Vidcast: But There’d Be No Roads!

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Libertarians get hit with this dead fish all the time. Viz, that if coercive collectivism (take your pick, the Democratic variety or the Republican – or some other) were thrown in the woods, there’d be no roads! How would anyone get anywhere?

The fallacy is obvious – or ought to be.

Substitute other goods and services people value for “roads” – and see how silly this argument is.

McDonald’s hamburgers. The house you live in. The clothes on your back. The kid who cuts your lawn. Did government force create these things? Could such things exist without government?

Roads are no different. They are not the exception to the rule.

If a given thing – whether a product or service – is desirable, the market will provide it. Without coercion. For the simple reason that people willingly pay for that which they desire.roads pic

Which creates an incentive for people to fulfill those desires; to produce or provide the product or service that other people want at a price the market will bear and in a form the market will accept.

The latter is absolutely key.

Absent coercive collectivism, it is probably true the current sprawling network of highways and secondary roads that exist would not have been created. Especially the Interstate system – which it’s important to note was modeled on National Socialist Germany’s Autobahn. Just as the pyramids in Egypt would probably not exist had the absolute power of the pharaohs not existed.

But we would have roads.

Because people value transportation – the ability to move from place to place.

The same rules apply to roads – and road building – that apply to any other product or service. It is literally silly to believe that the same human ingenuity that created – well, every miracle of modern life – would be stymied by the prospect of figuring out how to build roads without stealing people’s land and money to make it so.autobahn pic

Meanwhile, can you name a single thing – besides massive waste, mass destruction and piles of human corpses – that coercive collectivism has proved itself to be more efficient at creating than the free market? The Autobahn was built by a regime that slaughtered tens of millions of people. The U.S. Interstate system displaced millions of people. Literally stole their land and homes to make way. And still does.

I live near the Blue Ridge Parkway, which runs from Northern Virginia deep into North Carolina. America’s Mussolini – Franklin Delano Roosevelt – forcibly evicted people living along the road’s path from the land and homes they’d occupied for generations. This is how roads get built under coercive collectivism… on a bed of other people’s tears.

Absent coercive collectivism, a different network of roads would exist, certainly. But while it would be different, it would almost inevitably be more efficient than the system we do have – because the roads that would be created under a free market system would be based on real demand as opposed to bureaucratic fiat imposed at gunpoint. It would certainly be less cruel, because the roads would be built on the basis of cooperative effort and value-for-value. Not at bayonet-point.Blue ridge displaced people

Government distorts the natural dynamic of the free market, creating perverse incentives that lead to “products” and “services” people don’t want or need – as evidence by the the need to force people to accept and pay for them.

Boondoggle building projects such as the infamous bridge to nowhere are an example of this. Also random resurfacing of roads that are not in need of resurfacing – and the building of new roads or expansion of existing roads not because of market demand but – per government’s usual way of doing things – to “stimulate” demand that does not actually exist but which it hopes will be created. Or simply because there are X dollars left in this year’s transportation budget – and if the funds are not depleted then it will be harder for the bureaucrats to make their case for next year’s budget. The money must be spent – on anything.roads 2

It is perverse – and exactly the opposite of the way a free market would get things done. If we had a free market in roads, first the need would arise. Then – the need having become obvious to entrepreneurs – a noncoercive means of satisfying the need would be thought up. Rights-of-way would be purchased at a fair price – defined as a price mutually agreeable to the buyer and the seller, neither of them able to force the other to come to terms. Once sufficient capital/financing had been obtained, the necessary road-building materials would be purchased. The grotesque waste that is synonymous with government building projects could not exist – because free market ventures do not have limitless, unaccountable access to other people’s money.

Government puts the proverbial cart before the horse – and that’s being generous, assigning it benign motives (e.g., “stimulating” development). In fact, government building projects have historically been about enriching crony capitalists (e.g., the railroad barons of the 19th century) or furthering the might of the state (e.g., the German Autobahn and its American copy, the Interstate Highway System).

Commerce – the exchange of value for value – predates government.

Roads are commerce – which cannot exist without it.

This idea that roads would not exist without government – without coercive collectivism – is as silly as believing that without government, there would be no commerce.

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  1. Nice post!

