Government-built Infrastructure Isn’t Uniquely Important

by Don Boudreaux on August 18, 2012

in Complexity & Emergence, Myths and Fallacies, Seen and Unseen

In my latest column in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, I argue that Pres. Obama’s “You didn’t build that” sneer is way off-base.  Here’s the conclusion:

Among the kinds of infrastructure that have, in fact, been supplied successfully by private businesses are city streets, highways, sewage systems, formal education, policing, money and commercial law. Government provision of such infrastructure, therefore, cannot be read as evidence that government’s role on this front is necessary.

If government failed to build highways to connect, say, Atlanta to Pittsburgh, private firms almost certainly would. (It’s easy to collect tolls from drivers who use highways.) And likewise for nearly any other pair of cities in America. So in what way is any actual, government-built highway necessary for any private entrepreneur’s economic success? None — if (as is likely) private enterprise would have done what government instead did by crowding out private efforts.

Moreover, if — as is likely again — privately built highways would be of higher quality and cost less to build and maintain than government highways, then there is even less merit to Obama’s “you didn’t build that” sneer. If privately built highways would be superior to government-built highways, then government’s crowding out of private efforts that otherwise would have built highways imposes a cost on the many businesses (and consumers) that rely upon highways for their economic success.

Far from being grateful to government for its highways, entrepreneurs should demand reimbursement from officials who led the government’s highway-building efforts.

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