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Losing my libertarian street cred

There was a discussion a while back at the Knoxblab about socialism and how it is the best (or at least most viable) solution to some issues. In other words, governmental ownership or control of an industry or process by pooling tax payer dollars is a more efficient or, at least, less problematic means of addressing issues. Some items listed were education, the military, roads, transportation, and, of course, someone had to mention healthcare. I think with the exception of healthcare, I don’t disagree.

Obviously, governmental control leads to some issues of spending and efficiency (for example, our bloated military industrial complex, the declining quality of education, highway dollars are prized by everyone, and Canada’s free healthcare for everyone). I don’t think most people would think it’s a good idea to have privately owned roads that you’d have to pay to use every time. I really hate when I’m on travel and have to pay a toll on a highway. It’s inconvenient and time consuming. Additionally, I think a privately owned military industrial complex would be very scary, like Tank Girl kind of scary.

What other issues are best handled this way? What issues currently handled this way should be abandoned? What criteria should there be for such a decision?

22 Responses to “Losing my libertarian street cred”

  1. Tam Says:

    “I dont think most people would think its a good idea to have privately owned roads that youd have to pay to use every time.”

    I could see a consortium of GM, Daimler-Chrysler, FedEx, UPS, and various trucking companies having a quite vested interest in a good road network that they’d let folks use gratis.

  2. SayUncle Says:

    Well, it is arguable that those companies essentially are in existence due to the government funding roads. I’m just saying.

    Holy crap, I sound like a liberal. Somebody tell me to knock that shit off.

  3. Ravenwood Says:

    I dont think most people would think its a good idea to have privately owned roads that youd have to pay to use every time.

    Actually, you already pay to use them, in the form of gas taxes, and federal/state/local taxes. In fact, for the most part you pay to use them whether or not you actually use them.

  4. SayUncle Says:

    But I don’t have to stop and pay when I enter.

  5. Tam Says:

    If “The Great American Road Belongs To Buick”, when are they gonna repave the damn thing? 😉

  6. countertop Says:

    No, but you pay regardless of whether you enter or not. For that matter, in my experience, toll roads are vastly superior to most other roads. . . . there are lots and lots in the North East (and as I understand it, some in California). Ya’ll don’t have too many down south, but perhaps you should have more.

    Anyway, I think transportation infrastructure is one of those grey areas with the right solution being a mix of both, but I think Tam is right there are some consortiums who would pay even if you wouldn’t. I’d also add to her list most manufacturers who want to get their stuff to market.

  7. Les Jones Says:

    A tax on gasoline pays for roads, too. I’m not a fan of punitive gasoline taxes, but it’s a very good way to pay for roads and other driving infrastructure. The more you drive, the more you pay. If you don’t drive, you only pay the tax indirectly, in the cost of goods you buy that are shipped over the roads.

  8. Xrlq Says:

    I agree that a gas tax is better than paying tolls, iff that gas tax is used for roads, road-related services, and nothing else. I don’t think government schools generally work better than private schools, though; they only purpose of pooling there is to ensure that the poor have access to education at all. And that can be accomplished just as well through school vouchers or tax credits, assuming that the tax credits are available to people who pay for other kids’ education as well as their own.

  9. cube Says:

    I think many of the issues you mention could be made better with compeition (espically eductation). Though in many cases it takes the goverment to get the ball rolling.

    For example with roads, you need the goverment to get the land (though after kelo you may not, but historically you have). Once the land is gotten, the roads are probably better built by private compaines (bidding proccess). Though I would like to point out that toll roads are nicer in most cases than regular roads, though there throughput is also limited because maintaince is also done more on toll roads than regular roads.

  10. ben Says:

    And don’t kid yourself about Canada’s “Free” healthcare for everyone. It aint free, and you pay in more ways than one. My favorite way to refer to it is “universal access to waiting lists.” It sucks.

  11. markm Says:

    “SayUncle Says: But I dont have to stop and pay when I enter.”

