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Practicality of Privatized Infrastructure

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My question relates to the method in which a fully privatized infrastructure (water, roads, electricity, sewers, etc.) would operate. A major reason that government regulated monopolies exist in these sectors is to prevent multiple sets of pipes/wires from occupying a particular area. How would private companies compete with one another without a mess of roads/pipes/wires clashing? How would we have a functional and complete system of transportation/resource distribution without the system being centrally planned?

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I think if you do some searching you will find plenty of resources online, including on this forum. Here is one: the e-book version of "The Privatization of Roads and Highways."

I've been trying to get my hands on this book for a few weeks, and hadn't even thought to look for a (free!) ebook version. Thanks!

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From the foreword of the book you linked, the argument is made that if a particular road-builder gets a reputation for having poor roads, people will simply choose other roads. My problem with this is that there is a shortest distance between two points, and it's a straight line. The idea that there would be lots of competing roads with route distances/times that are even remotely comparable (and for some reason owned by other companies) is patently absurd. Where are they building these competing roads?

If a company buys all of the practically viable land for building roads between two locations (your home and your place of work) and then proceeds to build and maintain bad roads, what's your recourse? Drive however many miles out of your way as is necessary to bypass the best route? Hope that the company holding the land on THOSE routes isn't doing the same thing?

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I live close to work, and typically take one of 6 (major) roads to get there. For one company to buy those roads, plus side streets, would be a substantial capital investment, I would say so substantial that it would not be credible to think that a business could possibly hope to be profitable without continuing to invest additional capital in what they have.

The shortest distance in geometry class is a straight line, whereas in roads, there are competing desiderata: the lowest mileage, the fastest trip, the easiest trip. One of my 6 paths is twice as long as the shortest path, but it's 3 times faster. You seem to be thinking that roads have to be on the ground, which is not the case, in fact quite a number of high-traffic roads are above or under ground.

Right now, the single-owner has a well-deserved reputation for having poor roads, so you're describing the status quo for roads.

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If a company buys all of the practically viable land for building roads between two locations (your home and your place of work) and then proceeds to build and maintain bad roads, what's your recourse? Drive however many miles out of your way as is necessary to bypass the best route? Hope that the company holding the land on THOSE routes isn't doing the same thing?

The same argument could be made of any good or service. There is always someone who can make things cheaper or more efficiently. Why do you think the "optimal" producer of any good or service doesn't have a monopoly?

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I live close to work, and typically take one of 6 (major) roads to get there. For one company to buy those roads, plus side streets, would be a substantial capital investment, I would say so substantial that it would not be credible to think that a business could possibly hope to be profitable without continuing to invest additional capital in what they have.

The shortest distance in geometry class is a straight line, whereas in roads, there are competing desiderata: the lowest mileage, the fastest trip, the easiest trip. One of my 6 paths is twice as long as the shortest path, but it's 3 times faster. You seem to be thinking that roads have to be on the ground, which is not the case, in fact quite a number of high-traffic roads are above or under ground.

Right now, the single-owner has a well-deserved reputation for having poor roads, so you're describing the status quo for roads.

Not everyone lives close to work and has access to those options. A simple "I don't think that would happen" is not really a response to the concern anyway. In addition, you have those options (at least partially) because the roads are centrally planned and funded, and there's no incentive to prevent you from utilizing other routes.

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The same argument could be made of any good or service. There is always someone who can make things cheaper or more efficiently. Why do you think the "optimal" producer of any good or service doesn't have a monopoly?

There is not always someone who can make things cheaper or more efficiently. At some point, it's as cheap and efficient as it will be - you're simply assuming that you'll never find the best way. You can't honestly believe that infrastructure works the same way as commodities.

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It is admittedly hard to imagine what an economy would look like in the absence of central planning and government ownership. There are glimpse in places like Houston, that has survived without zoning and in Sweden of all places that has a lot of private roads. The people and business that depend on the roads would have far more power against a private enterprise than they would have against a government.

This book Street Smart: Competition, Entrepreneurship, and the Future of Roads is also good

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There is not always someone who can make things cheaper or more efficiently. At some point, it's as cheap and efficient as it will be - you're simply assuming that you'll never find the best way. You can't honestly believe that infrastructure works the same way as commodities.

