Monday, November 20, 2006


Free Roads

I've been listening to Rothbard's "For A New Liberty" (free at Mises) again. He has a bit in there about how privatized roads would work, focussing on technology and tolling.
Over the summer I read "Myth of the Robber Barrons" by Burton W. Folsom. He has a chapter about Vanderbuilt's ferry boats. He started out charging a lower price than the competition, and continued lowering the price until the ferry ride was free, and he was making all his money off concessions.
Is it possible that roads could be privatized and remain free, like the ferries?
The positive externalities received by merchants and residents would be returned to those they had been extracted from. Other consequences: cities would be smaller, or zoning would be more diverse.
A possible parallel is the relative free use of the internet, especially services like google, YouTube, etc. where advertising pays for all.
Could we have free privatized roads?

Of course, but could advertising pay, or merchants? There's an awful lot of unpainted road out there, not to mention wall space, the inside of tunnels, etc. Would a private road owner stand to gain more by charging tolls or by selling advertising? How much would a mechant be willing to pay to have the road come closer to his/her property.
I was talking to a lawyer friend yesterday who was responsible for sorting out the purchase of land for widening I-85 through Durham. He said about 1/3 of new road building costs are the purchase of land to build the road. Wouldn't merchants be willing to give the land to a road builder who put the road on their property?
Any suggestions how these ideas could be tested/quantified?
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