    Get in touch with modern technology. There are several systems where you mount a radio device in your car and can zoom by the toll gates as the device pays the toll for you. Isn’t that better for paying taxes, for roads you use, roads you don’t use, and roads hardly anyone would use but some politician wanted built anyhow?

    Not that I advocate turning the entire road grid into privately-owned toll roads. Road rights of way generally cannot be obtained without some use of eminent domain. It’s especially hard to see a whole lot of private builders constructing a complete and reasonably interconnected grid of local roads (the kind that are normally constructed and maintained by city and county). Toll roads make more as major highways, but contrary to claims by Countertop and Cube, I’ve paid tolls on excellent highways, but also on terrible ones. I’ve often had to drive from Michigan to somewhere west of Chicago, and the highways that go around Chicago are always snarled by construction and excessive traffic, both in the toll and the free segments. One of the worst-maintained major highways I have ever driven was the Pennsylvania Turnpike (around 1988, anyhow). I was paying twice (gas tax and tolls), plus the concessions at at the rest stops along the road were grossly overpriced, and yet the pavement had deteriorated past the point where a rural county road in Michigan would have been repaired. (I don’t know if the Pennsy Turnpike is private or government-run; it’s quite possible that the legislature was diverting tolls to unrelated uses, or that the bulk of the money disappeared into overpriced sweetheart contracts that were handed out under either government management or regulated private management.) Regulated private companies can often count on a fixed profit margin above cost, and so have no more incentive to hold costs down than a government agenciy does.

  12. markm Says:

    “Some items listed were education, the military, roads, transportation, and, of course, someone had to mention healthcare.”

    The military: That’s a no-brainer decision for government control, and for national rather than state/provincial/local government at that. How would privately-run armies be financed? Taxation is preferable to looting. There’s also the issue of unity of command – one big army will nearly always beat several smaller armies. Admittedly, there’s also a danger that too big of an army that is too responsive to a single commander will turn on it’s own people. You handle that by keeping the full-time army no bigger than is necessary, supplementing it with some sort of militia/reserves so it can expand rapidly when needed, and by keeping up a steady interchange of people between the army and the civilian world.

    Roads and transportation: I can see these working either way, but I’d take it slow changing from the present system that mostly works…

    Schools: Here, the present government run system does NOT “mostly work”. It isn’t a total flop (except in areas where the problems start with uneducated parents and a student body that mostly doesn’t want to learn), but it wastes astounding amounts of money for mediocre results, while good students are bored silly and waste 4 or 5 hours out of 6. One often-cited statistic: Massachusetts reached it’s highest level of literacy in the late 19th century, at the same time a statewide system of public schools was first created, and school attendance made mandatory. After six generations of most parents not having to provide for their kid’s education, it might be necessary to keep on paying from tax funds – but let the parents pick the school that receives it!

    Healthcare: Just ask a Canadian who’s paying their own way for treatment in the USA about government-run healthcare. The problem with the US’s system isn’t that it’s private, but that it’s not private enough. Too much of it has been separated from market forces, until people don’t understand that the money to pay their medical bills does not magically appear at the insurance company, but actually came out of their pockets in the first place – along with at least 30% more that gets lost in administration costs.

  13. Heartless Libertarian Says:

    Xrlq and Markm both hit on/hinted at what I think would be the best system for education-publicly funded (through vouchers) and privately provided. It allows for competition, and for parents to pick schools that best suit their child’s abilities/ambitions.

    Also, to encourage cost efficiency/price competition, allow the parents to save any money not used in each year’s tuition voucher in an account that would be used to fund post-HS eduction, be that college, trade school, etc.

  14. joe public Says:

    Just asking, but what about utilities? Electricity, Water — not so much communications.

  15. mike hollihan Says:

    Blame the Prussians for our education system. When their nation began to industrialise in the late 19th century factory owners complained because the workers flooding into the cities had a wildly varying quality and degree of education. They had to waste a lot of time and money evening out and compensating for the local schools across the country.

