Cutting wasteful government spending

Paved roads? Who needs paved roads? Paved roads, my friends, are a fad, a frill, a big-government nanny-state boondoggle. The Pilgrims didn’t have paved roads. The pioneers didn’t have paved roads. Third-world standards were good enough for them; why shouldn’t they be good enough for us and our children?

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

15 thoughts on “Cutting wasteful government spending”

  1. Everyone wants paved roads (not everyone, but mostly everyone). But in terms of taxes, the poor can't pay them. And the rich, won't.

  2. Noone wants insane, immoral wars (not noone but almost noone) but in terms of taxes, the poor can't pay for them and the rich are too busy counting the profits from all the arms and services they sold to the government payed for by bonds sold to China. Funny how there's always some way to fund what the corporations and Wall Street "needs". Imagine if there were enough money to pay teachers while the Pentagon needs to run a bake sale to buy a drone missile.

  3. Stutsman County, ND has a population of <a href="http://www.google.com/publicdata?ds=uspopulation&met=population&idim=county:38093&dl=en&hl=en&q=Stutsman+County+nd+population&quot; rel="nofollow">20,394, a decline of almost 16% since 1980. Small and declining populations and tax bases is likely the situation for most rural counties that are having trouble maintaining their roads. Deterioration of the roads and other reasons will cause their populations to decline even further as people move closer to more populated areas. The result: few miles driven, less gas burned and less money for the oil companies. So, the problem is?…

  4. I lived most of my life on a dirt road. Why was it a dirt road? Because, in Northern states with freeze-thaw cycles, paved roads are only economic above a certain level of traffic, because you have to keep paving them, over and over. (I imagine the calculation is somewhat different in states without freeze/thaw cycles.)

    So, yes, paving a road CAN be wasteful government spending. Quite easily. A wasteful extravagance to be shed in hard times. When I lived in rural Michigan we lived in terror of the possibility the local government would get it into it's head to pave our road, because the inevitable bill would have ruined many of us.

    Oh, and do you realize just how much of a cartoon liberal you're becoming, with this reflexive horror at any indication of government reducing expenditures in the face of reduced revenue? Does the thought of governments actually cutting spending offend you that much?

  5. Folks,

    I think Mark's primary point here is not the turning back of the clock (though as a former city manager and public works director I've dealt with that mentality) but the skewing of priorities in our society. In my Army days, I worked in African countries where it was considered normal to have 12 foot walls topped with barbed wire around your house, to use armed escorts when going to a restaurant, and to employ guards for your kids when they went to school. That is not what I want my nephews and their families to experience in the years to come, and getting through our various elite's (both local and national) obliviousness is some of the best work we can do. Among those who didn't get on a life boat on the Titanic, First class passengers lived, what; two hours longer than steerage?

  6. The WSJ (as Brett notes) does a bit of verbal trickery by going directly from an implicit description of smooth paved road to rutted, unmaintained gravel. Well-maintained gravel roads (which may cost a bit more than $2600 a mile annually to keep up) are way friendlier to vehicles than badly-maintained asphalt.

    But I would wager that after a generation or two of focusing on asphalt, a lot of road departments have lost the expertise for doing a good job on gravel roads, and have long since lost the capital equipment necessary to do it right. So they're making the conversion (which might or might hot have been a good idea in absolute terms) under the worst possible conditions. (Which is what you get for not listening to liberal wonks.)

  7. Gravel and asphalt may have different merits at different latitudes and different climates, and this story does not necessarily point to a decay in the American social contract. But there are some other apparently minor phenomena that seem to point that way.

    In one semi-rural school district in my state, there is now a fee for school bus transportation each time a student boards a bus. This is due to budget problems for the county. It is turning me into a neo-geezer. The old fashioned geezers went around saying, “When I was the age of these kids, we didn’t have these things given to us!” As a neo-geezer, I am starting to say, “When I was their age, we had these things provided to us! No one charged us to get on the bus to school. We just got on when the driver opened the door, and thought nothing of it. Nowadays we don’t do the same thing for our kids and grandkids!”

    Damn country is going to hell in a handbasket if you ask me.

  8. As funny as Mark's comment was – and it was very funny – it is off the point. The locals voted for this situation and they are free to do so. They do not wish to pay the price for this public good given that budgets, both public and private, are severely stretched. We may find it laughable, or lamentable, but frankly either reaction is patronizing to some degree or another, and only fuels the fires of cultural warfare.

  9. Brett,

    I don't think Mark's point was that government paving of any road is ALWAYS efficient government spending. The article Mark links to discusses converting poorly maintained, paved roads into gravel roads (at a cost of $400,000 per 10 miles of road in Spiritwood, N.D.); it does not discuss converting little-used dirt roads into paved roads. The article also notes that some experts, including, apparently, one John Habermann, "caution that gravel roads can be costlier in the long run than consistently maintained asphalt because gravel needs to be graded and smoothed."

    If you object to satire, fair enough, but it strikes me as tone-deaf to miss the satire in the hyperbole of Mark's post.

  10. You also need to understand that in rural areas, roads and their maintenance are a significant source of jobs. Being on the County Road Commission is a big deal; people come out to meetings to debate over road expenditures, maintenance schedules, etc. Whose road gets paved or graded, and whose road doesn't, is supposed to reflect objective standards, but sometimes reflects who has clout. It's totally believable to me that paved roads got built in prosperous times, that should have been gravel from the beginning. Don't get me wrong, I love paved roads (as long as they're maintained). But they come behind good schools, adequate law enforcement, acceptable levels of environmental protection, and a few other things from amongst which we must choose.

  11. For the cost of simply maintaining the infrastructure on the 1,000+ United States military bases world wide for one year, every road in America could be paved with 12 inch thick concrete, making them damned near indestructible.

    For killing all weapons development systems, the US could totally rebuild every bridge, park, hospital and school in the United States.

    Just don't tell them that the money is going to be spent on civilians, horrors.

  12. "When I lived in rural Michigan we lived in terror of the possibility the local government would get it into it’s head to pave our road, because the inevitable bill would have ruined many of us."

    As a former resident of Michigan I can attest that this is in fact a lie. Paving of local roads was decided upon by the street residents, who voted upon a millage in order to get asphalt. The assertion that the local government would pave the road against the wishes of the street residents is yet another lie upon the monolith of lies that is conservatism.

  13. Benny, not quite. Only in the event of a special assessment district do the people living on the road have any real choice in the matter, and the special assessment district process is rather, shall we say, backasswards. First you vote on the special assessment, THEN they decide how much it will be! At that point you can ask for a hearing to dispute the amount, the cost of which will be added to the assessment after they turn you down.

    But suppose 51% of the people on a road vote for a special assessment. Does that mean the other 49% won't find the cost ruinous?

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