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One Good Reason to Privatize Highways

Here’s a letter to the Wall Street Journal:

Perhaps Ed Slattery is right that the costs of allowing longer trucks on highways – including costs in the form of increased dangers to motorists – will be greater than the benefits (Letters, Feb. 12).  But perhaps he’s wrong.  Who knows?  After all, it’s plausible that allowing trucks to be longer will so reduce the number of trucks on the highways that the total damage that trucks cause to highways, roads, tunnels, and bridges, as well as the risks of highway accidents caused by trucks, will fall.

Were highways privately owned and operated, highway owners would have much stronger incentives than do government administrators to discover the ‘optimal’ maximum size of trucks to allow on highways.  Because government officials, who today make those decisions, have almost nothing personally at stake in imposing whatever rules they impose – and because their one-size-fits-all rules prevent simultaneous experimentation with different rules – there is no good reason to believe these bureaucrats strike anything close to the optimal balance between costs and benefits.

Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
Martha and Nelson Getchell Chair for the Study of Free Market Capitalism at the Mercatus Center
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA  22030

UPDATE: Frank Stephenson e-mails the following excellent point: “Might also be safer if the marginal drivers who lose truck-driving jobs are more dangerous than the average driver.”