31. Without Government, Who Will Build the Roads?

Many people believe that without government, we wouldn’t have access to things that are usually classified as “public goods.” From libraries to roads, many like to use this argument to prove the government’s growing presence in our lives. But we are surrounded by examples of private companies and individuals providing the same services that governments have historically provided, only the private sector often does it much better.

Terms:

  • Crony Capitalism: When successful businesses use government power in order to gain control in the marketplace.
  • Incentive: Something that motivates or encourages one to do something.
  • Monopoly: A business that does not have any competition

Links:

Books:

Here is the transcript of our conversation: 

 

Brittany: Hi Connor.

Connor: Hey Brittany

Brittany: So I have a question for you. Are you ready?

Connor: I’m ready. Let’s hear it.

Brittany: Without the government who will build the roads?

Connor: This is the question to end all questions. this is the question that all other questions lead to, and I imagine a lot of kids are scratching their heads right now. What do you mean? Who will build the roads?

Brittany: Their parents might be laughing though.

Connor: All right, so why are the parents laughing?

Brittany: So for people who maybe call themselves libertarians or maybe small government, limited government people, every time we try to say that we don’t need the government to be so big, the first question that people always ask, and this is the question that makes them the gotcha question they think that they’ve quartered us is, without government who will build the roads. And it gets to the point where we are so sick of hearing this because it happens all the time. But in a previous episode, you and I kind of talked about different ways that private organizations can help with charity, and that got me thinking about all the different things that obviously private people can do with not only roads but pretty much anything. So I wanna talk a little bit about that with you today.

Connor: Well, it’s funny because I think you have a fun story to share that I enjoyed learning about a year or two ago, but before we get into that the thing that’s always struck me as odd when people say who will build the roads is at the end of the day, the government isn’t building any of the roads.

Brittany: They don’t have a road company.

Connor: Yeah. The government is saying, Hey, we have all this money and we need a road. Who’s willing to build it? And if they’re doing it right, they will get multiple bids from different companies so that if they’re doing it right, cheap and the best. Yeah, usually you get your crony examples. And crony is a word to mean corrupt, where maybe the person in charge of paying for the roads is gonna hire his brother’s company and his brother will charge twice as much just so he can make a bunch of money. The taxpayers have to pay for it. You get some of that corruption sometimes. But if they’re doing it right, multiple companies will be able to bid on it and say. Hey, I’m willing to build the road for this much money and this much time and here’s the quality that we would do. And the government person can look at all those bids and say, This one’s good, this one’s not.

But yeah, it’s not the government, like the bureaucrat, the guy who works at the department of whatever, who’s putting on a hard hat and going out there and shoveling stuff. A private company who is really good at building roads, they have developed that skill. They’ve done it for a long time. They know how to reduce costs, they know how to improve quality and make sure that the roads don’t crack and you don’t have to replace them every so often. So I’ve just always found, that’s funny cuz I’m like, well, who will build the roads? Who does build the roads? Right? not the government.

Brittany: It’s not the government. They take the money

Connor: Exactly. All this is not a question of roads. This whole question is really about who should have to pay for them and how will they pay for them

Brittany: Well, and the answer to that is literally anyone and I think the story I’m gonna share with you right here in a second is gonna kind of hit that home. So I think it was about two years ago, I think you’re right, Domino’s Pizza started something called Paving for Pizza. And they told all their customers like, Hey, we’re sick of the government not fixing the roads just as much as you are. It breaks our delivery driver’s cars. It makes it harder for them to get to you. So if you tell us to find a pothole in the road or a really bad road and you want us to fix it, submit the address, let us know and we will come to fix it. And people laughed at this at the beginning, how silly dominoes. But for Libertarians, we thought our day has come, even though we’d already known that this was a possibility, all of a sudden you had the private sector jumping in and saying, We’re going to do it. We’re gonna fix them ourselves. And I don’t remember if they hired someone else or if I, I’m pretty sure that their delivery drivers are not also skilled in fixing files. And because of all the licenses, the government licenses that go into even being able to fix anything on public property. So that gets back to your point where it’s just who’s paying the money. And here Domino’s had what’s called an incentive. And I think there’s a Tuttle Twins book that talks about incentives and I can’t remember which one off the top of my head.

