freeways. It begins by asking for a definition of "free market," then explores one example of a government subsidy: freeways.

"Of course the government should build the roads; that's what governments do." Yet, gentle reader, would you not be surprized if we shifted the focus just slightly, and spoke of "free railways" or free airlines"? Any yet, why should one form of transportation be so privileged over these others? The point here is not that the government shouldn't be involved in the road-building business; that may be the most convenient way to do it. Rather the point is to determine who should pay for them, and how. Three-fourths of all "social justice" issues are simply a matter of accurate cost-accounting; that is, of allocating costs back to those who cause the costs.

He concludes with the following thought:

As it turns out, nothing is quite as expensive as a freeway. But on the other hand, nothing is more conducive to self-respect than paying your own way. One measure of a free market is that each person pays for what he or she consumes.

It's a provocative position, this assertion that people should pay for what they consume, or that the poor should not be taxed in order to support the rich, or that economists should think about thinks like morality, self-respect or social justice.

He's blowing my mind. I hope you'll surf over to The Distributist Review and read that posting.

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