    The result was a nationalised school system with a standardised curriculum and national teachers’ academies. It was spectacularly successful in the short run, as it turned out students with a generally standardised level of education. (But remember that Prussia was a militarised nation.)

    American progressives and Socialists were intrigued at the possibilities. They travelled to Prussia and translated the works that proposed and designed the national system. They began to proselytise. America was similar in that we had a vast and confusing network of local schools teaching every kind of thing under the sun. America was still primarily a nation of farmers, so education was secondary and subservient to agriculture. Progressives saw the opportunity to inject some of the thinking and theories into education by controlling the school systems. Look up John Dewey some time.

    Privatising education would end up creating something very like the marketplace. Or the university / state school / two-year school system. You’d have a small number of highly-sought and excellent schools, a larger number of pretty good schools and a whole lot of cheap knock-offs barely doing a bad job.

    The big problem is that schools used to prepare kids for a wide variety of careers: manual, office and elite. Trade schools have just about disappeared. Factory-style work isn’t part of public education’s mission any more. Public schools no longer see their job as turning out fully educated adults. Instead, they ready kids to be handed off to the university system. Used to be very few people went on to college. Now, the standard is a college education as part of the spectrum of schooling from 3 years of age to the mid-twenties.

    Part of the problem is that libertarianism is a philosophy of agrarian, lightly populated nations. Today’s densely-populated urban landscape isn’t as well suited to be libertarian.

  16. hellbent Says:

    The industries better served by socialism share some common traits: prohibitively high cost of entry, impracticality of competition, and broad to universal benefit. Those traits are not independent; for example, high cost of entry is one reason competition might be impractical. Nuclear plants are extremely expensive, so you wouldn’t want to have to rely on a competitor to come along and break some private nuke plant’s monopoly. You also don’t want every electricity provider to have to build their own system of utility poles and wires. Likewise, how miserable would it be to have competing roadways from point A to point B or have the left lane of Alcoa Hwy owned by ALCOA and Clayton and the right lane owned by Denso and the airport authority? Some things are better shared. Private ownership of rail lines is one of the major impediments to creating, for example, rail service between downtown Knoxville and the airport.

    As far as healthcare goes, I’ve never advocated full socialization, but nobody seems to listen. We need baseline medical care socialized, with private insurers selling supplemental coverage. That would give everyone the peace of mind of yearly check-ups, protection against catastrophes like car accidents, and treatment for routine illnesses, but it would not promise comprehensive care to everyone. Those who can afford it can buy supplemental coverage as they desire. Taking the burden of providing health care off of employers seems like it would be a real boost to our economy. That’s a serious inefficiency right there.

  17. Zendo Deb Says:

    Transportation? You honestly believe that Amtrack is a good thing?

    Maybe the government should take over Delta Airlines (or any of the other bankrupt carriers) Pay no attention to Southwest…. that’s just you being confused by captialism.

    Government does very few things that could not be handled differently. Government fire departments replaced private ones in many places. Is it better? Police have transformed themselves into a standing army and are – as we saw in New Orleans – starting to act like Jack-booted thugs. Would I rather rely on private security? Probably not.

    Ferderal Express, UPS, DHL or the Postal Service – who do you trust with important packages?

    Education: Where do I begin. Education, run by socialist governmental buearacrats do a wondderful job of educating students in NYC, LA, Chicago,… NOT. Parochial schools do a better job with about 10% of the resources. True private schools do much better. Is education in America better since the Dept. of Education was formed? Does “No Child Left Behind” actually work – or is it just a consultants gravy train? (Confused, talk to a teacher…)

    Public libraries are a good thing. Public roads, but toll roads work for the public, why would that be different than private roads?