Connor: Yeah, the messed up market. We talk about incentives. And so an incentive is basically a reason to do something. You are motivated to do something. And so for example, if my wife tells me, Hey, if you do the dishes tonight, I’ll cook you an apple pie or bake you an apple pie.

Brittany: Do you like it behind?

Connor: Yeah, I now have the incentive to go do the dishes and do it quickly. Cuz man I want that apple pie. Or if your mom tells you, Hey, we’ll take you out for ice cream tonight. If you read three Tuttle Twins books in a row, you’re probably gonna read those Tuttle Twins books cuz you have the incentive to want to do it. So yeah, what’s the incentive with roads? What’s the connection there?

Brittany: So with Dominoes particularly, so they have the incentive to fix the roads because they want us to get to us easier. They want to make delivering pizza and us getting money easier. And obviously, we would prefer them to fix the road because the government’s not doing it and we want our pizza too. So it’s kind of one of those, I don’t know if listeners watch the office, probably not. But it’s what someone in the office would call a win-win-win. Everybody wins, we get a fixed road, and we also get pizza. Dominoes get our money. It’s kind of hard to see anybody losing in this situation and the government doesn’t have any incentive to fix things at least on time because who else are we going to find? They have to use our money to fix it and they’re the only game in town as far as finding the road service to fix it. So we’re kind of left to just wait for them to do it whenever they get around to it. And that doesn’t help anybody.

Connor:

And that’s a problem with monopolies. Everyone’s played the game monopoly. But a monopoly is basically when one group or person or company is kind of in charge of one thing and there’s no competition. And so the government has a monopoly on building the roads. Cuz right now no one else is allowed to do that. It’s a government thing only. So because they don’t have any competition because they’re a monopoly, they can get away with having low quality and high prices and poor communication. We talk about this in the food truck fiasco. And so when you have competition prices go down. Cuz if you’re willing to offer someone a talk over $3, I might say, Hey, $2 and 50 cents, I have the incentive to lower my prices to beat you and get the customer. I have the incentive to have better quality cuz I want to win the customer and get their money over on my side. And I have the incentive to treat you like royalty. I have the incentive to be very nice to you, the customer because I want you to give me your money. The government doesn’t have those incentives. They can take our money by force

Brittany: They do take our money by force.

Connor: They absolutely do. And they don’t have to have good customer service because what else are you gonna do? You’re not going anywhere. And they don’t have to have very good quality because again, we’re all stuck with them. And so it leads to problems that we could do so much better if there was a little bit of competition. Cuz everyone wants roads. I mean, everyone needs to be able to drive to work or to the stadium or to friends’ houses or whatever. And so we all have the incentive to have good roads, but we need to come up with a different way of doing it. But what’s silly Brittany about this question is when people ask us, Well, without the government who will build the roads, it’s not really a question about the roads. It’s really a question of what is the proper role of government and whether should we have these monopolies at all. So we’ve talked about roads. There’s another one I have in mind. Tell us the story of the post office Lysander Spooner has a great story here. So what’s that story about?

Brittany: So first of all, every listener after this, the first thing they should do is Google Lysander. You said I’ve heard it. Lysander heard

Connor: Lysander

Brittany: Lysander Spooner. So he did something that nobody else dared to do and that created a private post office. So we are used to the post office now. There’s no other way to send a letter. If you wanna send a basic letter, you can’t go anywhere else because the government and the post office have a monopoly on sending letters, which sounds crazy when you think about it. Well, back in the day, this would’ve been what, 18 hundred? I can’t remember the exact year. But Lysander decided that he was done, He was done using the post office. He was going to start his own. And I think it was called, I’ll link in the show notes like the American Post Office or something very similar. But he ended up getting shut down because the government came in and said, No, you’re not allowed to do this. Even if you do it better than us, it doesn’t matter. We have a monopoly on the mail and you can’t do this. And nobody has ever even tried since him to do this. Because again, the second you try to do anything, open up the competition to the government, their first instinct is not to compete with you and try to offer a better service. Their first instinct is to shut you down.