    All my life, I’ve heard how Eisenhower’s (an early RINO) greatest achievement was the Interstate Highway System. I live in an Oregon city on I-5 and I have recently realized that the Interstate Highway System has RUINED my city and our state by bringing up all the moronic liberals escaping the Hell Hole they created in California, as well as illegal aliens and drug traffic from Mexico, via I-5, all the way into Canada! Oregon and Washington USED to be nice places to live. Now, they’re liberal Hell Holes fast catching up to California.

    I often wonder how much nicer our lives would be if that damn Highway System had never been built?! I wish we could go back in time and correct some of this crap!

    • Great point Sam.

      In rural states like Idaho, there are dozens of small towns that people drove through before the interstate system came through. There were tourist attractions, hotels, restaurants, etc, in towns of 250 people or less. When the interstate went in, sometimes less than a mile away from the towns, they died. Driving through those towns, there are boarded windows, no places to eat and they are just bedroom communities where people live– and commute, sometimes 60 miles or more–to work in the bigger cities. All because they can get there “quick” because of the interstate.

      We will never know what it would have been like if the government didn’t build roads at gunpoint–along with many other things. It brings to mind Bastiat’s what is seen and what is not seen.

      • If you’re not into ‘intellectual’ reading, just watch “Cars” and the fate of ‘Radiator Springs.’
        Thank God for grandchildren as an excuse for watching this.

  2. And one wonders how elected critters get into office with a slight net worth and depart office with a multi-million dollar net worth. Building these roads, it sure is interesting to know well in advance where these roads will be going to be put, heck CONTROL where they’re going to be put, and get in to buy up land early.

  3. In mass, where I’m from, they spend 650,000 per mile on road maintenence! Of course we have one of the worst state of bridges and roads in the country. They tried linking the gas tax to inflation claiming they needed the money for maintenence, but we managed to reject it in a referendum yesterday.

  4. I work in the excavation industry in a family business. I have built roads–not highway’s or interstates– for subdivisions and small sections of city streets. I do work with companies that do build highway’s and interstate’s.

    One of the things that sticks out to me off the top of my head–besides the numerous problems and tyranny of government being in charge of anything– are the highway and interstate”early completion bonuses” that companies receive for getting the road done quickly. The quicker it’s done the higher the bonus to a certain point. As all bureaucratic government idea’s, it’s an economically flawed way of doing business. What about smoothness and quality? They have bonuses for that, but early completion bonuses are higher. Where’s the motivation for quality, when speed pays better? These bonuses also eliminate competition, as larger firms have a speed advantage over smaller, higher quality firms.

    I also notice, as others have pointed out, that private roads generally don’t have the pothole problems like government roads. I live on a county road, which happens to be a dead end. I would love for the 10 home owners on my street to take over ownership of the road. I would be more than happy to plow the snow for a minimal fee, or contract it out to someone who was cheaper, provided they do a good job–at least better than the county. I would take the bids for asphalt maintenance and other things for nothing. You’d think that would sound fair and decent to everyone……but I forgot one thing. Clover’s believe that the county plows and maintain the road for free. Never mind there’s these things called taxes and they plow the road a day after the snow, when it’s all packed down into ice. We like it “fer free”, dontya know!

    How do you get clover’s to understand private roads, when you can’t even get them to understand that the property they supposedly–the government tells them–they own is taxed to pay for all of the shit they believe is “free”? The only thing they comprehend fully, is the math that keeps them in range to receive welfare. In cloverland, it’s “who’d feed us if the government doesn’t?” Private roads just make clovers’ parasitic heads explode.

    • @ancap51 – Bingo!
      CalTrans in CA has had their non-english speaking contractors re-surface state hwy 41 between Fresno & Yosemite twice in the last 4 years. I mean grind down & remove the old asphalt before laying down about 4 inches+ of new asphalt, then doing a chip seal over it. The original road was great, smooth and well done by the old school boys. Each time the new guys do it, at a cost of millions, it gets progressively bumpier, wavy, suspension jarring transitions etc. and almost immediately starts to deteriorate with pot holes. The real insult is the 5×8 multi colored metal signs telling me the greatness of the agencies & “Put America Back to Work” money they throw at the whole mess.

