Who Will Abuse Control of Roads?
As the Chris Christie "Bridgegate" affair amply demonstrates, government control over infrastructure offers the career politician and bureaucrat the opportunity to flagrantly abuse power.
I was thinking about this New Jersey Governor Chris Christie Bridge-gate issue and how it reflects on President Obama's “Who will build (and by inference manage) the roads?” question. For those not following the issue an accusation that either Governor Christie or someone in his administration sought to inflict punitive political retribution on the Mayor of Fort Lee which is the city on the New Jersey side of the George Washington Bridge (which connects New Jersey and New York). Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich supported the Democratic Party candidate for Governor against Governor Christie during the last election. Emails imply that several lanes were closed on the bridge to exasperate traffic conditions for several days.
Whether this is true or not and whether Governor Christie was involved or not is not what I want to bring attention to. It is the understanding that politicians can make purely arbitrary decisions that can affect the flow of traffic through a major traffic artery in this highly traveled metropolitan area. They can then play games of denial to prevent or resist letting the truth be understood by tax-paying public.
If the bridge and roads were privately maintained, what would be the operators' motivation? Purely to move traffic expediently; every lane would be kept open, every toll booth would be kept operational. I'd even go so far to say that private operators would not employ toll booths which slow traffic down; they would employ transponders and some other innovative technology to collect tolls. However, because the Port Authority – a State agency – is the operator, we have the possibility that political staff members have the authority to circumvent the best operation of the highways with personal vendettas.
'Who will build the roads' is an effective scare tactic or misdirection to people with little imagination and exposure to free market economics. A politician or state supporter can throw out a few controlled assertions and a person with little experience will accept the assertions based upon the assumed authority of the person's information or background. However, it is imperative that the general public understand what conditions they accept in the services being provided to them when they are provided by bureaucrats with motivations other than commerce.
Whenever the State assumes monopoly authority over a so-called public service, we get a compromised product. The budget for road building and maintenance is shared with countless other government projects vying for political attention. Routes desperately warranting additional capacity especially during heavy commuting times fail to get funding because the incentive is for politicians to use the money on higher visibility projects that will allow them to claim they are being effective and deserve election.
If roads were privately maintained the operator would need to attract drivers to use their service. The goal of drivers is to get to their destination quickly and safely and the provider must be innovative and economical to provide such a product. State-run authorities have a contrasting motivation based upon keeping drivers quiescent because there is no additional profit in reducing commute time for the customer.
The critic may here begin to assert doubt because roads take real estate and require private property normally obtained by eminent domain property confiscation. Certainly these are challenges but they do not account for the innovation of the private sector. I suggest that any reader automatically giving up on the issue because they themselves cannot imagine private sector solutions are simply empowering the State to continue to retain the opportunity to abuse authority.
True progress begins with having an understanding of the economics of both public and private sector solutions. What we have at present is a monopoly on the roadways. This monopoly is not only effectively excused from pressure to improve the service by expanding capacity but it is also subject to the abusive whims of those that do not stand to lose their market share if they make mistakes or take unethical advantage of their authority.
For those completely unexposed to the idea of privatizing roads, here are three example articles from unrelated free market sites:
Searches at each site will offer a library of related articles or books on the subject. Don't just accept the politicians' claim that the States must operate our roads.