Thursday, January 7, 2010

A "Plan" that Isn't

Texas gubernatorial candidate Kay "Bailout" Hutchison has unveiled a "plan" to improve Texas roads. In a speech last week, she said:
Texans are tired of the traffic and congestion in our cities. They are frustrated with the arrogance and inefficiencies of the leadership at the Texas Department of Transportation that have failed to produce results. One of my top priorities as governor will be to clean up TxDOT and solve the transportation problems that have plagued Texas for the last decade.
This all sounds fine and dandy. After all, who is in favor of congested roads? However, it is one thing to say that you are going to fix something and another thing to put forth a plan to actually do so. So what is the Senator's plan? She will appoint a "select committee". In other words, she has no plan, other than evading the issue and waiting for recommendations from others. That doesn't give us much to hang our hat on.

One does not need to be an expert in transportation issues to predict the outcome of the "select committee". They will issue a report that concludes that Texas highways are congested, and they will recommend some course of action. Some will think that the proposal is the greatest thing since sliced bread, and others will decry that proposal as a colossal waste of money. And then a long and acrimonious public debate will ensue. While the transportation elitists are sipping their soy lattes and arguing over how to spend our money, the roads will grow more congested.

Hutchison's "plan" is just a rehash of what the state has been doing all along. The problem, she implies, is that the "right" people aren't running the show. We don't need fundamental change, she implies, but rather, a different set of suits lording over Texas roads.

I realize that transportation issues can be very complex. And in a state the size of Texas, with multiple large metropolitan areas and vast expanses of desolate terrain, such issues are perhaps more complex than in other states. So I will not begin to pretend that I know how to reduce traffic congestion. However, neither Hutchison nor her "select committee" will know either, no matter how many hearings they hold or how much of our money they spend.

Nor does Hutchison know how to insure that our stores are full of products, or that Internet service is available to millions of people, or how to manufacture cell phones. The people in these industries do know and they do a spectacular job. I don't have to wait in bread lines, or tolerate Internet black outs, or wait months to purchase a cell phone. The producers of these values have an incentive--the profit motive--to insure an adequate and available supply. If they don't, they go out of business because consumers will go elsewhere.

But what incentive does Hutchison, or any politician, have to provide an adequate supply of roadways? The correct answer is: NONE. Sure, they make all kinds of noises to appease voters, but when the rubber meets the road little is done. The demand for roadways continues to exceed the supply, and congestion is the result.

With very few and rare exceptions, we do not experience such supply/ demand discrepancies when private companies are providing the goods or services. Private companies find innovative ways to provide the goods and services that consumers want and desire. Those that do so successfully profit; those that do not go out of business.

When government is unsuccessful--as in the case with roadways, mail delivery, and education to name a few examples--it is immune from the consequences. It's assets are not reallocated to more efficient producers. Indeed, it simply seizes more assets from producers to fund its inefficiencies.

Government should not be in the business of providing roads. In doing so, it violates our rights by forcibly taking our money. And in prohibiting competition, it violates the rights of would-be entrepreneurs who could and would find innovative solutions to our transportation needs.

Government's purpose is the protection of our rights--the freedom to act according to our own rational judgment (so long as we respect the mutual rights of others). Government's purpose is to provide the social context in which we can act morally.

Government's use of force may properly be used only against those who initiate force--robbers, kidnappers, rapists, murderers for example. Government's monopoly on roads (not to mention mail delivery and education) forces both consumers and would-be road entrepreneurs to act contrary to their own judgment. Our congested freeways are but one example of the impractical consequences of this approach.

If Hutchison (or any politician) truly wants to solve our transportation problems, she must begin by renouncing the government's immoral use of force to prohibit competition and compel tax payers to fund the government's monopoly. Only by subjecting government to moral law--limiting the use of force to retaliation against those who initiate its use--can the practical be achieved.

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