Wednesday, February 04, 2009

What's the Matter with Frank?

The Kansan doesn't get basic economics, for one:
...state governments are in straitened circumstances these days, scarcely able to afford the upkeep on the roads and bridges they inherited from our statist ancestors. Indeed, one scarcely ever sees the word "infrastructure" without the inevitable qualifier, "crumbling." And few are willing to raise the gasoline taxes which pay for the repairs.

So the thing to do is give up. Lease those roads and bridges out. Let a private company collect the tolls, widen the lanes, and fill the potholes. They can make it work, and when they do, they will create jobs.

....Just to make sure Americans do the right thing, the pro-privatization worthies further suggested, in the words of a Reuters account, that maybe the coming federal stimulus package "should tie stimulus funds to private capital involvement." Apparently these privatization deals aren't sweet enough to sell themselves.

But there's good reason to be reluctant to privatize. It doesn't take an MBA to figure out that we didn't build our Interstate highways in order to create opportunities for venture capitalists. The purpose was public service.

Well over two centuries ago Adam Smith explained, in Wealth of Nations, how the public got what they needed, and it wasn't usually through 'public service'. It was by appealing to the selfish interests of producers of food, clothing and shelter. I.e., by offering money in return.

Some things couldn't be provided privately (or only with great difficulty) because there was no way to identify the beneficiaries and collect from their using them. Those goods and services were provided by governments and paid for indirectly (taxation). Which--as even Thomas Frank concedes in his WSJ piece--is a comparatively inefficient way to go.

So, what is Frank's problem with--now that the transponder technology exists to monitor usage of the formerly 'public good' of limited access highways and bridges--moving bravely into the 21st century, and adapting the superior (more efficient) method; charge very, very short term rental fees for the use of those highways?

How often does Frank see the adjective 'crumbling' accompanying the words apartment building? Or 'parking garage'?

Usually only when those things are owned and operated by government agencies, no?

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