Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login

True. If you don't believe the government has any role to play in, say, paving roads, maintaining bridges, etc, then there's no "cost for society".

Well, until the bridges start falling down, anyway...




Ah, the tried-and-true roads & bridges argument.

No, I don't believe the government is necessary to do those things.

But if you look at actual government spending, these sorts of infrastructure projects are dwarfed by things like military spending, which could use a reduction.


"No, I don't believe the government is necessary to do those things."

I live on a very long (two miles) private road that I jointly build and maintain with an association, etc. There is no government role whatsoever, and we even have bridges.

So it would appear that my experience validates your libertarian fantasy world. Look - we're actually doing it!

I've got sour news for you. Even a wealthy, well educated collection of fair minded and well intentioned people find it very difficult to maintain a dirt/gravel road to an acceptable condition. It's very difficult and costly. We are right on the edge of success or failure in this maintenance.

Further, if we were to actually pave the road (a true fantasy) it would be completely, totally unthinkable with regard to cost. Asphalt is paid for by the square foot and it isn't cheap. When you drive by a very quick section of asphalt road being resurfaced ... say 200-400 meters or something - very short ... understand that that is millions of dollars in asphalt work. Millions.

Can you build some roads and bridges without the government ? Sure, of course you can. Will they approach, in any category, even the bare minimum acceptable standard that you hold ? No.


Hm. I understood that freeway (one of the most expensive roads in the world) was $1000 per foot. $5M per mile. I would expect asphalt to be much less.

Here's a link: http://www.dot.state.fl.us/planning/policy/costs/costs-D7.pd...

Florida says 2-lane roadway is $3.3M per mile. So a few hundred feed, costing millions? Nonsense.


> So a few hundred feed, costing millions? Nonsense.

1. Your parent actually actively maintains a private road, and has probably done their research...

2. It costs them so much because they just have a single road, so they can't amortize the cost over an entire city or country of roadway. Public utilities tend toward monopoly for exactly this reason -- providing the utility to any small fraction of society is enormously expensive.

Make no mistake, natural monopoly is what happens when you privatize utilities. Ever met a Comcast customer who feels anything short of contempt toward Comcast? Now imagine dealing with Comcast any time you need to drive to the grocery store. Or even leave your house.

3. Parent's numbers actually make sense when compared to Florida's, once you realize Florida has an entire state over which it can amortize costs.


Warm mixed asphalt roads should cost about $1M per mile. It's expensive, but it's not ludicrously expensive. If well done, in a warm environment, of low traffic, no truck levels, then you won't have to repave for upwards of a decade.

Source:

Maintenance a private road outside the USA. Labour is cheaper, however, everything else is more expensive so it balances out vs US numbers last time I checked.


(parent here)

Again, I was giving my own anecdotes about my own road, but then mid-comment switched to a hypothetical "stretch of road" that someone might drive by, being maintained, and in my mind I was thinking of a four-lane highway. It was unclear.

I will say, however, that with all due respect - things are more expensive here in California than they are in FL, so while 400 meters of four-lane @ the Florida rate posted above comes out to ~1.2 Million, it's probably a fair amount more in California.

It's expensive.


The Govt doesn't actually pave anything. Roads are a commodity. There are a half-dozen pavers in my small community of 50,000. If the costs are in the $100K per thousand feet, they are that for everybody.

Again, $M for a few hundred feet is nonsense.


Parent said METERS, not feet. So parent is saying maybe 8mil for a mile. Not insane to assume low volume work in a presumably remote area will be double or triple the price that the entire state of Florida can get.

Especially for a previously unpaved roadway with bridges that probably also needs widening, leveling, etc. That isn't patch work cleaning up existing paved road...

The number is high but not unfathomably so...

Anyways, either parent is telling the truth or not. But I find it hard to believe parent helps maintain a 2 mile private road and also you know better than him the cost of paving that particular road.


As has been said, road paving is a commodity business, so the reason why this particular road might be that expensive is probably that it's a remote road on difficult terrain.

Which raises the question: should this very expensive road, which is primarily used by members of this specific and admittedly wealthy community, be subsidized by the rest of (relatively) poor taxpayers of that state?


Yes. That's called infrastructure. Whenever America has 'subsidized' infrastructure, the nation has seen many fold return. Whether it was rural electrification, or secondary roads, or rural mail delivery, having it a given for everybody means anybody can assume a certain level of service. Commerce thrives on that.


I see the level of service argument. But, if an argument applies to roads or mail delivery, or landline phones, why does it not apply to fast internet service or cellular coverage or many other things, which have been doing just fine without centrally funded infrastructure?

Also, shifting the cost of such roads to everyone encourages even more construction in remote areas, which doesn't seem like a good thing to promote...


Ah, cell towers seem to benefit from some govt protection. We live in the country. The cell companies have to find land to place their towers on. They make an argument that, for emergency services, they're required to build the towers. So its inevitable, and we've just got to decide where they go up. Not whether they go up.

And actually, here in the country, there are many cell networks that do very poorly. Houses still have land lines mostly because connectivity can be very spotty. A govt-mandated tower utility would help that.

