Who Will Build the Roads?
By David Henderson
Is that even the right question?
Often, when believers in economic freedom advocate economic freedom, questioners and skeptics ask us, “But if you didn’t have government doing it, who would build the roads?” My guess is that most such questioners are sincere. They’ve grown up in societies where the government has had the primary responsibility for building roads and so they have trouble conceiving of a society in which individuals and companies build, maintain, and operate roads. That’s the tyranny of the status quo, to use a term that Milton and Rose Friedman used as a title of one of their books.
But in a recent case in Britain, where a road was closed by a landslide, drivers had to take a 14-mile detour. And the government was taking its sweet time cleaning up the mess. Enter Mike Watts and his wife, who decided to build a road only 400 meters long to get around the landslide. They put a 2-pound toll on it. The road was built in 10 days.
And it’s working. People are using it and it’s bringing in substantial revenue.
There is one fly in the ointment: government. Government virtually never likes people competing with it. And so the local authorities, although they haven’t regulated the road out of existence, have made Watts and his wife apply for “retrospective planning permission.” [There does appear to be one possibly legitimate reason: their concern that construction and driving on the road would affect the part of the road where the landslide had happened.]
HT to Stephanie Slade.