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Mutualist Blog: Free Market Anti-Capitalism

To dissolve, submerge, and cause to disappear the political or governmental system in the economic system by reducing, simplifying, decentralizing and suppressing, one after another, all the wheels of this great machine, which is called the Government or the State. --Proudhon, General Idea of the Revolution

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Location: Northwest Arkansas, United States

Monday, May 08, 2006

The Cost of Addiction

Via Catallarchy. Doc Searls compares the Net, as a "public good," to the Interstate Highway System. In the process, he refers to the "advances made possible" by the Interstate and asks:

According to Wikipedia, the Interstate Highway System cost $114 billion to build. Can we even begin to calculate what it would cost us today not to have it?

As I commented at Searls' blog post, the main cost of not having the interstate has been brought about by our having it.

Access to subsidized highway transportation, at a cost that has little if anything to do with the costs one imposes on the system, has encouraged a business model that relies heavily on the Interstate. The Interstate has generated distance between things, and thus increased our dependence on the Interstate. It's an example of what Ivan Illich called a "radical monopoly."

And to the extent that subsidized long-distance transportation makes centralized production artificially profitable, the Interstate results in a net loss of efficiency. We'd be better off, overall, if the Interstate had never been built. Something which is only profitable when the cost side of the ledger is shifted to somebody else, is not really an "advance."


Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's a net gain if the government says it is. I've heard this alternately referred to as "stateolatry", the worship and veneration of the state.

May 08, 2006 1:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Right on.

I mean, who is it criss-crossing the country for weeks on end? 18 wheelers taking advantage of long distance transportation subsidized (mostly) by gas taxes forced upon your average Honda driver, who is most likely spending most of the year travelling - at least by car - within a hundred mile radius at most.

There was an article in Reason recently on "The Mobility Myth", showing that people are in fact deciding to live, work and play nearer to their places of birth more often than is commonly thought. Admittedly this would have only a marginal effect on the use of the Interstate highway system by the masses, but just thought I'd mention it.


May 08, 2006 2:13 PM  
Blogger Jeremy said...

The transportation argument is well made. But I'm a little curious: the article started with the idea of the internet being the same type of public good as the Interstate system. Do you think Searls' comparison is accurate, Kevin (or anybody)? If so, do you think the 'net is something that wouldn't survive the absence of the state?

I'm torn: on the one hand, the internet is an expressly gov't built system. Yet it has been a source of lots of new value, most importantly in the information it's made available to people. How valuable would a distributed computer network like this be to a society where costs where totally internalized?

May 08, 2006 8:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well it might be more valuable than what the government has built. Keep in mind that just because government builds a "solution" to a problem doesn't mean the private sector can't do better, as it historically has when given the opportunity. Yes, I suppose it's at least possible that nothing like the internet would exist in a perfectly free society, but somehow I just can't buy that.

May 08, 2006 10:42 PM  
Blogger Black Guile said...

The terrorist-producing areas of the world all have at least one of three things in common: drugs, oil or Israel.

With drugs (Iran, Afghanistan, Columbia) and Israel (Palestine, Egypt, Jordan), its easy to see how our drug war and support for the Zionist state is at fault.

With oil, however, the chief irritant is probably - indirectly - the federal highway system. Sure, we help Halliburton et al. with dirty deals and intervene directly here and there, but the vastness of oil-producing country's dysfunction has to have a cause more comprehensive than here-and-there dirty deals.

September 11 was basically the story of disgruntled oil-producers teaming up with disgruntled opium-producers.

I'd suggest that the massive indirect subsidy to oil production that is the federal highway system is the chief culprit.

May 11, 2006 9:32 PM  
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