Bridging the Divide Between Two States

Portland, Oregon and Vancouver, Washington are separated by the Columbia River, fourth largest river in the US. The first bridge between the two cities was built in 1917. The cost was shared by Multnomah and Clark Counties. The second span, which added another three lanes to the original, was built in 1958 and is currently in use along with the original.

Before the bridge reaches its one hundred year mark, a new bridge will almost certainly be built. Various agency studies have been done and public demand for it has been stimulated. Unlike the original span, which was a bit over thirty feet wide, the new monster is shaping up to be twelve lanes and cost in the billions.

Also in contrast is the difference in funding. The original was entirely paid for by the two adjacent counties and repaid over several years with a five-cent toll comparable to a couple of bucks per auto in today’s coin. The new one will reach deep into every possible pocket; local, state and federal. You may never get a glimpse of the bridge, you may live in the hills of Nebraska without a car, but if you pay federal taxes, you will help pay for it. By the way, no one is claiming it is worn out or dangerous, just “busy.”

Bridges are interesting from a free market standpoint. The statist conservative viewpoint has a difficult time not only with bridges but with all infrastructure. Well, maybe they don’t think they do, but they do!

Where does infrastructure fit in with the “small government” banner so fervently waved on the right? After all, if the monopoly capital economy that is perversely called the “free market” is so darned free, why does it require enormous expenditures from the general fund of the state to establish and maintain the structures that foster that same market? If the present capitalistic system is so fruitful, why the reliance on state socialism to transport people and goods, provide power and water and dispose of the system’s waste?

Statist liberals have no problem with either “big government” or infrastructure. They see it as a fundamental chore of the public sector. That their union constituents benefit directly from the resulting government contracts is icing on the cake.

The funding mechanism of the original bridge stands in contrast to the new “central planning” project that involves all levels of government at great monetary cost to the entire nation. Neither is based on true free market principles, but at least the original bridge was built with the local citizens and cost vaguely in mind.

The latest bridge reincarnation is nothing but a complete surrender to the monopoly capital economy. The state corporate structure must be served; whether it is the 18-wheelers rolling their 200,000 pound loads of stamped out consumer products from the docks to markets a thousand miles away or local Washington workers commuting into Portland to add their productivity to factories. The underlying fact that the current controlled economic system relies on public funding of infrastructure is not taken into consideration.

The concept of a bridge and a free market is not a simple one. Bridges span water, one of the last vestiges of “common” property. Bridge designs impact anyone who utilizes the river and anyone in the immediate area and sometimes not so immediate area. It’s a bit more complicated than selling an apple at the local fruit stand.

Yet, are bridges so complicated that we should yield to whatever “authorities” have in mind for us? We can and have in our human past done better relying on our own resources.

Bridges weren’t invented by governments. They originally were the result of free people who thought it might be nice to get to the other side of a river without swimming or jumping into a boat. The builders may have allowed everyone to pass over the bridge or no one. Or, they may have expected some value in return. Countless bridges have been built with cooperation and consent rather than force.

There is no question that slavery has also built many bridges in our human past. If our government requires us to pay for a bridge or other project we may not want or many of us will never use and we must go to work to pay for that project while others benefit, where does this place us on the spectrum?  Certainly we are not entirely enslaved, but neither are we entirely free.

And that is the confusion we face in our modern world. We exist in a nether land, somewhere between freedom and enslavement; a world where markets controlled by force are referred to as free; a world in which we are told this project is for you, when it is really for them.

One day we will build a bridge that the planners won’t plan, the authorities won’t authorize and the studiers won’t instruct us as to how great our needs are. The thing is, by the time we get to that point, we probably won’t need a bridge, because we will already be there!

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