It’s 4:15am, and I just finished reading Walter Block’s book on the privatization of roads and highways. This seems like one of those books that has the potential to grow on the reader in the weeks following completion. All in all, I find the conclusions of Professor Block to be solid, certain detours down rabbit holes to satisfy the demands of academic debate notwithstanding.
One problem area that might be mitigated is the repetition that occurs throughout the book. This is a function of its being a collection of (mostly) previously published essays and is perhaps to some extent inevitable. Nevertheless, toward the end of the book the reader gets the sense that he can finish Block’s sentences for him. Maybe some of the essays simply could have been eliminated.
Another misgiving I have about this book is that I think Block might well over-state the government’s responsibility for the 40,000 annual deaths on our highways. Surely some of these deaths can be attributed to mismanagement or poor maintenance, or even inefficiency in ensuring safe driving practices. But there would seem to be a limit to how far one can take this. We need not go hog-wild with this idea to justify the privatization of the roads, and we certainly don’t need to stretch it too far in order to be on solid ground in advocating the anarcho-capitalist system.
Traditionalists who are skeptical of Block’s work might take some comfort in the fact that roads throughout history have been privately owned. Pragmatists might find interest in the axiom that the private sector can accomplish the same task the public sector undertakes for only half the cost. And enthusiasts of natural right and the work of philosophers such as John Locke will be attracted to the privatization of roads given the possibility it presents for the elimination of coercive taxes to pay for transportation, as well as eminent domain.
Oh, an extra thing about eminent domain. The constitution says that those whose property is seized by the government are to be paid a fair market price for their loss. The problem with this is that a fair market price cannot exist without mutual agreement, and eminent domain is coercion.
All in all, this book is worth a read. It will, of course, be beneficial to have some basic Austrian economics reading under one’s belt before starting it. I recommend Hazlitt’s Economics in One Lesson and Mises’ book on Socialism.