Gary Becker’s Solution for the Infrastructure Problem

Gary Becker has a piece on the blog he shares with Richard Posner regarding infrastructure in the wake of the Minneapolis Bridge collapse.

I find it interesting the way conservative economists always find a way to make every problem call for the same solution — markets, markets, markets. In my soon-to-be-released (2 October) Confiscation of American Prosperity, I compared this attitude to the behavior of a doctor who would prescribe the same procedure for every problem, whether it would be a heart attack or broken leg.

First of all, he uses several tactics to rule out the need for more government spending. First of all, he claims that the roads and bridges are in good shape. The second tactic is far more interesting to me. Often when somebody calls for more government spending or regulation to solve a problem, conservatives claim that an unrelated program would be more cost effective.

Childhood vaccinations are a good example. For example, if somebody recommends policies, such as the regulation of tobacco, conservatives, such as John Graham, later Bush’s regulatory czar, argued that allocating money for regulation rather than spending it on childhood vaccinations or some other worthy purposes is tantamount to “statistical murder” (see Graham 1995).

Graham, John D. 1995. ”Comparing Opportunities To Reduce Health Risks: Toxin Control, Medicine and Injury Prevention (Dallas: National Center For Policy Analysis).

Of course, the people who make such an argument never actively promote the childhood vaccination. Instead, they merely insist on government inaction. In this case, Becker argues that reducing alcohol related deaths would make a greater contribution to safety, without giving any suggestion of how to achieve such a goal.

Finally, Becker makes the case that — surprise surprise — the best approach would be privatization, without explaining how privatization could be accomplished in a way to guarantee better maintenance of the infrastructure.


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