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IPFS News Link • United States Infrastructure

Don't Ask 'Who Will Build the Roads?' Ask 'Do We Even Want Roads?'

•, Thomas Walker-Werth

Then defenders of liberty argue that governments shouldn't tax their citizens, a common reply is, "In that case, who will build the roads?" There are plenty of good answers to that, explaining the various ways in which private industry might provide a better road network than governments do if left free. But there's a question that often goes unasked: "Do we even want roads?"

The Interstate Highway System cost $558 billion to construct (in 2021 dollars). Proponents claim it boosted the economy through faster transportation, and increased house prices and job creation. But, as I explain in my recent Substack article, it also had hugely negative effects, including destruction of the railroad industry, the demolition of vast amounts of homes and other property, and the decimation of inner-city economies.

But these are only the visible consequences. There are also unseen effects to consider. In the words of Frédéric Bastiat (1801-1850) in his famous work That Which is Seen, and That Which is Not Seen:

In the department of economy, an act, a habit, an institution, a law, gives birth not only to an effect, but to a series of effects. Of these effects, the first only is immediate; it manifests itself simultaneously with its cause—it is seen. The others unfold in succession—they are not seen. . . . It almost always happens that when the immediate consequence is favorable, the ultimate consequences are fatal, and the converse. Hence it follows that the bad economist pursues a small present good, which will be followed by a great evil to come, while the true economist pursues a great good to come—at the risk of a small present evil.