Connor:

Yeah, monopolies don’t like competition. They want to be able to do whatever they want. They don’t like the incentives they don’t want to be pushed into better customer service or lower their prices. And so they’re going to try and jealously their monopoly so that they can fend off competitors and not have to deal with people. So it’s a super interesting question and it strikes me as kind of an insincere question who will build the roads, right? Because the way this question usually comes up is if we’re saying, Hey, the government should not be involved in picking winners and losers, in businesses. It shouldn’t give tax breaks. Basically frees money for some businesses and not for others. That’s unfair. We think that’s a bad thing. The government shouldn’t do that. And then someone will come back and respond and say, But without the government, who will build the wrong? It says, Well wait a minute, we’re not talking about roads. We’re talking about this one specific policy that the government shouldn’t be involved in. But it’s a logical fallacy. It’s a term for basically someone who’s not arguing fairly, they’re not arguing properly. And so they’re trying to say, Oh, well you clearly must be wrong over here because we need government because otherwise, we’d have no roads. But it’s kind of like a bit of a stretch,

Brittany: I think it’s a bit of a stretch. And just again, literally anybody else, what gets me every time is if dominoes can build, fill in pots and build a road, again, anybody can, It’s like, I don’t know how it is in your neighborhood, but in my neighborhood in Texas, nobody put up fences. You were in charge of putting up your own fence, which means you actually had to work with the neighbor on every side of you that you shared with. Cause it wasn’t like we were on a whole acre, but we, it’s bigger properties of land in Texas. But I always thought that was interesting how everybody always got a fence. It wasn’t this big contentious thing where it was like, Oh no, how are we each gonna work with three different neighbors to get a fence up? Everybody ended up getting what they needed, They collaborated, and they worked together. A road might be a little bit different, but I don’t think the principal is that much different. I think you could collaborate with people and make something come together, especially if you each have a need for it.

Connor: I think there would also be, whenever you have the market involved, whenever you have more competition, the quality of something skyrockets. And so even though, as we pointed out earlier, Brittany, it’s private companies who are actually building the road, we don’t quite get the same benefit that we would from companies actually being involved with producing the roads and funding the roads. Because if we had companies fully involved, if you had the ability as, let’s say a neighborhood, to use your example, Brittany, to get together and select which company was gonna put down the roads, all of a sudden you would see quality go up and price go down because companies are having to bid on these specific projects and have to be very responsive to the people who want the roads. Competition always makes things better. In one of The Tuttle Twins we talk about, do you want the same standard flavor of ice cream as everyone else. This is in The Tuttle Twins and The Fate of The Future, which contemplates not just roads, but yeah, should the government be involved in anything? Or should we have a peaceful society without the state? Right? We talk about society versus the state or the free market versus these government monopolies. And so would we like it if the government said everyone has to have vanilla ice cream? No. Life is way better when there are like 83,000 kinds of ice cream. You have that halo stuff, Brittany, is that

Brittany: Oh Halo top. Do you mean the best ice cream? Yes.

Connor: Yeah. That’s not even real ice cream, but I’ll give it to you for the purposes of the discussion. And so here, you know, have this unique kind of ice cream, I like whatever it’s called. I kinda like Ben and Jerry’s. Ben and

Brittany: Jerry’s is good ice cream

Connor: I like dryers as well. And so there’s just all this diversity. There’s competition, there are different flavors, and different levels of cream in ice cream. Yours is kind of this fluffy, airy, whatever. And I might,

Brittany: I believe the term is heavenly.

Connor: Yeah, heavenly. You have the heavenly kind. I have the devilish kind, which is more calories than I can count but that’s amazing about the market. There are so many different options and we don’t have to all have the same standardized thing. But when you get monopolies involved, when you get a government involved, you get some person in charge who’s just like, this is the way it’s gonna be for everybody. And that’s no fun. That’s just not a good way to live life.

Brittany: No, it’s also not productive. I mean, just look at the, to go back to the example of the road, the roads are always in disrepair. I’ve never met anybody who loves the roads in their city or loves the neighborhoods cuz they’re always being messed up. They’re always under construction. They’re always being worked on at really inconvenient times. So we only know the government way and it’s not the best way. So it’s silly to me that we wouldn’t give the market a try.

Connor: Well, I think that’s a good note to end on. The market is always better. Let’s give it a try. Thanks for sticking with us guys. Make sure you share the podcast with your friends. tuttletwins.com/podcast is the link to send. We’ll see on the next episode. Thanks for chatting, Brittany.

Brittany: See You next time.

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