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The Government's Highway System

June 30, 2006

In a recent article I argued that the federal government's involvement with the nascent internet caused some serious problems down the road. Not everyone was convinced, though I personally thought the article, and my follow-up comments, were absolutely brilliant.

Anyway, one of my points was even when the government creates something lots of people like (e.g., the "public goods" described in economics textbooks), the benefits may not outweigh the opportunity costs. Enthusiasts, like the townspeople admiring the new pane of glass in Bastiat's famous fable, often forget this.

An excellent case in point is the US Interstate Highway system, the 50th anniversary of which is generating a lot of hullabaloo here in the States. It's well known that Eisenhower's aims in creating the Interstates were at least partly military, that he hoped to facilitate the rapid movement of military personnel and equipment as he had observed on the Lincoln Highway in 1919 and the German autobahns during World War II. It's interesting to imagine what sort of long-distance highway system would have emerged, and when, in the absence of government intervention.

The current issue of the Economist has a lengthy feature on this, summarized here by Sam Koritz. For more information, contact Walter Block, who I'm sure has at least twenty-five articles on the subject.

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