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Take me to the supply side, Comrade Ken

Dr. Tim Evans welcomes ‘Red Ken’ to the world of capitalist rationality… sort of

I have long been an advocate of private roads and road pricing. State ownership of public space and its attendant services such as police beat patrols is madness. Indeed, I have long believed that London and all other geographic areas will only get decent integrated roads and transport systems through genuine private ownership and good old free market price signaling.

What I did not expect was that that doyen of the British left and now Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, would be the man to instigate the transition to such an approach. Let me be clear, Livingstone is planning to introduce road pricing into the capital city early next year. However imperfect his plans will be (and my God, they have some glaring holes at present) and however he seeks to dress this move up with all the usual environmental waffle, the long term affect of his policy of “congestion charging” is going to lead to the commodification of public space. By pricing roads, encouraging an income stream down them and therefore deriving revenue, Livingstone will slowly become addicted to the money.

As he becomes addicted and the approach spreads – already Durham, Cheshire, Milton Keynes, Surrey, Warwickshire, Isle of Wight, Cumbria, South Gloucestershire, Leeds, Hampshire, Derby and at least twenty other areas are already talking to the Department of Transport about introducing road pricing – the incentive for a supply side revolution in roads and public space will mount. For as money pours into the coffers and drivers slip into the psychology of becoming consumers of road space, so there will be ever more pressure to find new ways of generating more income and therefore getting the supply side of public space to meet people’s demands: that is – some semblance of a market approach.

It is with this in mind that the utopian ideas so long espoused by the Libertarian Alliance in such glorious pamphlets as:

LA Economic Notes No. 49, Brian Micklethwait, The Private Ownership of Public Space: The New Age of Rationally Priced Road Use, 1993 *

LA Economic Notes No. 57, Martin Ball, Liberate the Roads! The Benefits that will come from road privatisation, 1994 *

LA Political Notes No. 17, Max More, Private Police and the Free Rider Problem, 1983 *

LA Political Notes No. 40 Chris R. Tame, On the Side of the Angels: A View of Private Policing, 1989 *

LA Political Notes No. 58, Sean Gabb, The Case for Privatising the Police, 1991 *

…will begin to become relevant to everyday experience and discourse. And that in turn could well mean fantastic new private roads and even maintenance work being undertaken with the customer in mind and not the producer interest.

Sure, these new roads might be built underground by private sector companies who put in the latest air purification technology. And yes, the owners of X road might well want to contract with a private security company to breath test one in every 10,000 drivers for excessive alcohol. But hell, that is capitalism. The owners of X road will want to tell customers that this road is the cleanest and safest way to travel.

None of this will happen in the short term. But slowly, step by step, the incentives to engage a market in road provision are mounting. Sod the Queen’s nationalised highway. I want it owned by capitalists. As a driver, I want roads to be appropriately priced and to be served as a customer.

Come to think of it, perhaps that is why those most hard-line privatisers at the Adam Smith Institute had Ken Livingstone visit their offices three times over the last year on the subject of roads?

Come on comrade Ken, scatter those libertarian seeds and take us to the supply side!

Dr. Tim Evans

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