Rejoinder to Carnis on Private Roads

By Block, Walter E. | Libertarian Papers, January 2010 | Go to article overview
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Rejoinder to Carnis on Private Roads

Block, Walter E., Libertarian Papers

I. Introduction

For a long time, I have been writing about the importance of privatizing highways, mainly because of the carnage that occurs on our socialist roads. People die like flies on these statist vehicular thoroughfares, some 40,000 per year in the U.S. alone. My first publication on this topic appeared in 1979, my most recent was published in 2009, and I have written on this horrid subject many times during the intervening thirty year period. (1)

Until Tullock (1996) my writing on road privatization was pretty much ignored. Some of it was cited by other scholars in this field, but until Gordon Tullock had the kindness to subject my views on this topic to intensive and critical scrutiny, they were not made the subject of any extensive and critical scrutiny. Tullock (1996) singled out for his critique my paper Block (1979) and Block and Block (1996); I replied to it in Block (1998c).

Then Carnis appeared on the scene with a series of magnificent and insightful articles on this topic (Carnis, 2001, 2003, 2006). These were splendid contributions to the free market side of this debate, strongly making the case for, and defending against objections to, conversion of our present socialist roadway network to a private enterprise institution. Carnis'ss pedigree in this regard is not as long as mine, but what he lacks in years (he is a far younger man), he more than makes up in terms of insight, logic and verve.

Carnis (2009), the subject of this present essay, is somewhat of a different matter, in my view. In this case, while I acknowledge that he has continued to build onto the road privatization edifice, for the first time in his contribution to this literature, I must part company from him. (2) I thank him for his kind words about my previous publications, (3) but shall devote this rejoinder to what I consider problematic statements of Carnis (2009).

Let me summarize the debate between Tullock and myself, the one that Carnis (2009) now joins. I had originally (Block and Block, 1996) denied that a private road owner with a highway stretching from Los Angeles to Boston (4) could in effect cut the north and south parts of the country into two parts that would be disconnected from one another via surface transportation. How? By building tunnels under, or bridges over, this LAB highway. The controversy between Tullock and me mainly concerned whether or not this would, or would not, conflict with the property rights of the LAB owner.

II. Critique

1. Lack of realism

Carnis (2009) enters the lists in the Block-Tullock debate with the following criticism of me (material in brackets supplied by present author):

   Nonetheless, the imagination he (Block) evinces as to possible
   solutions is marked by a lack of realism regarding current
   technical means of developing these kinds of infrastructures.
   Future technical advances could doubtless make it possible cope
   with these considerations, but to my knowledge this kind of
   overpass does not exist at present; and the problem raised demands
   a solution now.

Carnis (2009) is saying, if I can put words into his mouth, that while my heart is in the right place in this matter, and while my suggestions re tunnels and bridges may well be able to be implemented some time in the future, they are impractical in the present day, and we need some pragmatic solutions right away.

But underground tunnels have been with us for many decades, centuries, even. According to this source (5) they have been in existence since at least 2100 B.C. That is over 4,000 years ago. I am hardly being "unrealistic" in terms of modern technology being able to construct tunnels. (6) And, why tunnels could not be built, in the present day, under the LAB highway, is not explained by Carnis.

What about bridges, specifically, those (Carnis, 2009) "avoiding negative external effects for the owner of the road: the passage of light, water, etc.

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