      Meanwhile the “real” overweight “state” boys and their sub contractors have been playing around for 5 years with parts of a 20 mile stretch of Calif 99 freeway between Merced & Modesto that will never be complete, bottoms out my touring motorcycle in many places, and is nothing more then a cash cow for the “traffic fines doubled in construction zone” CHP that live on those stretches.

      I will not go into their 21 year long (and counting) interchange of the SR-60 & I-15 in Riverside that is still not done. The one used by thousands of big rigs daily loaded with Chinese imports from the port of San Pedro headed East to Arizona & North to Las Vegas and the rest of the West.

      Now CalTrans is crying “no money” when people slow down miles driven @$4.00/ gallon and the state (by itself) only gets $0.40/ per gallon of it.

      Could private roads be any worse?

      • In my area of SW Virginia, the Blue Ridge Parkway has been paved over twice in ten years. Perhaps the first time, it was needed – though the road appeared to be in great shape, no potholes or crumbling, etc. But the second time? Two or so years after the first re-paving?

        Pure wastage.

        Because hey – it’s not our money…

        • Meanwhile on my drive this morning the road they finished redoing last year was being patched. I am assuming work due to the cracks that showed up over the winter. However usually these patches make things worse than leaving the cracks alone or just treating the cracks.

          I’ve been down south seeing what I considered roads in perfectly good condition being repaved. Guess the road builders needed a return on their investment in local politicians. Without winter to exploit cracks the roads do last a lot longer but they seem to get redone on the same time table.

          • Brent,

            You are correct. The bureacrats have time tables for road replacement and updates. The only time a road won’t be done , regardless of condition, when the time comes due, is if there’s no money in the budget. If the money is there, “we’re gonna redo the bastard”. At least that’s what happens when there’s federal and state money involved. Cities and counties, while less efficient than the private sector, are more efficient than the feds and state. Especially small ones where they have to answer, at least somewhat to the people who’s money they stole.

            Some libertarians believe roads are of low priority. I disagree. Roads are one of our largest justifications for tyranny. Ending government roads is the only moral option.

            • They will also use the line, “It’s cheaper to resurface a road BEFORE it needs repairs”
              That one smells to high heaven, IMHO.

              • If by “resurfacing”, you mean chip seal, It does make the road last longer. Chip seal is not a replacement for repair. It only adds longevity, which is different dependent on the weather extremes of the area.

                Still, your comments are a line they use to justify chip sealing a road that may not need it, when there is a road that does 2 miles away. It’s all a budgeting issue…….but who are we to question the honorable bureaucrats who make those decisions? Hahaha

            • @Phillip – Is it like MN? In June of 2010 we rode bikes across the “upper” on highway 2 to Duluth to get on the I-35 freeway South to Minneapolis. It was gone! All of it. Down to wet, soggy, muddy dirt.
              Being from California we looked at each other and said WTF?

              • I should add that we took shelter from the rain in a sandwich shop & to figure a way out of town (as the streets are everything but strait lines). We lucked into a local who led us out of town like the Pied Piper and who said they do that almost every year.

              • so youse been up in da Yooperland?! Didja see da towsands of deer standing in da field side by each? Thought you was all Lopers sout’ of da Bridge Overseas here.

                Not long ago, there’s a big crash Ya Know and some Politico Muckety Muck’s dogs got runnover by a truck cause he didn’t hear the crossing guards yellin at him to wait.

                They’re still racin, but of course now there’s hired safety goons and rules and Ya Gotta have a snowmobile escort cross the big roads Yah Hey.
                – –
                Musher Frank Moe UP 200 Accident
                – –
                so youse know your Finglish like Cudighi, Kromer, Touke, da locks, da soo, & Snow Cow den?

      • Gary,

        We’ve been hearing the old “crumbling infrastructure” line in Idaho. They need more money, “raise gas taxes”, “we’ll never attract new businesses” to the state unless we pump more money into roads and bridges…..and of course gov’t schools, so we can teach the kids how terrible life would be without–in the words of Mises–omnipotent government.

        If those non-english speaking contractors work for a business whose owner is/was non-english speaking, they likely didn’t even bid the jobs. It’s casalled a disadvantaged business entity, or DBE.

