What if the owners of roads decide they don’t want anyone to use them?

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If you’ve truly accepted the principles of libertarianism, you’re interested in privatizing everything.  In your conversations with people about privatization, you’ll inevitably end up talking about everyone’s favorite topic—roads.  Although many people believe this to signify “checkmate,” all you need to imagine a system of private roads free from the influences of government is a little bit of imagination and creativity.

This doesn’t stop people from using one of the worst arguments in favor of state roads that I’ve ever heard.  It’s almost guaranteed to come up.  And it’s so frustrating.

“What if the owners of roads decide they don’t want anyone to use them?”

Let’s think about this for a second.  When roads are privatized, they become a business.  So you can be about 99.999% sure that the reason that someone would go into the business of owning roads would be to make money.  Why, then, would they prevent any and everyone from using their roads?  Does any other business exist that makes money by not allowing any person to use their products or services or enter into their doors?

I guess that it’s not completely impossible.  It’s not that it couldn’t happen, but why would it?  There would have to be some sort of weird incentive for a person to do that.  It makes as much sense as buying a gas station only to lock the pumps up.  The threat of that doesn’t make a justification for the state to control gas stations, so why should it for roads?

This demonstrates a sense of entitlement that people have.  They believe that they have a right to roads and cannot imagine a world where the market would provide them access to use them.  Ironically, how many of these same people are dead against the Obamacare legislation?  How long before people cannot remember when healthcare services were provided by the market?  And how long will it be until when presented with the idea that healthcare services industry should be privatized will people respond with:

“What happens if the owner of this business doesn’t let anyone in his hospital?”

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PeaceRequiresAnarchy
Guest
“What if a poor person gets sick, doesn’t have insurance, and can’t get friends, family, or charity to pay for treatment?” “What if an elderly person gets defrauded out of his entire retirement and the perpetrator vanishes into thin air?” “What if a child is starving on the street, and no one voluntarily feeds him?” “What if someone just can’t find a job?” If you’re a libertarian, you face what-ifs like this all the time. The point, normally, is to make you say, “Tough luck” and look like a monster. What puzzles me, though, is why libertarians rarely ask analogous… Read more »
Rollo McFloogle
Guest
tiffany267
Guest

I guess part of the reason people think that way is that the only experience most have with private roads now is roads that are indeed only accessible to the owner (there are lots of these, either for families who value their privacy or private gated communities). Obviously it would be different for a company.

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[…] people say, “Sure, it is inefficient, but it is a necessary evil”.  In response to Rollo’s most recent article I heard, “The market would probably be more efficient creating roads, and certainly long […]

emilchoski
Guest
No one is really afraid that the owners will block access to the roads they own. The problem is if they over-charge people for access to those roads. Then the individuals and businesses that rely on the roads have less economic opportunity. Also with roads, you really don’t have competition. It’s not like someone can come along and build a parallel road, and offer a lower price. Another problem is the economy goes up and down. The owners of a road may temporarily shut down a road, or raise prices, to raise profits, causing an economic ripple effect which will… Read more »
Rollo McFloogle
Guest

What happens in any other market where a business overcharges its customers?

There’s no competition? Work your imagination a bit!

emilchoski
Guest
No, there is no competition when it comes to roads. There is a single highway connecting Philadelphia and New York. It’s called I-95. You make I-95 private, and everyone who doesn’t want to take it will be stuck taking the local roads, which will take 2-3 times as long. You can’t build a parallel highway next to I-95 because its surrounded by private land, and because it would be downright silly. Roads are not like cars. There are several companies competing to make better cars. There are not several “road companies” competing to make a better road. I mean its… Read more »
emilchoski
Guest
Please explain how one would go about building a competing road. How would I convince investors that there will be profit. How will I seize all the private property necessary to build it? Roads should not be part of the market. Roads are what the market sits on top of. They are the foundation. A foundation for something has to be solid and secure and it can’t keep shifting. Take as an analogy the island of Manhattan. It is a giant slice of bedrock, solid enough to build the tallest buildings in the world. But on top of it, is… Read more »
emilchoski
Guest
Realistically speaking, there probably won’t be much difference between a privately run road a government owned road. At least not in the short term. But the question is, if the privately owned and publicly owned road operates same, why would you choose private? Why should something that millions of people depend on daily be in the hands of a single private entity, rather than a government accountable to its citizens. Why should an individual hold so much unchecked power over the lives of so many people, even if they don’t abuse it. Wouldn’t this be a form of tyranny, in… Read more »
emilchoski
Guest

Roads are not like other products. Roads are like oil. When gas prices go up, the whole economy suffers. Similarly, if a highway owner decided to raise prices, the whole community relying on that road would suffer, and really would have no recourse other than fly helicopters to work, or more likely suffer the cost. Free markets are not necessary where there is no possibility for competition. This is why I see no point to making roads private. This is the type of thing that governments do when they’re really in the dumps.

Rollo McFloogle
Guest

Hey, I just wanted to let you know that I responded to your comments with a new post: http://mcfloogle.wordpress.com/2013/12/08/responding-to-criticisms-of-road-privatization/

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[…] In a recent post about a criticism of the privatization of roads, I received a number of comments by “emilchoski.”  Welcome to the site, Emil, and instead of answering in the comments section, I figured I would write an entire post to go through each point since the critiques brought up are typical and I want to reach a more general audience as opposed to just Emil. […]

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