  18. tgirsch Says:

    Uncle:

    Whether or not you think socialized health care is a good idea is largely dependent upon whether or not you think everyone ought to be able to get it. If you use accessibility as a measure of success of a health care system (or “market,” as you prefer), ours is pretty crummy. There are literally tens of millions of Americans who simply can’t afford sufficient health care. Maybe you’re okay with that, and maybe you’re not, but it is what it is. “The market” isn’t going to solve that issue any time soon.

    countertop:

    For that matter, in my experience, toll roads are vastly superior to most other roads

    You have obviously never been to Chicago…

    Also, recall that even if you never actually use the roads yourself, you almost certainly benefit from them being there.

    I agree with Uncle, those business consortia simply wouldn’t be viable without the infrastructure pre-existing. The federal highway budget for 2004 was over $30 billion, and that doesn’t include state or local spending. There’s just no way any consortium of companies could take that hit and remain profitable, at least not without charging and/or dramatically increasing prices. Expecting large businesses to pay for and maintain the roadways would put a disproportionate burden on those companies and be anti-business.

    Holy crap, I sound like a pro-business conservative. Somebody tell me to knock that shit off!

    Xrlq:

    [the] only purpose of pooling there is to ensure that the poor have access to education at all. And that can be accomplished just as well through school vouchers or tax credits

    And then, everyone flies away on their own free unicorns! Seriously, though, what for-profit company in its right mind is going to open a private school in Watts, for example? The only two choices in poor, higher-crime neighborhoods are public schools or no schools. (Or, to be fair, parochial schools that are still there from before the neighborhood depressed.) So now the vouchers and tax credits not only need to support the cost of some charter or private school; they also need to support even more busing.

    I could be wrong here, of course, but I’ve seen absolutely zero evidence that school vouchers work.

    And again, if we go that route, then I want my tax credits for not having any children at all. 🙂

    Heartless Libertarian:

    Xrlq and Markm both hit on/hinted at what I think would be the best system for education-publicly funded (through vouchers) and privately provided.

    I’m asking honestly, and not trying to be smarmy, but is there any evidence at all that this would actually work? Has it worked anywhere it has been tried? Has it been tried and worked somewhere else (outside the USA, for example)?

    In any case, if you do this, you’d still have to impose some regulation, unless you think the Wal-Martization of the educational system would be a good thing (cheaper is better, never mind quality). And I still have serious problems with any system that would allow tax dollars to be used to finance religious indoctrination.

    Hellbent:

    Well said.

    All:

    WRT health care, too many people are too ready to point to Canada in talking about an ideal health care system; it’s better than ours (despite what its critics say), but it still has its problems. Still, those problems aren’t insurmountable: you could allow private practice (Canada doesn’t) and allow people to voluntarily pay out-of-pocket to circumvent waiting lists; as long as doing so doesn’t relieve them of their responsibility to pay into the universal system, it shouldn’t substantially undermine the public system, and in fact could alleviate some load from it.

    But the better example is probably Switzerland, which has a consumer-driven health care system that achieves universal health care with a 30% lower per-capita health care expense than that of the US (as of 2004’s costs).

  19. SayUncle Says:

    Deb, I meant transportation like city buses and such. And I never trust the USPS with something important.

  20. Les Jones Says:

    “We need baseline medical care socialized, with private insurers selling supplemental coverage.”

    hellbent, I could probably get behind that sort of system. It would spread the costs around, provide a safety net for the poor, get some of the freeloaders to chip in, and prevent some of the losses incurred by providers in the current system. It would also keep the system from being completely socialized as in the Canadian model (which I think was a big mistake – it’s the equivalent of making everyone live in a public housing project).

  21. Scott Says:

    I’ll agree with markm, the Penn Turnpike is the worst toll road I’ve seen. I think the whole thing is a patch. Granted, they do keep it clear of snow and are quick about removing accidents (probably because polls pay for some maintenance guys sitting on ready all the time).

    It is one of the oldest freeways in the US, and they are still charging tolls. I thought the concept of a toll road was to pay for construction. I am assuming it is like any other government program, the tolls go into the general pot with everything else.

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