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The Party Once More

  The following is excerpted from "The Party Once More", written by Murray N. Rothbard for the May, 1972 issue of The Libertarian Forum. "More substantially, Mr. Nolan writes that the primary purpose of the Libertarian Party is not immediate electoral victory but to educate the public in libertarian ideas. We never thought otherwise. But the problem with this approach - a long-standing objective of minor parties - is that the psychology of the mass of the public being educated is overlooked.  Let us take, for example, the poor old Socialist Labor Party, which, doggedly, every four years for nearly a century, has been nominating Presidential candidates and gettting them on the ballot. What impact on the electorate has the SLP achieved? The problem is that the party has been so small, so flagrantly unviable, that the educational impact for socialism by the SLP has ranged sternly from zero to negative.  For what is the reaction of the public? The reaction of the average cit

Walter Block: The Privatization of Roads and Highways | Book Review

The Road-book in all its glory.

If you have seen (or even participated in) a discussion between someone that is pro-state and someone that is anti-state, chances are you've seen the phrase "But, what about the roads?". Walter Block tries answering that question with a 475 pages strong book on The Privatization of Roads and Highways.

"Just as no one 'opposes' or 'protests' a volcano, which is believed to be beyond the control of man, there are very few who oppose the governmental roadway control
- Walter Block

Its no small task to criticize the current road-management system, but to also offer up alternatives to something as fundamental and socialized as roads, is a mountain few would want to climb. Where do you even start? Well, in Mr. Blocks case he just starts in one corner and continue forward until there is no stone left to turn on the subject.

Huge chunks of the book is Walter Block picking out critique from other economists (mainly, with a few exceptions) on the topic of a possible privatization of the road-system, quoting it and then trying to dissect and dismantle it.

The footnotes of the book isn't only used to inform the reader about the various sources of quotes and concepts, but is also used as a tool to explain road-specific economical problems and terms to any layman that happens to stumble upon the book. I learned a lot about the peak load-problem from the footnotes of this book in a very practical way, to give an example.

"Why does such antisocial behavior [traffic jams] take place on our highways, and not in other areas where it might be expected? The reason is that our roadway network is in a state of chaotic non-ownership run by the government, while other settings in which such behavior might be expected, but does not appear, are run by private enterprise" - Walter Block
"Privatization of Roads and highways" won't
win any awards for its graphics, sadly.

A treasure trove of anecdotes and stories gets inserted here and there to give a little flavor to the books (sometimes) very dry subject. I giggled at the story of outdoor cinema owners battle with peeping truck drivers that watched porn without paying for tickets, to Walter's personal frustration of standing in line at the Motor Vehicle bureau in New Orleans. Mr. Block has a quirky sense of humor that he lets loose on the reader every now and then ("While it might have been convenient had Moses been given a list of the ten best rules for road, he was not"), brightening up the reading. Even if I personally would have loved a bit more humor in the book, I think the author found a good serious-to-funny ratio so that it doesn't distract.

One point I haven't seen anyone else use in favor of privatizing roads is the managerial/accountability problem that publicly owned roads present - Something that gets repeated throughout the book from different angles. There are a lot of traffic accidents and deaths on American roads and Walter Block argues that if the roads would have had private owners, it would be easier to find out better practices and that bad road managers would go bankrupt and become replaced with better ones.

"Advocates of city planning, and of planning in general, oft-times make the facile equation between their views and economic rationality. The implication is that society which does not utilize a comprehensive central plan is acting irrationally, leaving important decisions to chance and inviting chaos. Nothing could be further from the truth, however" - Walter Block

The book gets a bit repetitive after a while, something the author warns about in the introduction, and it is a bit weirdly structured. The main exception is the middle of the book (specifically chapter 11-13), where the author does a good job at boiling down all the best parts and presenting it in a coherent format and takes the reader from point A to point C in a quick fashion.

If you get frustrated by the question about roads and need a handy book to study the subject more in-depth, you should invest in the Privatization of Roads and highways for your library today.  Walter Block has made a podcast guest appearance on the Agora to discus this book (and the other two books in this series) which you can listen to on soundcloud here: Sal Mayweather's Agora - Space Capitalism

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