21 September 2011

Toll Road Nation

Filed under: Culture, Reflections — ktismatics @ 10:27 am

One word: privatization.

Interest rates are at historic lows, while corporate profits are at historic highs. Both parties want to restrict government income by capping borrowing while lowering taxes. This forces government to sell off those publicly-owned assets that it can no longer maintain. Highways are one of the most valuable assets owned by governments.

So picture this: The government outsources road building and repair. It guarantees loans to private industry, plus gives them big tax incentives/deductions for rebuilding America’s infrastructure. Industry then owns all or part of the roads they build and/or maintain. Industry turns the American road system into a set of interlinked toll roads. Outfit each vehicle with a GPS, which functions as a remote monitoring system for calculating tolls. The private highway companies send you a bill at the end of the month, just like for phones, electricity, etc. It’s another potential source of huge profits for private industry, built on an infrastructure paid for by taxpayers. Citizens who benefited from government investment in the road system are turned into paying customers. I don’t think this is far-fetched at all. Obama already floated the idea a couple of months ago as a way to pay for “investing in America’s infrastructure.”

[I wrote this earlier today as a comment on Erdman’s post about financing the American roads, but I thought I’d suck it back into Ktismatics as a speculative post in its own right.]


  1. SiteMeter informs me that the second hit to this post, originating in Austin Texas, came from the State of Texas General Services Commission. According to the State website:

    Its functions include administering a purchasing system for state agencies; furnishing repair, maintenance, and security services for the Capitol complex; running a centralized telephone system; and operating lease and rental space for state agencies and acquiring property to construct state office buildings in the Capitol complex. Eight divisions within the commission oversee the various administrative and fiscal operations supplied by the agency. The Building and Property Services Division provides maintenance, repair, and other services to state buildings and other facilities, including the State Cemetery. The Central Purchasing Division serves more than 250 state agencies and handles purchases for school districts participating in the Foundation School Program, issues invitations for bids, maintains a comprehensive list of bidders, and administers a program for the sale of state-owned salvage and surplus personal property.

    This description doesn’t mention state highway contracts specifically, but I suspect that the Commission has a finger in that pie as well.


    Comment by ktismatics — 21 September 2011 @ 11:13 am

  2. Thanks for the ping back.

    It is really fascinating to watch so many people from the lower classes supporting politics that protect the egregious profiteering of the few in the upper classes….even more baffling that someone like warren buffet, the second wealthiest American is publicly lobbying to pay more taxes while people who bust their asses to barely make ends meet are lining up against Obama and supporting the republican defense of the rich.


    Comment by erdman31 — 21 September 2011 @ 10:53 pm

  3. I’m reminded of Ubik, a novel by Philip Dick:

    The door refused to open. It said, “Five cents, please.”

    He searched his pockets. No more coins; nothing. “I’ll pay you tomorrow,” he told the door. Again he tried the door. Again it remained locked tight. “What I pay you,” he informed it, “is in the nature of a gratuity; I don’t have to pay you.”

    “I think otherwise,” the door said. “Look in the purchase contract you signed when you bought this conapt.”

    In his desk drawer he found the contract; since signing it he had found it necessary to refer to the document many times. Sure enough; payment to his door for opening and shutting constituted a mandatory fee. Not a tip.

    “You discover I’m right,” the door said. It sounded smug.


    Comment by ktismatics — 22 September 2011 @ 3:44 am

  4. I’ll be curious to see, in light of the latest Fed projections of a prolonged downturn in growth and hiring, whether jobs really will become a higher priority than balancing the budget. The stock market is down steeply again today, and so people are shifting their investments out of stocks and into Federal securities. If companies aren’t willing to reinvest their windfall profits in domestic workers, but the companies want continued consumer spending in order to maintain high profits, then the only game in town is for the government to borrow more money in order to hire more workers who will buy consumer goods with their incomes. It’s possible that some who are in it for the long haul, with enough cushion to withstand temporary downturns, see this as an opportunity to buy up stocks cheap. They would continue to resist government borrowing and hiring in order to accelerate both the decrease in US wages and the going-out-of-business sale of government-owned assets like land, buildings, and roads.


    Comment by ktismatics — 22 September 2011 @ 9:34 am

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