POLITICS

Save the Earth: Privatize the highways

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Politics,Beltway Confidential,Timothy P. Carney

Few things get as much bipartisan agreement as the need for more highway funding. And whenever both parties agree on something, it's a pretty good idea for real liberals and conservatives to question it. This often provides opportunity for Left-Right cooperation against the middle.

Grist, a liberal environmentalist website, this week flirts with the libertarianish idea of selling off or leasing out our highways. Here's the heart of the story:

the best policy outcome would be getting people to drive less. For decades, we've had it backwards, keeping the price of driving artificially low -- building a massive network of roads and highways with taxpayer dollars, requiring properties to provide parking spaces. Might a little bit of the free market be just what we need to get Americans paying something closer to the true cost of driving?

What Taibbi fails to point out (at least in this excerpt of his book) is that we shouldn't be particularly proud of the Turnpike. It is just one expensive, crumbling cog in our national fossil-fuel-based infrastructure, one of many embarrassing reminders of the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world.

To be sure, there's plenty in this blog post which I would not co-sign, but it reminds me of when I happened upon some national convention of oil executives by chance in New Orleans in 2007. I asked one oilman about subsidies, and he said, "the biggest subsidy I get is the government paving all those roads."

I've written about this sort of issue a couple of times ("Free parking is welfare" and "McDonnell should let the market, not developers, guide transportation policy"). And you may enjoy a discussion on this topic between Reihan Salam and me on BloggingHeads, below.

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