Lastly, its not about subsidizing. E.g. REC was not subsidized, just a protected class of business that was mandated to provide service to everyone in their area. Subscribers pay the whole freight. Its like insurance; those near the generation plant are kind of subsidizing those far away, but everybody gets service.


(parent here)

"Florida says 2-lane roadway is $3.3M per mile. So a few hundred feed, costing millions? Nonsense."

I was thinking of a stretch of highway or freeway - four lanes - when I asked the reader to "think of a stretch of road being worked on". Sorry - wasn't clear.

Also, I was measuring in meters. So, 400 meters of four-lane @ 6.6M per mile ... that's ~1.2M, give or take.

It's expensive.


> It's very difficult and costly. We are right on the edge of success or failure in this maintenance. Further, if we were to actually pave the road (a true fantasy) it would be completely, totally unthinkable with regard to cost. Asphalt is paid for by the square foot and it isn't cheap. When you drive by a very quick section of asphalt road being resurfaced ... say 200-400 meters or something - very short ... understand that that is millions of dollars in asphalt work. Millions. Can you build some roads and bridges without the government ? Sure, of course you can. Will they approach, in any category, even the bare minimum acceptable standard that you hold ? No.

1) If it's expensive to do for the private sector, it's expensive to do for the government, no part of the cost equation changes.

2) It only seems "cheaper" b/c the private sector would have to ask for money by providing enough value enough for you to part with your money, while government doesn't, and raises money by pointing guns at people. However, to avoid the free-rider problem, you can use assurance contracts to raise the construction money and tolls to pay for maintenance, similar to what governments would do anyways.

3) American infrastructure was rated a D+ by the ASCE, so in what way is having government the sole provider of infrastructure a guarantee of quality?

4) slightly unrelated, but do you really think we'd have the same level of urban sprawl, needing a car to get anywhere in suburbia and such a heavy reliance on fossil fuels if roads were built through market forces rather than government subsidy?


> 3) American infrastructure was rated a D+ by the ASCE, so in what way is having government the sole provider of infrastructure a guarantee of quality?

The same thing is true in most other parts of the world (i.e. who is financially responsible for building and maintaining the roads). In general you will find that the milder the climate is, the nicer the roads are.

> 4) slightly unrelated, but do you really think we'd have the same level of urban sprawl, needing a car to get anywhere in suburbia and such a heavy reliance on fossil fuels if roads were built through market forces rather than government subsidy?

It is already mostly financed through market forces by local governments and via various use taxes (e.g. fuel tax, property tax, etc)


Let's keep in mind we're talking about Italy here. So the knee-jerk "BUT DRONES" response is probably less accurate than if we were talking about the US or the UK or something.


Yes, let's indeed keep in mind that we're talking about Italy here.

http://www.voxeu.org/article/public-sector-inefficiency-and-...


No one takes this argument seriously because the people who use that argument usually want the government to do so much that roads are tiny fraction of what they do, or in a lot of cases, are outright hostile to roads altogether.


Roads and bridges are fine. 700 hammers for the military maybe not.

I worked as project manager for a contractor doing public works at one point. The government (at least in the US and probably everywhere) wastes a staggering amount of money.

Not saying the government doesn't need funding. They do. But they could certainly do a lot more with less.


They need better internal auditors. If you just cut their budget alone, it doesn't decrease waste or fraud. To change the percentage of waste requires accountability for wasting.


And the accountability ends up causing waste. A basic example I've given before is when you can't go and buy the cheapest thing because you have to prove it is the cheapest thing, which you can't do without a review (because people abused this is the past). The end result is that the cost to approve the cheapest option is so high you stick with a more expensive option that is overall worse, but currently considered the best.

Imagine a programmer who has to document what they do every quarter hour of their work day to ensure accountability to auditors looking to reduce waste. They end up wasting more time documenting what they do than you end up saving.


Accountability must come from outside government for it to be effective.


Not necessarily, you just need the internal auditors to have independence and the right incentives.

And actually-enforced penalties for individuals in government who stonewall the auditors because they know an honest auditor would want to reduce their budget.


Also I absolutely hate how people think cutting government income is a good way to cut wasteful spending because it is immediately obvious it doesn't work. It can't work.

We cheered when that scumbag Reagan talked about starving the beast. It was clear that even George HW Bush, Reagan's running mate knew it was a stupid idea. The problem that neocons won't talk about is that we don't have a single preferential way of allocating budget. Imagine we shrunk government income by one trillion dollars. That's the easy part but where will we cut our expenses? We haven't dealt with the difficult problem at all.

Remember that every dollar "wasted" goes to someone. If they are loud and influential, they will probably get to keep their money/credit. So basically the rebalancing brought upon by starving the beast is nothing more than a cash grab by the more powerful more influential over those less so.

I invite anyone who talks about cutting taxes to first come up with a plan to cut government spending. If the spending cut is palatable and can survive the mobs, I am in favor of starving our babies to cut taxes for the wealthy. But we can't put the cart before the horse. No new tax cuts without at least a matching spending cut that we can keep for at least a decade or so.


