One question that libertarians and anarchists never stop hearing is “without government, who will build the roads?” Given Bridge-Gate — an intentionally manufactured traffic jam on New Jersey’s George Washington Bridge — one might ask “without government, who will block the roads?”
The scandal emerged after four grueling days of inexplicably awful traffic turned out to be the deliberate doing of Governor Chris Christie’s deputy chief of staff, Bridget Anne Kelly, and David Wildstein of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, a former appointee and high school classmate of Christie’s. After Mayor Mark Sokolich of Fort Lee failed to endorse Christie’s run for re-election, Kelly sent Wildstein an email reading “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.”
Beyond just the obvious mental agony, the traffic jam may have caused at least one death. Because emergency responders were caught in the jam, they were unable to reach a 91-year-old woman suffering from cardiac arrest.
Kelly has since been fired. Christie has claimed total innocence of the event, condemning it as “abject stupidity.” Despite that, voters remain more than a little skeptical, and Christie’s chances for a presidential run in 2016 have been damaged.
Yet while Kelly, Wildstein and even Christie may be held accountable, the institutions that they serve will not. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey will continue to own and operate the bridge. The government’s role in transportation will remain unquestioned.
Furthermore, no matter how unhappy drivers may be, they will have to keep paying for the same poor service with their tax dollars. Since those funds will not be available for consumers to redirect toward preferred alternatives, the operation of roads and bridges will remain an unaccountable product of political manipulation.
What this means is that those constructing roads will be necessarily ignorant of the knowledge that could only emerge in an open market setting. Even less corrupt officials will still be in the dark about how to most efficiently provide roads and highways. The result will be more and more of those more common, less overtly malicious, traffic jams that most of us are all too familiar with.
Given that everyone pays for the government’s roads, regardless of interest or use, the wear and tear of large delivery trucks is effectively subsidized. Leaving roads in shambles makes them both more dangerous and prone to never-ending repairs, which means even more traffic jams.
Even though those more standard traffic jams aren’t directly engineered, they can also pose problems for emergency vehicles, and causing problems for emergency vehicles can still kill people. Perhaps, then, our current system of centrally planned roads and highways should itself be seen as a scandal.
This is even truer when we consider that removing the market process not only holds us back from the possibility of better roads, but also holds us back from things that might be better than roads. Considering the environmental impact, subsidizing the current car culture is nothing short of “abject stupidity.”
Even though the problems associated with the state production of roads can’t be traced back to the same kind of self-aware evil as the Bridge-Gate, they aren’t natural disasters, and there are still people worth blaming. Specifically, those corporations whose business models most heavily rely on long distance shipping and the politicians they lobby for subsidies.
Yet while correctly casting blame is necessary to understanding that what looks like a clear case of public benefit is actually a carefully disguised case of private benefit, it isn’t enough. Though the George Washington Bridge scandal can be solved by removing those responsible, more has to be done to address the deeper problems with government roads.
The worst problems with government roads are not the one-time tragedies, they’re the ones that are systemic. The ones we see every day, the ones we learn to accept.
Systemic problems require systemic solutions. In this case, the only answer is denationalization. Roads must be taken out of the hands of power and into the hands of the people.