Tuesday evening, as I was watching Mormon Brooke White sing The Beatles’ 1970 hit “Let It Be,” I couldn’t help but notice her sincerity, her passion, her gratitude, and her exuberance for the entire opportunity she had been given. I couldn’t help but admire her channeled musical energy and powerful emotion as she sung a song that was deeply meaningful to her.
Thankfully, Randy Jackson, Paula Abdul, and even Simon Cowell all seemed to think she did a great job. Part of me fills with pride (presumably the righteous kind) when I see a Mormon doing so great in the great wide world of Babylon, without compromising principles.
There are many things in this life where I should just “let it be.” I’d like to talk about one I would not like to “let it be.” Like so many liberals, this is an area where I heartily agree on the problem, but strongly disagree on the solution. Many conservatives seem to sidestep these problems as non-issues. I have a problem with this mindset.
The other day, on the radio, I heard a well-meaning liberal Brit talk about how 1.2 million individuals are killed each year from automobile accidents. Certainly, a terrible, terrible tragedy. We’ve lost over 4,000 soldiers in Iraq. We lost over 3,000 on 9-11. We lost over 600,000 in the Civil War, America’s bloodiest conflict. And twice that many die each year as a result of vehicular deaths. Most of these are in developing countries, and many are pedestrian-vehicle collisions.
The Brit’s solution, not surprisingly, is to “tame the car.” Make it safe. How? Predictably, government laws and regulations are the answer. The car, its design, performance, and manufacture become the responsibility of an appointed bureaucratic organization (or several). This was the Brit’s response to the problem. Then they brought up another guest who represented some automobile association in America. He noted that accident rates in early 20th Century America were bad, and that they had tapered off and were much better now. The difference was something like an order of magnitude, and so he defended the status quo. Of course, who wants to wait around 80 or 100 years for things to gradually get better? Not me.
What other solutions are there? First off, we should ask who owns the roads. Largely, transportation networks (especially roads) are government-run. What would happen if roads became privatized?
We can recall recent news stories about potholes in Chicago. Anyone that has driven in any sort of large city notes an unghastly amount of traffic at rush hour and around certain times of the week and year. Privatizing roads would not eliminate these problems, at least not immediately. But there would certainly be strong incentives to change. These incentives would not exist in a publicly owned system. Why not?
The idea that a private road owner would lose revenue (either from businesses or pedestrians or drivers) with less traffic would compel him to try and create a sustainable market. Roads would be designed and maintained with the customer in mind, for the profit motive leads to a better road for individuals to travel on, and businesses to do business on. Potholes and shortages in the form of traffic jams would be risky, for there would be a competitive reason to eliminate or reduce them. And of course the safety issue is huge. Imagine how much reputation could be built around a safe road? If there’s a market for Volvo and Hyundai based largely on safety, surely there would be one for a safe road. A publicly-owned road system has none of these incentives, and so positive changes are much less likely to occur. When changes do occur, the time scale of change is significantly different than it would otherwise be. A publicly-owned road system is, quite simply, a monopoly. Our road system has the same problems with shortages and quality that accompany any monopoly. Privately-owned cars, fuel, and property helps to mask the problem, but it does exist, and no manner of reforms, regulations, or legislation will resolve the problems nearly as effectively as privatizing: there is no way to match the powerful, effective change that comes from free market incentives, nor the liberty that accompanies them.
To the current road system, we can say, “let it be,” maintaining the current problems of shortages, traffic jams, lost time, pollution, slow construction, copious potholes, and safety, we can increase the tax and liberty burden and try to fix the problem with more regulations, rules, and legislation, or we can look to economic history and stop trusting the government to do for us what we can do for ourselves with greater efficiency, effectiveness, and liberty.