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America's Broken Infrastructure, and Obama's Broken Windows

In President Obama's recent State of the Union Speech - when he wasn't lavishing praise on the U.S. Empire - he laid out his plans for increased "public works" spending, including infrastructure improvements and $53 billion for mass transit systems. He even has a "25-year plan" (even the Soviets only had 5 year plans!).

Now the President is correct to insist that our bridges, roads, and other infrastructure need a lot of patching up. Just take a look at what happened in New Orleans a few years ago, or the section of I-35W in Minnesota that pancaked. At the same that the U.S. government is spending billions of dollars bombing and then re-building in Afghanistan and Iraq, here at home, our infrastructure is crumbling.

I sympathize with the President's shining light on the need for domestic improvements, but his plan to increase federal spending in order to do this is terribly misguided.

The U.S. government is over $14 trillion in debt and borrows nearly half of every dollar it spends, which would seem to make the idea of adding to that deficit a bit foolhardy. Although promising to make cuts to the Pentagon, Obama just signed the largest “defense” spending bill in world history at a time when this money could be far better spent here at home.

Or, better yet, sending the money back to its rightful owners: the people it was stolen from through the federal government's tornado of taxation, inflationary money printing, and crippling debt.

My opposition to Obama's (or any) "public" works programs is fundamentally philosophical. It is not whether we need improvements in our infrastructure, but who and what will do the improving.
Obama's answer: initiate government force on the citizenry to acquire the revenue, then after this money has changed many, many bureaucratic hands, hire companies to do the job and pay them with the loot.

This is the classic example of the "broken window fallacy" that was put forth by French economist Frederic Bastiat and later expanded on by Henry Hazlitt. Whenever the state confiscates private citizens' income and spends it on something, anything (whether it be a dam or a B-1 bomber), the results of this spending can be easily seen.

What is unseen, however, are the unintended consequences, not only the potential products and services the citizenry would have voluntarily spent their money on in the marketplace but the inherent sluggishness and inefficiency of government programs. Taxation is equivalent to a thief stealing your money, then promising you that it will be spent prudently and wisely.

The idea that bridges and roads need to be funded through the coercive, top-down mechanisms of taxation and state power not only ignore the "broken window fallacy" but ignore the free market infrastructure that already exists. Hundreds of homeowners associations build and maintain their own roads, the Dulles Greenway is a huge private road in Washington, D.C., and in North Oaks, Minnesota, not only does the city not own the roads, it does not own any property! Take away government’s initiation of violence through taxation, and the spontaneous order of the market blooms.

The free market benefits not only from the pricing and profit/loss mechanisms (without government socializing the costs), but also because it is driven by voluntary and mutually-beneficial exchange.

Instead of re-investing tax money into projects that have ultimately failed due to them having been funded by tax money, why not pay off some of your and your predecessors' debt by selling government buildings off to private companies that actually know how to provide a service and make a profit?

As two years of Obama's welfare-warfare state have demonstrated, Obama appears to honestly believe that government's institutionalized force can solve the incredibly complex problems of millions of people and their infinitely changing tastes, preferences, and actions.

I understand that power is the ultimate aphrodisiac, Mr. President, but your central planning stimulus can not fix our infrastructure problem. A society based on individual liberty - exemplified in the free market, private property, and sound money - will build all the bridges, roads, and transportation we will ever need.

Photo CreditWikimedia Commons

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