Monday, July 09, 2007

Miracles of Socialism - Highway Department

A couple came into our office, and were pleased to find the politics in our part of Northern California are very Left Wing. Then I think they were dismayed to find I wasn’t.

The woman remarked she was a big admirer of Michael Moore’s Sicko, and I said: “what a coincidence, I just put a post on my blog, “Socialized Medicine Makes You Really Sicko.”

The man then remarked, “You do believe in socialized highways, don’t you?”

I replied, “There are some things that governments should do, and some things they shouldn’t.”

And left it at that.

After they left, and upon reflection, I realized that not all of our highways are socialized, and that I really don’t believe in government having a highway monopoly.

Concerning highways that are not socialized, some toll roads come to mind.

Toll roads, bridges, and tunnels are found in many countries. The way they are funded and operated may differ from country to country. Some of these toll roads are privately owned and operated. Others are owned by the government. Some of the government-owned toll roads are privately operated.

Since government can build highways, finance their costs with government bonds, and pay for them with taxes from a variety of sources, why would a road be privately owned and operated?

One reason for a private road is that an existing road is inadequate to meet current and future needs, or a needed road does not exist, and the government cannot find or spare funds to modify or add a highway in a timely manner.

Many studies have shown that roads that are inadequate for the demand placed on them are costly in terms of both economic and social needs. Some environmentalists think that’s great, because they think that commuter irritation and aggravation will inspire citizens to demand and use mass transit.

I’ve heard that argument for over fifty years, and for over fifty years I’ve seen personal auto ownership and use constantly rising, commuter frustration sky rocketing, and the percentage using mass transportation falling. Even in areas best suited to mass transportation, such as densely populated urban areas, mass transportation use declines as poor people are displaced by wealthier, and the poor and middle classes both flee to ever more distant suburbs for lower housing costs, lower taxes and crime rates, better schools, and a better environment for raising children.
However, commuting to jobs in the center cities from the suburbs exacts a terrible toll on personal comfort and enjoyment of family life. The work day starts very early to beat the rush, the rush is never beaten for long, and there is no way to avoid getting caught in the afternoon rush to get home.

Highway planners have tried to solve or reduce the traffic jams in many ways, each in their own way an “in-the-box” approach that only served to reallocate misery. A case in point, the “carpool” lane. The planners meant well. Restricting a lane during the heaviest traffic periods would, in theory, encourage more carpooling, thereby reducing the number of vehicles on the road, resulting in traffic being lighter and faster moving.

Do any of you commuters notice any difference, besides the fact that a few carpoolers and many scofflaws whiz by those of us concentrated in the remaining even more inadequate lanes?

Isn’t there a better way to improve commuter traffic flow?

Of course there is, and the better way is being used in a few areas, even in unenlightened California. The better way is based on the very simple, easily understood basic economic concept, supply and demand.

When highways are “free” – OK, there’s no thing as free, because you pay for highway use in your income taxes, gasoline taxes, and anxieties and frustrations – everyone uses them equally. The persons and companies paying high personal taxes, gas taxes, registration fees, and other transportation costs – the persons and organizations (like trucking companies) that depend most on highways for business purposes – have the same rights and priorities for use of the highway as the lowest taxed, least productive member of society on the road that day.

It matters not that an unlicensed driver’s vehicle is unregistered, uninsured, and on its way to break down and be abandoned in the middle lane just ahead of you during rush hour. It and all its brethren still have the right to slow and impede your high-value cargo from getting to its appointed destination on time, regardless of the small (sometimes large) fortune you pay for your customized vehicle, sales tax, road taxes, gasoline taxes, insurance, driver training, and tolls.

So how can you get the better highway services that you would be willing to pay for, if only they were available?


You agree to pay for them, if you can find them, and you can find them if a private company, recognizing the demand for better highway services, contracts with a responsible government body to build, operate, and probably at some point transfer ownership of a highway that will meet current and future needs.

These roads have one simple unifying concept: you use them, you pay.

The people who don’t want to pay extra to speed their journeys get to stay on the “free ways,” and the ones willing and eager to pay to speed their passage have an opportunity to do so.

There is an added benefit to the “free” highway drivers. The toll roads take some of the traffic off the “free” roads, making life a little easier and a bit more pleasant for the ones not willing to pay a toll.

In accordance with good economic principles, the toll changes depending on time of day which reflects its changing values to the traveler; as “free” roads become more congested, the toll goes up because the ability to travel faster on the toll road increases its value.

All of this is happening at a time when toll road technologies are being improved rapidly, particularly systems to electronically scan and charge for toll road, bridge, or tunnel use. In California we have FasTrak™, a system to prepay tolls used in conjunction with a transponder mounted on your vehicle that deducts the toll each time you drive through a toll plaza.

Logically, toll roads make complete sense by providing a service that is both desired and that would not otherwise be made available. Socialized roads, like socialism, work only to the extent that misery is shared equitably.

As described in “The Six Miracles of Socialism:”

“There is no unemployment, but nobody works.
“No one works, but everyone receives wages.
“All get wages, but nothing can be bought with them.
“Nothing is purchased, but everybody owns everything.
“Everybody owns everything, but they are all dissatisfied.
“All are dissatisfied, but everyone votes for the system.”

And sit in interminable traffic jams on socialized highways.

No comments: