Cato’s Daniel Mitchell reaches a truly puzzling conclusion about the source of a traffic jam in Washington, DC. In a kind of public choice analysis gone mad, he apparently thinks that the government seeks to maximize profits, whereas private corporations are wholly benevolent in their motives:
But when I made the right turn, I discovered why traffic was so snarled on 15th Street. There was a cop standing in the middle of Constitution Avenue waiting to snare drivers turning right from the center lane. Along with many other drivers that day, I got caught and lost another 10 minutes waiting for a ticket. But the $25 ticket is not what got me so irritated. It was the fact that thousands of commuters had to deal with horrible traffic (not only because people like me suddenly got stopped and traffic behind us also had to stop, but also because people in the right-turn-only lane also could not move with the cop blocking traffic) because some bureaucrat from the National Park Police found an easy way to fill his ticket quota.
If the private sector operated the roads (permit me to engage in some libertarian fantasizing), this would never happen. Because of a desire to please drivers (customers), the folks in charge of the road would have made right turns an option from the center lane. But when government sees a bottleneck, the reaction of politicians and bureaucrats is to figure out how to fleece people for more money — not to make travel safer and quicker.
This is ludicrous. The private sector seeks to maximize profits. If a private sector firm owned the streets of Washington, DC it would exercise its monopoly power “to fleece people for more money.” This is pretty basic. That’s what private firms are there for.
The larger issue is that whether publicly owned or privately owned, the smart thing to do with crowded roads is to charge a fee for the right to drive on them. That would generate revenue, and I wouldn’t call it “fleecing” people since it would result in reduced congestion, a smoother flow of traffic, and a more pleasant experience for the citizens slash paying customers. Of course at the moment we have very little congestion pricing in the United States because of political opposition. And since private road owners would want to engage in congestion pricing, the exact same political impediments stand between sensible public management of roads and their privatization. But if the road was publicly managed, and featured a congestion charge, then the revenue could be used to reduce the overall tax burden or else to increase the quality of the alternative forms of transportation offered.