        If you want very special treatment and negotiated bids to the gov’t, just create a DBE. The government agents will be falling all over themselves to hand out “their” money because life wasn’t fair to you because you’re a woman/not white/handicapped…..or the most disadvantaged of all: Indian woman owned. If you fall into that category, omnipotent government could never give you enough shit for all the hardship you have faced.

        Of course clovers believe I’m a misogynist, racist, hateful person to think that all people should be equal and thus, have to do things based on competition and merit. How ridiculous of me.

        • DBE was my first thought a couple weeks ago on a site we’d built in the spring. Now there are several companies working on it(out of it). I had to change trailers and unload some equipment and load some other onto a different trailer with another tractor, etc. I was there close to an hour, maybe more, and saw this young woman DBE waddle by and then back. I saw some of that crew doing a little work but I never saw her with anything in her hands. This is typical. Don’t know why a woman would want to be there anyway except for that DBE money. The most common job is sitting in an a/c blowing pickup writing down(X’ing)each time some vehicle leaves a load or something similar. Just part of the price of doing bidness nowdays. I have seen a few white, a few more Hispanic women but not a single black. Now they could touch several bases with a black/Hispanic woman and no telling what’s on the table if only one would apply. $45/hr with someone of your qualifications, no problem. Just take that pickup….oh, no DL, well never mind, just get Pedro to take you over to……

          • 8SM,

            The whole thing is ridiculous……give special favors to women in the construction industry. Why the hell would women want anything to do with construction? Since they don’t, we’ll give them special incentives to “want” something to do with it.

            That’s why the state government of Idaho runs liquor stores. They drive people to drink, then profit from the drink sales.

            • ancap, Idaho onnadem states? Done got a lock on the booze eh? Nothing depresses me more than those states and to even get any alky you have to name it specifically and then wait for the fools employed therein “go see” as if they don’t hear those names all day long. I can see why people would drive to another state. And every one of those things, instead of being a nice business with nice folks wanting to help you and just bs with you are just the opposite. It’s like walking in the jail and not much separates you from “just lookin'” and feeling like you’re about to be “just lookin out”. I dunno, always weirded me out, made me NEED that drink.

              • It’s not quite that bad. You can roam the store and get all of your own alcohol. The state is only interested in the profit margins. I’ve never been id’d at a liquor store. Only gas stations for beer.

    • And what about the gunvermin regulations that all contracts MUST go to the lowest bidder, when another contractor just a percent or 2 higher would build a higher quality road that would need less maintenance? This is ONE of the problems with “public” roads.

    • I’ve had people argue that private roads are impossible — while driving through the parking lot of a shopping mall, or on roads in a gated community, or other such privately maintained places that cars drive on.

  5. I have some relatives who live in the more rural and southern areas of the country. They always remarked to me when they visited how odd it was that the rural roads in my area were all straight as an arrow and squared off, “you could Never get lost” they’d say. “Just drive a mile and you’d find another road intersecting it to help you find where you were going.”

    In their neck of the woods, the roads were all built upon already existing trails (foot paths and cattle trails that twisted and wound their way through the terrain) and upon what the people ‘way back when’ referred to as “roads” they used to bring their produce and livestock to market. It was easy to get lost or have a hard time finding your way if you weren’t familiar with the area.

    If anything, a great many “public roads” are just rip-offs built upon what already existed.
    The goobermint didn’t really “create” anything, it just staked a claim and made a proclamation while making it easier for others to occupy an area they were not familiar with.

    If I recall correctly, that’s exactly what the Romans did, they took over paths and local “roads” throughout the empire then paved them over with stones – made them into Roman roads – and that was one of the major things which enabled the military of their empire to be so effective over those they occupied and fought.

  6. There actually is a good example how roadbuilding would happen in a free market.

    Every private gated community that owns (and maintains) its own interior roads.

    In my area of the country, there are a number of them (and they aren’t just expensive subdivisions for the rich, some are very middle class). And you know what is common about every one of them?

    No potholes!

    Since the residents would be angry about potholes, you will find none. When I was selling real estate, I used that very thing as a selling point. And the rent-a-cops cannot write speeding tickets (though they can still be very annoying).

    Granted it would give more power to HOA’s which are often poorly run as well. But maybe it would help get rid of the worst of them, if they have to get into keeping roads maintained. But at least you can fire bad HOA managers, you can’t fire government when it sucks.

