Missouri's 7th District, U.S. House of Representatives




Congressional Issues 2010

The 112th Congress should
  • close the U.S. Department of Transportation;
  • eliminate the federal gasoline tax;
  • end all federal transportation subsidies and entrust states and municipalities with maintaining infrastructure such as high-ways, roads, bridges, and subways (for now);
  • repeal the Urban Mass Transit Act of 1964;
  • repeal the Railway Labor Act of 1926, the Interstate Commerce Act of 1887, and the Railroad Retirement Act of 1934;
  • privatize Amtrak;
  • privatize the air traffic control system;
  • remove all federal regulations that prevent airports from being privately owned or operated;
  • repeal cabotage laws that prevent foreign airlines from flying domestic routes in the United States; and
  • repeal the Jones Act.

Congress should repeal the Jones Act (section 27 of the Merchant Marine Act of 1920). The Jones Act prohibits shipping merchandise between U.S. ports "in any other vessel than a vessel built in and documented under the laws of the United States and owned by persons who are citizens of the United States.'' The act essentially bars foreign shipping companies from competing with American companies. A 1993 International Trade Commission study showed that the loss of economic welfare attributable to America's cabotage (the exclusive right of a country to operate traffic within its territory) amounts to $3.1 billion per year.

The Transportation Department is Unconstitutional

The federal government was never given authority by "We the People" to regulate or attempt to manage cars, trucks, planes, or other forms of transportation. See
• "the enumerated powers doctrine"
• the 10th Amendment
• the "general welfare" clause
Remember "prohibition" of alcohol? They had to amend the Constitution in order to do that. Previously, the Constitution gave no authority to the federal government to pass laws regarding alcohol.
Same with transportation. It's not in the Constitution.

"What about roads?"

This question is always asked when "Liberty Under God" is proposed with relentless consistency. In case you're not asking this question, here's how it comes up:

When your previous Republican Congressman was first elected in 1996, the Republican Party National Platform promised to move America in a "Free Market" direction:

As a first step in reforming government, we support elimination of the Departments of Commerce, Housing and Urban Development, Education, and Energy, and the elimination, defunding or privatization of agencies which are obsolete, redundant, of limited value, or too regional in focus. Examples of agencies we seek to defund or to privatize are the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and the Legal Services Corporation.

Libertarians would pursue this course of action with relentless consistency. "The State" is not the best way to ensure efficient commerce, plentiful housing, quality education, cheap energy, or tasteful arts and humanities.

"The State" is also not the best way to provide transportation.

But right now, the government builds nearly all our roads, so when we propose cutting government, we inevitably get asked, "What about roads?" "How can we have roads if the government doesn't build them?" "What about roads?"

Sometimes a question is just an argument, or a rationalization. Sometimes a question is meant simply to ridicule. Some people feel that if the government is needed for roads, and if the Free Market cannot do a good job with roads, maybe the Free Market isn't the best way to provide groceries, clothes, houses, and cars. Maybe if government is the best way to provide roads, it's also the best way to provide everything else. Maybe we shouldn't even start going down that "road" of eliminating government programs and creating smaller government. If you're asking the question, "What about roads," because you want to know for sure that the Free Market system is best, and you really want an answer, here goes:

Should "the State" provide our clothes, our food, our computers, and our cars? Most Americans say No. But some people believe some socialism is always necessary; that some things just can't be dependably provided by the Free Market, and require compulsion and threats of violence from "the State." Roads, they say, are one of these things.

Historically, this is not true. In early America, roads were built by "turnpike companies," that realized a profit could be made by providing people who wanted to travel with safer, easier, more efficient ways to get from one place to another.

Many of America's Founding Fathers were distrustful of government. Men like Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, and Calhoun did not want the government to get involved in the business of "internal improvements" like roads and canals. They reasoned that if politicians were able to take money from taxpayers and build roads, they would build roads that served political purposes rather than the needs of consumers. Politicians would build roads that benefited campaign contributors or special interests. Politicians don't have to worry about making a profit by serving consumers. They just pass a law to increase taxes, or they print up the money they want and steal purchasing power from consumers through "the inflation tax," and then build whatever benefits the politicians.

The idea of Free Market Roads confuses many people because many people are confused about capitalism. Should "the State" provide our clothes, our food, our computers, and our cars? Most Americans say No. But they don't know why. Economic theory and economic history both proclaim that capitalism is better than socialism. But most Americans don't know why capitalism is better, and how it works to provide the things that give us a higher standard of living than socialist nations.

In a sense nobody knows why or how capitalism works so well. Adam Smith, writing the first treatise on capitalism in 1776, attributed capitalism's success to "the Invisible Hand." Our Declaration of Independence, signed in that same year, spoke of this "Invisible Hand" as "the Protection of Divine Providence." Nobody knows exactly how it works, but we do know that it works.

Nobody knows how to make a pencil, but we know that the Free Market gets pencils manufactured and sold. That statement may confuse you: "What do you mean, 'Nobody knows how to make a pencil?'" It takes the knowledge and decisions of millions -- no, billions -- of people to make a pencil. We don't have a government Department of Pencils. The manufacture and distribution of pencils is overseen by "the Invisible Hand" of the Free Market. You may want to take a few minutes to read about Providence and the Pencil.

But unfettered Capitalism has been given "a bad rap" by the mainstream media, university professors and politicians. They think capitalism is based on "greed" and "cut-throat competition," while the government is based on compassion and fairness. Businessmen like Dick Cheney are part of "Big Business," which is bad, but when "we the People" elect businessmen to become politicians, all of the sudden they are no longer greedy and ignorant, they are wise and philanthropic.

