In his Oct. 26 column, Mr. Spangher attempts to address the failures he perceives in libertarian policy. His first paragraph correctly associates libertarianism with free market principles, but he argues that libertarianism “cannot be taken to the extreme.” By this he implies that the federal government cannot be significantly reduced in scope because if it were, then necessary infrastructure would vanish. Libertarians believe not in the abolition of government, but that most goods and services are better handled by the private market and that government exists in large part to enforce property rights and private contracts.
Mr. Spangher then raises several rhetorical questions to which he believes libertarian policy has no response. It is impossible to address all of these here, so I’ll focus on one—the notion that private roads would be expensive and fail to adequately service communities. There is an almost completely privately owned transportation infrastructure that services the entire United States, namely the freight rail system. Freight rail was heavily regulated beginning in 1887 with the Interstate Commerce Commission. This stifled the industry, and by 1975 it seemed freight rail was destined to die, overcome by the subsidized trucking industry. Then, in 1976 (the 4R Act) and again in 1980 (the Staggers Rail Act), significant deregulation occurred. In less than a decade, American freight rail rebounded from near extinction to become the greatest freight system in the world. Tracks were modernized and expanded, and freight prices dropped due to intense competition. Today, our freight rail system accounts for more freight ton-miles than any other mode of transportation. Meanwhile, the public subsidy of roads contributes to a lack of viable public transportation, urban sprawl, automotive pollution and more. Empirically, this case study controverts Mr. Spangher’s suggestion that a private transportation infrastructure would be inadequate. Interested readers can find answers to Mr. Spangher’s other questions from libertarian think tanks such as the Ludwig von Mises Institute, the Cato Institute and the Hoover Institute.
Fifth-year Ph.D. candidate in electrical and computer engineering