Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Walter Block Respect

I never thought I would see this day. Professor Walter Block has been harping for ages that roads should be in the hands of the private sector. He has even written a book about it, Privatization of Roads and Highways. It was a somewhat lonely stand.

Now the Washington Post and the American Enterprise Institute are treating the idea with respect:
Economist Kevin Hassett of the American Enterprise Institute said the federal government should consider the sale of interstate highways. Motorists would have to pay tolls to the private owners, he said, but the roads would likely be in better shape. Federal, state and local governments could raise hundreds of billions of dollars through highway privatization, he said.

“Many of the world’s roads were originally built as toll roads, so it would hardly be revolutionary to return to that model,” Hassett said. “If it can work for the River Styx, why not the Beltway?”
It's not completely clear how far Hassett is willing to take the concept of privatizing roads and you have to be careful of what an insider means by privatization and how such a "sale" would be conducted. But on the surface, this appears to be a major move forward. Dr. Block would certainly call for the privatization of all roads. Even if  not as aggressive as Block's call for all out privatization of roads,  Hassett's suggestion is a serious step in the right direction. Make no question, Hassett is a mainstream guy. He was John McCain's chief economic adviser in the 2000 presidential primaries and an economic adviser to the campaigns of George W. Bush in the 2004 presidential election and McCain in the presidential election of 2008. He has impact.

I have seen Hassett floating around D.C., he's very smart and people pay attention to him. This acknowledgement of what Dr. Block has been touting is proof that ideas, in the long run, can have impact.


  1. If the proceeds of the sale merely go to the Treasury so that Congress can fritter the money on additional or current spending programs, then I think it would be better to wait for the sale of these assets in a national bankruptcy.

    In the unlikely event that Congress actually gets serious about slashing spending and reducing the outstanding debt, then this would be a good idea.

  2. Instead of tolls couldn't the private road owners just sell advertising via billboards, electronic wireless, etc?