Don Watkins has a post over at Laissez-Faire on Private Roads. He notes that "Supporters of laissez-faire capitalism are often asked, 'If the government doesn’t build the roads, who will?'"
The wholesale privatization of the road network is not at the top of the immediate agendas of most free marketeers. Like eliminating taxes, it's something that must await the education of the public on the virtues of capitalism. In the short to intermediate term, we've got our hands full just slowing and halting the advance of statism. It's more important at this time to expend our energies on getting people back in control of their healthcare and education, or protecting free speech.
But effectively fighting for those freedoms now is inextricably linked to the long-term vision of laissez-faire capitalism, so we must be ready with some answers to questions such as that posed by Watkins.
Which brings me back to his piece. It's worth reading, along with the Wall Street Journal article Obama's False History of Public Investment he cites and Yaron Brook's answer to the question of traffic laws.
One of the concerns expressed to me is the practicality of paying for the use and maintenance of roads. Would we be stopping to pay a toll every time we turn onto another road? That would hardly be practical, which is why tolls would be restricted to limited-access highways, as they are today.
So how would roads be financed? Well, how are private roads financed today? In developments, property owners pay through association fees. How are so many internet services paid for? This Blogger blog is free. Yet, Blogger is owned by a hugely profitable private company you may have heard of—Google. Anyone can start a Facebook page for no charge, yet Facebook has made Mark Zuckerberg a billionaire. How does Google and Facebook make money, if no one pays for the service?
The point is, the opportunities for road owners to make money without chaotic inconveniences to everyday drivers is limited only by the imagination. There is roadside advertising, charges on businesses operating on the road, rent from utility companies utilizing the roadway rights-of ways.
Leitmotif has a post on Private Ownership of Roads. John Stossel had a segment on private roads.
There are myriad hypothetical conflicts that one can conjure up relating to private road networks. But it must be remembered that the purpose of law is to iron out these conflicts which, when individual rights are applied to given situations, turn out not to be conflicts at all. There is a whole body of law that would evolve as roads are privatized to deal with issues that may arise—a body of law that never came into being because government usurped the private sector. But when people are free, people can find solutions that don't involve force.
Free Marketeers need not shy away from the subject of private roads under laissez -faire capitalism. Nor need one have to know all of the answers in order to indicate that private roads could be practical, better planned and run, and moral as compared to the immorality of government roads with its coercive taxation and cronyism.
Some incite into the issue of private roads can be gained by reading The Practicality of Private Waterways by J. Brian Phillips and Alan Germani in The Objective Standard.