    Government roads, are almost without saying, are going to be full of potholes and are very poorly maintained. They blame it on winter and underfunding of course. The real reason, no maintenance and bad politics.

    • That’s been my experience with HOA roads as well, richb. No freakin’ potholes!

      HOAs even tried to save the residents money in the Winter by doing things like waiting until after a succession of ice storms had passed to lay down salt on hillsides that had alternative ways to access them rather than spending a ton of money to salt the road, let it freeze at night and then have to salt them again the next day. …Just wait. Quite unlike the cities and counties who had money to burn and not a lick of sense.

      Plus, it was pure joy riding a sled with steel runners down those ice covered roads in Winter. Zooom! I imagine they don’t allow that anymore. So many of us loved it! Especially when we made it far enough to jump the intersecting state hyway at the bottom! It would surely drive a Clover bonkers to see such, they’d probably have an atomic melt-down of a conniption fit.

      Clovers didn’t like “Evel” Knievel back then either, did they?
      Did they even have Clovers back then?
      I don’t remember any.

    • richb, I think it boils down to politics. Every road has a spec it’s built to. I run one all the time that’s been recently rebuilt, at least part of it and the rest is in construction. The new part, maybe 3 months old for the first part built and other parts lesser age, is coming apart. They have no rollers on hand and use the traffic(think really heavily loaded trucks practically bumper to bumper every day and almost all night and day. I have worked road construction and can tell you lots of big steel wheel rollers and watering are needed. As the trucks and other traffic beat down the base it begins to disintegrate but they won’t grade it so it beats it out to the side and some of what they’ve done has to be repeated. This company has built several roads that were Immediately rebuilt by another company, no problems. If that isn’t politics I’d like to know what the hell it is? And much of it is incompetence by the state people who make up the specs too. When I did construction we had a lab on site that pulled core samples every day and if it didn’t meet specs, which was rare since the company knew what it was doing, it was worked on till it did. With almost no repair on that 20 miles of US highway, that road is still a fine, smooth road, 46 years later. That road has a great deal of truck traffic too.

      Here’s another example. Several years ago I had to make some trips through Ok. from the SW corner to the NE. H.E. Bailey turnpike, a toll road(and damned expensive too)runs for a couple hundred miles or more through Ok. It’s a concrete road and it’s made so that the expansion joints are significantly higher than the rest of the section they separate. Driving a truck or pickup pulling a large trailer or even just a four wheel vehicle is painful. You get beat constantly so much so that after a couple hours you’re back and kidneys are killing you. The last trip I made I saw coming back a bunch of brand new road. Wow, thinks I very stupidly(I am in Ok. after all so I guess it must be contagious)that new road will be………and smooth. This has got to be a 50 year brother-in-law job of the greatest magnitude. No, hell no, it was just like all the rest so it was brand new and rough as hell. Maybe it keeps some of the not-so-drunk Indians on their toes or everybody else trying to not run over them(pedestrians). You have to see it to believe it. I thought it was some exaggerated claim but it’s not, esp. if there’s a casino near.

      At the same time there was 50 miles of I-20 being built in Tx. from somewhere near Mineral Wells to the west. I had to use that road soon after the Ok. experience. It may very well be the smoothest road I’ve used….ever….. and now that it’s several years old, it is still baby butt smooth and has NO expansion joints so that is something that has been evidently conquered in highway construction. These two roads are testament to being done correctly and being done badly. Ok. roads also have no crown and flood whenever a bunch of big cows piss on a flat rock near it.

  7. I think that framing this argument that roads would be built without government may not be the best way to go about it. We’re so familiar with transportation using roads because that’s the world we live in.

    What people require is transportation and transit of goods, whatever form that takes. There is tremendous value generated in moving goods from where there’s a surplus to where they’re needed, and roads may just be one way to do it. Left to the market, we’d settle on something that’s optimized for cost effectiveness.

    Who knows how it might have worked out. Maybe we’d have a much larger rail network, or to “drive” long distances, you’d drive into a blimp and travel from one city road cluster to another by air, since they’re not connected on the ground, or maybe cars would have developed to be much more off road capable.

    If the government ever decided that chickens are critical for the nation’s survival, and nationalized the chicken industry, we’d soon have a shortage of chickens and crazy ways of allocating them.


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