If by "works the same way" you mean these commodities are not for some special reasons exempt from the principles on which economic science is based, then yes that is exactly what we believe.

So usually when someone wants to disagree, they would need to provide somewhat of an explanation or sort of justification to demonstrate that these special exemptions to economic law do exist, not just provide an interrogative rhetorical ploy like "you can't honestly believe X,Y, or Z?" and pretend that suffices for an argument.

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I was thinking about this exact topic the other day. The only problem I faced was determining how the owners would charge the users for their road usage?

There would have to be Zones controlled by each company rather than just individual roads or it will become a nightmare when it comes to smaller side roads.

If you used an electronic toll system, it would mean that there would have to be a certain amount of co-operation between companies to ensure that you you could use one device for all the different roads.

In fact, you'd have to have, at the minimum, a state-wide use of a single technology. Which would probably have to be operated by an independent company who then distributes the profits as appropriatet.

Although, I can imagine quite feasibly that for us, the "consumers", we might simply receive a bill much the same as our phone bill at the end of each month.

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Just throwing this out there... many strips of roads have government mandated requirements because infrastructure is part of our national defense.

For example, many brdges, tollways, tunnels are designed so that they can accomodate military vehicles/equipment/tanks and suchlike. Also stretches that have to remain flat & straight to accomodate emergency military aircraft landing & take-off.

Much infrastructure planning was done to anticipate military defense. (not so anymore of course as it has turned more towards social engineering)

I am for privatization of as much as possible. How do we get around these very practical realities that many citizens probably aren't aware of?

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Just throwing this out there... many strips of roads have government mandated requirements because infrastructure is part of our national defense.

For example, many brdges, tollways, tunnels are designed so that they can accomodate military vehicles/equipment/tanks and suchlike. Also stretches that have to remain flat & straight to accomodate emergency military aircraft landing & take-off.

Much infrastructure planning was done to anticipate military defense. (not so anymore of course as it has turned more towards social engineering)

I am for privatization of as much as possible. How do we get around these very practical realities that many citizens probably aren't aware of?

If I was building a road or a bridge the government could pay me to make my road flat enough and wide enough to land an aircraft on and I could have a contract with them stating that I would keep the road in good repair to allow such landings to occur. None of this precludes me from owning the road.

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Pants, computers, groceries and petroleum products are also part of what's necessary for national defense.

Please, don't misunderstand me.

I do want as much as possible to be privately owned. I am not arguing against here. I am hoping for help to argue for and it seems to me that the best and only (seemingly) reasonable defense to keep major interstates govt owned is for uniformity in certain regards that pertain to mobilizing military and national disaster units.

If they were to be privately owned but with certain requirements we of course go back to govt infringing on privately owned enterprises. But without any of these requirements I could see a lack backfiring in case of extreme emergency &/or war.

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So your concern is that irrational morons will all build the roads and will forget to take into consideration how wide their roads should be and when those rabid Canadians finally invade, the government's trucks won't be able to travel on the tiny roads? I'm sorry, but that is a ridiculous objection. You do realize that the government's trucks are not the only trucks that travel on roads? (Of course causing back-ups and massive congestion on the government's highways. We've all been stuck behind one of these "oversize loads" right? Which is not even to address natural disasters... we all saw the government's handling of Katrina.) There are countless number of construction vehicles and heavy equipment that move about on roads every single day, and yet people figure out ways to make this function. If a road needs to be built, people build it. If a road needs to be wider, people build them wider. What is the point in producing a good that your customers can't even use? If there is a need to move large trucks, then that value will be created by rational people who recognize that fact.

The government should also be run by rational people who look at the roads and the networks needed to move about to defend the country and say, "Hey, we need this road to be wider. Here, build this for us." And people can build it. The military today has bases that need massive amounts of goods, equipment, food, water, fuel, power, waste disposal, etc. every single day, and deliveries are made, logistics are connected, and people makes these things function. Why in the world would everyone suddenly forget this and decide to make roads so small it would endanger the country's security?

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So your concern is that irrational morons will all build the roads and will forget to take into consideration how wide their roads should be and when those rabid Canadians finally invade, the government's trucks won't be able to travel on the tiny roads? I'm sorry, but that is a ridiculous objection.

I said nothing of the sort.

You might want to go back and read my post(s). Minus vitriol & kneejerking.

