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Sunday, April 6, 2008

Seeing Privatized Streets In Our Crystal Ball

Susan Hogarth wrote:

SH) A failure of imagination is not an excuse to reject freedom in any particular case. (SH

I don't rely on merely the fecundity of my personal anarchotopian fantasy life to decide what the LP Platform should tell Libertarian candidates what they may advocate.  It turns out that not many respectable libertarian economists are willing to seriously argue against the mainstream consensus that there is a government role to play in the provision of physical network club goods.  Club goods are those that are 1) excludable -- we can disconnect you from the pipes and maybe block you from the streets -- and 2) non-rival  -- i.e. usually uncongested.  Club goods involving physical networks are especially problematic, as they are subject to holdout problems and are clearly natural monopolies -- meaning they are subject to such high fixed costs and low marginal costs as to make competition inefficient.

The most respectable libertarian economist I know of who defends private roads is Dan Klein:  However, his focus is on toll roads (like Highway 91 in Southern California), and anarcholibertarian discussion of private streets usually invokes their ownership by private communities that sound suspiciously like towns (or water districts).  It takes a non-economist like Walter Block to try to argue much farther than this, and his arguments aren't persuasive.

SH) This is a what-is-seen- vs a what-is-not-seen issue. [...] Who knows for sure, but without government road monopolies we might easily be flying around in solar-powered 'copters (SH

Susan, it always amazes me how your crystal ball de-clouds itself at such convenient times -- like when you want to predict the success of private streets, or to write in the Radical Caucus "Key Points" that "the morally correct choice will always yield the most benefit for the greatest number of people".  Who are you, and what have you done with the Susan Hogarth who tells me that we can't know whether a non-zero default contestable level of fines and fees for polluting products and actions will lead to a net reduction in the amount of aggression? :-)

SH) or taking trains or living and working in lovely small communities rather than commuting 50 miles/day. (SH

In fact, and as I've suggested to you before, the ecumenical libertarian answer here is indeed radical decentralism.  Networks of streets and pipes only need community provision at the level of towns, or at most counties.  It makes no sense to say that our candidates can't argue against the dismantling of the federal nanny state unless they connect that idea to the notion that there might need to be a toll gate at the end of my driveway.