Some people think "profit" is bad. Profit is good if it's voluntary. Profit is proof of service to consumers. Consumers don't give businesses their money unless businesses give consumers something of greater value. In a Free Market, if the Smith Corporation doesn't serve consumers, it doesn't make a profit. (In the world of politics, on the other hand, the Smith Corporation can make a profit by making contributions to the Senator So-and-So campaign, even if it doesn't serve consumers.)

Some people think "competition" is mean and nasty. Competition is good if it's unregulated and non-violent. Competition is the ability to serve consumers better. If the Smith corporation isn't serving consumers, or is wasting natural resources trying to do so, competition means the Jones Corporation can enter the market and compete for consumer profit by doing a better job of serving consumers than the Smith Corporation. Competition means freedom. Competition means choice. Competition means improvement. (In the world of politics, on the other hand, the Smith Corporation can make a campaign contribution to Senator So-and-So in exchange for regulations and laws which prohibit anyone from competing with the Smith Corporation. Without competition, the Smith Corporation wins; the politicians win; consumers lose.)

So if the Jones Road Corporation builds a road that goes nowhere consumers want to go, the Smith Highway Corporation can enter the market and make a profit by building roads that go where more consumers want to go.

Or if the "Ma and Pa Road Company" has a road which is always jammed with traffic, the Wal-Mart Highway Corporation can build a road that doesn't have traffic jams. This might put the "Ma and Pa" company out of business, but consumers get what they want.

Typical of how government works is "The Bridge to Nowhere." Government action is summed up in the word "pork." A private corporation, held accountable to consumers by the laws of profit and loss, doesn't build a superhighway just so it can be called "The Senator So-and-So Memorial Road," even if no consumers are benefited by the road. Free Market corporations only profit if they serve the consumers and use good stewardship of their resources.

The same economic system that has given Americans the highest standard of living in all of human history -- capitalism -- can be trusted to provide efficient transportation. We trust the Free Market to give us groceries, clothing, computers, cars, and cell phones -- why not roads?

Who Would Maintain Roads Worse Than the State?

Private Enterprise Does It Better by John Stossel on

How do we get there from here?

How do we get from expensive government roads which are jammed with traffic and kill tens of thousands of people a year, to libertarian roads which are cheap, safe, and quick? How do we wean transportation from the government teat? This is a tough question. The reason it's tough is because so few people are busy brainstorming the answers. Those answers will come when more people are convinced that capitalism is better than socialism, that socialism, in fact, is immoral, and bridges that serve the needs of consumers are better than Bridges to Nowhere.

  • Existing roads should be auctioned off to the highest bidder.
  • Regulations which interfere with a competitive Free Market (such as those listed at the top of this page) should be abolished.
  • There needs to be a national conversation about this issue, so that more people think like capitalists rather than like socialists.
  • "Necessity is the mother of invention."

Suppose we lived under a completely socialist government. All of our shoes are made by the government and distributed to the people by the government "Ministry of Shoes." Suppose someone proposed turning over the business of making shoes to a competitive, profit-based system. We might hear something like this:

How could you? You are opposed to the public—and to poor people—wearing shoes! And who would supply shoes to the public if the government got out of the business? Tell us that! Be constructive! It's easy to be negative and smart-alecky about government; but tell us who would supply shoes? Which people? How many shoe stores would be available in each city and town? How would the shoe firms be capitalized? How many brands would there be? What material would they use? What material lasts? What would be the pricing arrangements for shoes? Wouldn't regulation of the shoe industry be needed to see to it that the product is sound? And who would supply the poor with shoes? Suppose a poor person didn't have the money to buy a pair?

Libertarian economist Murray Rothbard answers these questions:

These questions, ridiculous as they seem to be (and are) with regard to the shoe business, are just as absurd when applied to the libertarian who advocates a free market in fire, police, postal service, or any other government operation. The point is that the advocate of a free market in anything cannot provide a "constructive" blueprint of such a market in advance. The essence and the glory of the free market is that individual firms and businesses, competing on the market, provide an ever-changing orchestration of efficient and progressive goods and services: continually improving products and markets, advancing technology, cutting costs, and meeting changing consumer demands as swiftly and as efficiently as possible. The libertarian economist can try to offer a few guidelines on how markets might develop where they are now prevented or restricted from developing; but he can do little more than point the way toward freedom, to call for government to get out of the way of the productive and ever-inventive energies of the public as expressed in voluntary market activity. No one can predict the number of firms, the size of each firm, the pricing policies, etc., of any future market in any service or commodity. We just know—by economic theory and by historical insight—that such a free market will do the job infinitely better than the compulsory monopoly of bureaucratic government.

How will the poor pay for defense, fire protection, postal service, etc., can basically be answered by the counter-question: how do the poor pay for anything they now obtain on the market? The difference is that we know that the free private market will supply these goods and services far more cheaply, in greater abundance, and of far higher quality than monopoly government does today. Everyone in society would benefit, and especially the poor. And we also know that the mammoth tax burden to finance these and other activities would be lifted from the shoulders of everyone in society, including the poor.

Ozarks Virtual Town Hall - July 21, 2007
More links and info

More by Prof. Walter Block

An excerpt from the 1958 "Disneyland" TV Show episode entitled "Magic Highway USA."

When "Liberty Under God" prevails, optimism and dominion can be seen.

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