Who Would Build The Roads: A Guide To This Age Old Question

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Who would build the roads?”

This is one of the most commonly asked questions directed towards Libertarians. People tend to ask this because it seems like the construction and maintenance of roads is the most obvious reason to justify taxation; after all, if there was no state or property tax, who would maintain the roads? As Libertarians, it is important that we have answers ready to go. While most of the ideas are easy to fathom, there are limited case studies to support Libertarian ideology. Still, when someone poses a simple question like this all we need to do is present an actual solution. Remember, they just want an example of who would build the roads. Anything beyond that example would merely be arguing semantics. I have put together a list of ideas that you can use next time someone asks you this easy to answer question.

Let’s start with neighborhoods. The best part about this area is that most questions to Libertarians can be answered using this same proposition. Homeowner’s associations are a great idea to combat sidewalks, parks, police, and roads! When a neighborhood is developed, let’s say by Buddy’s Bakery, an association is put in place. People can come into Buddy’s neighborhood and purchase the home to live in or rent out. Either way, the homeowner is paying Buddy’s association instead of the government. Included in this association is an agreement containing specifics on the roads, parks, security, etc. Also, Buddy now has a responsibility for the upkeep of the neighborhood as it is a direct reflection of his business. This creates a voluntary place to live where people freely enter into contracts and benefit without government involvement.

Let’s take another example outside of the neighborhood. Frieda’s Flowers has been suffering because there is not an easy way to get to her business. In one final attempt, she decides to build a road. This road begins to bring business her way. Next, another business opens up on Freida’s road and pays Frieda a monthly fee to use the road, under the agreement that she won’t toll the road. Not only has Frieda found a way to pay for the upkeep of the road, but her business is also booming and other businesses are moving to the area.

While these are great concepts for free-market roads, many people will be curious as to the interstate freeway system. While there are programs like adopt a highway where people voluntarily clean up the freeways, privatizing is a little different. For this model, I typically bring up corporatization. Corporatization looks something like this: Horizon phone company buys the Idaho section of I-84. Horizon now has the availability to sell advertising and toll the roadways. A good way to do this is to sell road passes that are a one time purchase for daily, monthly, yearly, etc. pass that allows them to use said road. They also take on the responsibility of maintaining the road. The quality of the road directly affects the image of Horizon phone company.

When I begin to tie this all together, I talk about combining some of the ideas. Say you buy a car from Carl’s Cars. Carl might have a deal where a yearly pass to Horizon’s road systems are included. Also, you buy a house in Buddy’s Bakery neighborhood where your quarterly homeowner’s association fees include a pass to Horizon’s road systems. Perhaps Horizon has benefits to having a yearly pass as opposed to a monthly pass where the pass holder receives benefits similar to an AAA member, or Horizon cell phones, Daniel’s Debt Collection, and Sarah’s Silver Shop all pair up to offer a discounted pass to all their road systems. Once government is out of the way, the possibilities for the free market become endless.

Typically the next question people might ask is: “Well, if this is so great, then why hasn’t it been done before?” That’s a great question! Private roads helped build early America. Even in the 19th century, 2,000 companies financed, built, and operated toll roads. Lanes today, such as the one on California state highway 91, have been privately built. However, it is not just America that has a history of building private roadways. Hong Kong, during a deep budget deficit in 2003, decided to move towards several methods of privatization, including some roads, and now ranks as the #1 country by the Heritage Foundation. Also, France’s A86 highway tunnels are completely self-funded through the private sector, and the Eurasian Tunnel Project was funded privately through a Build Operate Transfer model. The private sector is even more efficient on saving countries like Brazil, 20%, and Columbia, 50%, on their maintenance costs.

Keep in mind that this is not an end-all. People will come up with other questions like, for example, how would a bus or bike system work? Questions like this, and the ones I have examined, really only necessitate sitting down and laying things out to come up with an idea. The concepts enumerated above are not meant to be fought over. Instead, they are simply used to make people think when they ask a question. Most of the time many tend to assume that we haven’t thought the logic through. These ideas, along with your own, are great ways to get people thinking about not being so dependent on the government for simple things like roads. So next time some says, “well then, who would build the roads?” you can list several different ways that the market can handle this task.

This article was originally hosted on The Classy Libertarian Nov 13, 2017.

You can read more from Rocky Ferrenburg on Think Liberty here.

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