America's Road Woes: the Free Market Fix (Incomplete)

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Nick Reardon
Dr. Brandon Gramer
English 122-024RL
Essay 2, Final Draft; 3,596 Words; 13 May 2013
America’s Road Woes: The Free-Market Fix
Among the most pervasive issues that continue to plague American society is deteriorating infrastructure standards. Once regarded as the hallmark of a financially stable nation, infrastructure construction and maintenance has recently experienced persistent periods of financial neglect.. Everything ranging from bridge inspections to waste management has shared the brunt of this trend. However, the most widely affecting facet of infrastructure, if based on nothing other than usage rates, is roads. According to 2013 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure provided by the American Society of Civil Engineers—which conducts grade-based reviews on infrastructure standards every four years—the national average infrastructure rating was a meager D+; Roads, specifically, were rated even lower at a D. Most mainstream voices tend to suggest that the only solution is to acquire more funding; this, however, is a moot point considering the extent of time, effort and political leverage necessary to influence change under the current system. Instead, a more appropriate solution would require a broader examination of the market structure as a whole. As global markets continue to perform abysmally and legislators struggle to meet basic budgetary duties, the time has come to reconsider the entirety of government’s role in infrastructure. Historically, significant reductions in government influence on markets have produced higher quality goods and services and greater overall living standards. Beginning with the market reforms of 18th century England, and culminating with the American experiment in constitutionally limited government, much of the global economic progress achieved over the past three centuries was a direct result of the decline of government control and regulatory powers over markets. Private companies seeking a profit from willing customers quickly occupied the void of socioeconomic responsibilities that remained in the absence of government. From the latter half of the 19th century to the early decades of the 20th century—when American markets were the most free—private companies would be exposed to highly competitive pressures, such that their pursuit of profit would yield greater accountability to consumers. Absent of formal government regulation and price controls, these market pressures provided a natural regulatory process by which each firm would compete with others, within the industry, to provide higher quality products at lower prices. In the end, therefore, the “winners” of the free market would be determined by the purchasing decisions of the consumer. Capitalism in the United States, in its purest form, resulted from the withdrawal of government interventions following the American Civil War—namely, the waning influence of the “greenback” currency and reinstitution of the gold standard, as well as the refocusing of industrial resources toward peacetime production. The economic results were staggering. According to a 1947 study published in The Journal of Economic History by Edwin Frickey, assistant professor of economics at Harvard University, “between 1873 and 1892, industrial production rose from 30 to 79 [on the Frickey index],” representing a revolutionary, and perhaps historically unsurpassed rate of increase in American productivity (Frickey). Considering the remarkable achievements of the market economy in most other capital and consumer goods industries, it’s not difficult to imagine the effects that such market reforms might have on infrastructure. Despite common objections, free market capitalism would provide all of the same benefits, yielding a more efficient and stable framework for our nation’s roads. Establishing a fully free market for roads is the appropriate reform for our infrastructure problems, because it would ease the flow of capital and financing,...
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