Quotation of the Day…

by Don Boudreaux on March 29, 2015

in History, Other People's Money

… is from page 5 of Burt and Anita Folsom’s 2014 volume, Uncle Sam Can’t Count; here they are discussing Uncle Sam’s early-19th-century infrastructure project popularly known as “the National Road – a 620-mile- (1,000km-) long road extending westward from Cumberland, Maryland to Vandalia, Illinois (footnotes excluded):

Because the road was a government project, no one had an incentive to keep costs down.  The National Road was built with stone (crushed and solid), and it became one of the most expensive roads, if not the most expensive, in the United States in the early 1800s.  For example, the privately funded Lancaster Turnpike, also built with stone, cost $7,500 per mile – versus $13,000 for the National Road.  The builders of the Lancaster Turnpike were spending their own money and had to spend it wisely, or else the tolls wouldn’t cover their expenses.  Those in charge of the National Road, by contrast, were political appointees, described by one newspaper editor as being “as numerous as the locusts of Egypt.”  Funded with taxpayer dollars, the National Road never charged tolls and never made a profit.

At the same time, because no one individual owned the National Road, no one had a strong stake in building it well, or preserving it once it was finished.  Almost every firsthand account describes the road’s shoddy construction.  Even in its heyday it was never fully paved; it always had gaps and always needed repairing.


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