Breathing and counting to ten could be of help.

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If they were to be privately owned but with certain requirements we of course go back to govt infringing on privately owned enterprises. But without any of these requirements I could see a lack backfiring in case of extreme emergency &/or war.
Well, the question is whether there are any special requirements of roads that have to do with defense. I think the answer is, no, since the military has a habit of going places where roads hardly exist. So of all the things in the world that the military has a special need for, roads isn't one. The special requirements of computers, food, and shoes of the military are, on the other hand, as the phrase implies, special, and yet still, the military manages without having to control the computer industry of have its own computer-building facilities.

Anyhow, if it turns out for some reason that the military needs special roads laid down on a bed of $45,000 ashtrays, so that it can transport truck loads of hi-tech million dollar screw drivers from point A to point B, and if no private concern wants to build such a road (turn down a zillion dollar defense contract?! Are you crazy?!!), then it would be appropriate for the government to build a special, dedicated military road. There are two separate questions -- who builds it, and who uses it? W.r.t. the former, in fact private industry can, does and should build it, according to whatever specifications are necessary. W.r.t. who uses it, specifically roads or spy satellites, there is no principle of the free which says that the government cannot own property. If the military can own a truck, it can own a road, or a satellite, and the owner gets to say how it's used.

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Well, the question is whether there are any special requirements of roads that have to do with defense. I think the answer is, no, since the military has a habit of going places where roads hardly exist.

Our current infrastructure was built for specific defense needs though.

http://scm.ncsu.edu/public/facts/facs060705.html

That's why I bring it up. Not because I agree with the argument but because I lack sufficient knowledge on the matter and am looking to clarify. Obviously our current military technology allows for more flexibility, but to what extent should the government intervene on a national security basis- which is after all its proper role.

Another question I cannot answer...

..for years tax dollars have been taken from private citizens to fund these roads.

If they were all sold to private entities tomorrow, made wholly private and switched to per-use tolls would that not be a violation of the rights of the people who have been paying taxes for the upkeep of these roads all along?

And not to go off topic but doesn't the same go for schools and other govt agencies it would be desirable to privatize?

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Another question I cannot answer...

..for years tax dollars have been taken from private citizens to fund these roads.

If they were all sold to private entities tomorrow, made wholly private and switched to per-use tolls would that not be a violation of the rights of the people who have been paying taxes for the upkeep of these roads all along?

And not to go off topic but doesn't the same go for schools and other govt agencies it would be desirable to privatize?

I would treat any such sale as the beginning of a clean slate. That money paid in taxes is gone, use the proceeds of the sale of infrastructure to finance the proper functions of government from now on, and to pay of debt of course.

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Our current infrastructure was built for specific defense needs though.
I see what you mean. The military need was the justification for the federal law which enabled that huge expenditure. So that explains the historical origin of the interstate system. Nevertheless, the system that was built does not satisfy any exclusively military needs: civilian commerce also needed such a system of roads, and the engineering requirements of the roads are not higher because of a military application (in contrast to in-the-field computers). So my point was that what is required of a road system is not determined by defense needs.
..for years tax dollars have been taken from private citizens to fund these roads.

If they were all sold to private entities tomorrow, made wholly private and switched to per-use tolls would that not be a violation of the rights of the people who have been paying taxes for the upkeep of these roads all along?

Let us assume that the government must divest itself of the roads. The violation of rights happened in the past, in the form of taxation and property expropriation. Divestiture does not further violate rights, and it does make possible compensation for those rights violations. Giving the roads away lacks that advantage, although it is not without merit as an idea. If you sell the roads, the amount of road that you can buy is limited by your capital, and the free market determines the price. If you give the roads away, the question immediately comes up: how much road does each person get? Since everybody pays taxes, we all have a right to a share of the roads, assuming The Divestiture. We do not all have the same interest or ability to own a piece of the roads, and it would be grotesquely inefficient if everybody got 100 square feet of the road system. Essentially, Mega-Government needs to have a Going Out of Business Sale, where it sells the unnecessary assets, and pays its creditors (the victims of taxation and theft) with the proceeds. There is The Actual Debt on the order of $13 trillion, i.e. real loans made by the government, which are obligations in first position. It's an open question whether there would be anything left after the assets were sold off.
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