The Silliness of Libertarianism: An Example

So, the family and I just took a trip from California to Florida to visit the grandparents. We had not been to see the grandparents since they moved, so this would be our first time spending any extended time there. They live outside of Fort Lauderdale, and we were going to spend time with them at their house, and then of course, make the obligatory trip to Orlando, to visit his holiness Mickey and the apostles of Disney princesses.

This trip was great for many reasons, but most hilariously, because of just it highlighted the silliness of libertarian philosophy (adopted by conservatives), with “toll roads”.

Now, Californians are not unfamiliar with tolls. We do have bridges after all, and those bridges are tolled. I think this is incredibly stupid, but is the kind of thing you can grow to expect when a bridge like, say, the Bay Bridge, needs to be built and nobody wants to pay anything in taxes to actually build it. And we are, of course, familiar not only with tolls but with owning a device that can be read electronically, so that you can go through the tolls faster without having to stop and hand some worker a fiver.

But Florida has taken it to a whole new extreme, to the point where you have to ask yourself, WTF? It’s a system so complex and convoluted, and involves many government actors to ensure that the pieces all move and fit together, and government passed laws to coordinate the actors, that you just can’t understand how this system could possibly be better than having the road be public and paid for with tax dollars.

So, here is what I saw when I was driving there.

First, the toll roads are everywhere. There are long stretches of freeway, and multiple freeways, that are tolled. As such, this leads to the construction of extra lanes, and interesting on/off ramps, in order to deal with the tolls – to make sure they are paid, for example. To limit access even further from a traditional freeway, as another example. These extra lanes and convoluted on/off ramps surely cost money, no? More money than would otherwise be necessary?

Second, there are signs all… over… the… place. Signs for the cost of the toll. Signs to remind you the toll is about to start. Signs to remind you that here is where you can get off if you don’t want to pay the toll anymore. Signs, signs, everywhere a sign. Again, this costs money, right? Right wingers and libertarians got their panties in a bunch when the stimulus was passed, because of all the street signs made for the construction projects that the stimulus created. They were very upset about this. if these particular toll roads were instead, say, public roads, that’s a lot of savings on signs, right?

Third, Florida really, really hates having to have to man these toll roads with, like, “employees”. You can get an electronic reader doo-hickey such that you don’t have to go through one of the manned tolls and like, talk to a human (note, I never have to stop to talk to humans on public roads). You are incentivized to get one of these things by having your toll costs reduced. These electronic readers used to make a “beep” sound when you went through a toll reader (the one I have for my car in California has this). But they don’t anymore, because otherwise the damned thing would be beeping all the time. When Florida changed from the beeping system, they had to replace all the readers. Again, these readers and the equipment to scan them costs money, right? Also, the new reader system is a “national” reader system, meaning that the reader in Florida can be read by equipment on the toll roads in, say, New Jersey. Coordinating such a national system surely cost money, right? Money you don’t need to spend if the roads are public, right?

Now, lots of people have these readers. They are, basically, silent cash registers. People are just driving on freeways as if they are public roads, and then their little reader just racks up charges. Kind of like how people could just drive on a public road and it would get paid for by gasoline taxes. But, you know, totally different. Because…. why? I mean, if everybody is on the road, such that you wanted to get rid of the annoying beep sound, clearly this is a public road. There aren’t a whole lot of people who just aren’t driving because they don’t want to pay the toll – they looked at the system of the toll road readers beeping too much and instead of deciding “the road should be public” they decided “the reader should be silent. It is, basically, a public road now, yet you still want to keep the illusion that is isn’t. /facepalm

And, finally, as I mentioned before, the toll road operators really hate paying for those humans to take your cash and change. So, they are moving to an “all electronic” system. There will be no toll booth operators anymore. So, again, it’s like it is a public road. But… not. You have to have one of these readers in your car. Except, well, no, actually you don’t. The state (or the toll operator) is installing all kinds of new technology on the toll roads. If you don’t have one of these electronic thingies in your car, a camera will take a picture of your license plate. And then bill you. That’s right, they are spending gobs of money putting the equivalent of an “eye in the sky” to get you to pay for using the road. That’s a lot of money to build out. And, of course, there are signs all over that were made to say “electronic tolls coming to this stretch on date XYZ” so that you know that soon you won’t be able to pay in cash to use the road. More money.

Oh, and if you are an out of state resident that happens to be in Florida using the toll roads? They will happily mail you the bill to your house in whatever state you came from. This means, of course, spending even more money to coordinate with all the other states so that they can get your address so that they can mail you the bill… that you probably won’t pay… because I don’t think they can’t make you pay it. (I could be wrong, maybe they can hurt your credit if you don’t pay)_.

Now, think about this. Libertarians are the proponents of things like toll roads, because they don’t like the whole idea of “everybody” paying for something “a few people” use. That’s socialism and socialism leads to fluoride in the water and FEMA re-education camps. Yet, the counter-system the libertarians have set up involves tracking your every movement, either with an electronic gizmo or via a camera. But I thought libertarians hated to be tracked?

Oy, my brain hurts.

Which is actually cheaper and easier to do: have public roads, paid for by a pool of gas taxes, which, of course, does cause the “heavy users” to pay more than the “light users” – heavy users spend more in gas? OR, creating an elaborate network of electronic readers and cameras, a distributed billing network, and agreements with out of state governments for “free loaders” who happen to be visiting your state, combined with complex and expensive lane and entry/exit ramps to protect the sanctity of the “paid” road?

Really, why would anybody consider the latter system “better’?

Don’t answer that – I know the answer. Libertarians think the latter is better, because… a libertarian argument does not need to be coherent.

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