"we don't have a single preferential way of allocating budget." That's a very charitable way of saying there are no priorities in Washington and there never will be.

I don't mind discussions of cutting the federal government drastically even with overblown threats of riots and unrest. Why continue to prop up a federal system that was never designed to scale up to the size it is and that is out of control? It can't be fixed by any amount of tinkering so just let it collapse back to the original limited powers concept.

U.S. state and local governments do a much better job spending taxpayer money, just revert all these poorly run federal agencies and programs back to the state level.


A major issue here is income inequality. I understand that a part of me says "well, what's wrong with differences in the quality of life between someone living in some town in state A and someone else living in some town in state B.

We can talk about our successes with independent school districts where communities proudly fund their own schools with taxes at rates that they think are the best. Or take local police and EMS or local utilities for that matter. It is glorious when it works as it creates a sense of ownership and responsibility towards a community resource.

I agree with you in broad strokes that we can and should support devolution. However, I assert that we should not do this because our federal government was not "designed" to do this but because it is the right thing to do and it is in all our best interest to do it. We should not do something or avoid doing something based solely on what the system was "designed" to do. We should be willing to make changes to the system as we learn new things. I cringe on the amount of reverence with which we hold our founding fathers. The United States is a well recognized nation throughout the world and we do not need this crutch. (:


It's not a crutch. Separation of powers is a desirable thing because it tries to prevent the concentration of too much power in a body, group, or person. The Bill of Rights and constitution specifically LIMITS the powers of the federal government. America is an experiment in government that is no longer running, but its edifice is still there - which does not scale because it was designed _not to_.

Any power or service the federal government was not designed to own is reserved for the individual states. All the wealth transfer programs, pension plans, and public services we have now federally can be delivered by the states. So yes, there is a "design" there, we're just not adhering to it.

And when it all reverts to the states, then we can have real fights over what's the "right thing" for the state to do and where the dollars go.


The problem with doing income redistribution at the state level is that citizenship is at the federal level. If Ohio decides to have a state welfare system and Michigan doesn't, Michigan's poor move to Ohio and the system collapses.

A good solution would be to create a universal basic income at the federal level funded by a no-exceptions flat tax on consumption, which keeps the federal government simple, and then let the states do everything else.


And having welfare programs in today's America draws the poor from other countries. Not sure how what you're describing is any different, just a different scale. Every year around springtime, hundreds of homeless will literally start a trek from Portland OR to Berkeley CA to get enrolled in their generous welfare programs. What you describe happens already.

You can believe that churches and governments can easily match and surpass whatever the federal government can dish out once economic power reverts to the States.


> And having welfare programs in today's America draws the poor from other countries. Not sure how what you're describing is any different, just a different scale.

The difference is, as already mentioned, citizenship. The US is under no obligation to provide welfare benefits to foreign nationals or grant them citizenship. US states have no equivalent way to prevent low income US citizens from moving there and claiming benefits.

> Every year around springtime, hundreds of homeless will literally start a trek from Portland OR to Berkeley CA to get enrolled in their generous welfare programs. What you describe happens already.

How is the fact that it actually happens supposed to disprove it?


I was just trying to allay your fears of invading hordes seeking the heavy train of benefit heavy states. Such migrations happen today, legal and not. A lot of business owners profit off of the illegals, whose presence is subsidized by government. Very wicked little underclass we maintain, not quite slavery in modern times, but still...

Perhaps when the States have to administer their own welfare programs, it will no longer be profitable for the individual states to shoulder the burdens of hosting the underclasses when neighboring states will not. Sanity might return to the immigration debate, it could be a really good thing.


> Perhaps when the States have to administer their own welfare programs, it will no longer be profitable for the individual states to shoulder the burdens of hosting the underclasses when neighboring states will not.

That was kind of my point. It isn't profitable already. Increasing the magnitude would make it unsustainable. There just wouldn't be any states offering the same level of welfare programs as the federal government currently does.

> Sanity might return to the immigration debate, it could be a really good thing.

Federal universal basic income to all citizens as a replacement for existing welfare would do the same thing. Immigrants who cut the line wouldn't get it (and all the other welfare programs would be gone), which would make living here too hard to be worth breaking the law. Then we could correspondingly increase the number of legal immigrants we accept because we'll have more capacity to integrate new legal immigrants without the people who cut the line.


> It isn't profitable already.

No? I'm glad you caught that. Illegal immigration IS profitable, that's why it continues to happen. The advocates seem to cross political lines too, everyone must be profiting from cheap labor.

I love unsustainable pants-on-fire arguments like this. Any country or state that is being overrun in a truly unsustainable way either ejects the invaders (or does worse to them) or ends up conquered.

> Federal universal basic income

It's fun to imagine how one would tinker with the system, but you're just rearranging the deck chairs on the titanic.


I love the idea of a no-exceptions flat tax on consumption. However, our GDP per capita is only about 53k. If we need to extract about $6.3k (a number I pulled out of my ass - this is about the current IRS standard deduction and is about $500 per month), we'd need about a 12% tax on every single financial transaction.

I am afraid this 12% tax will drive a lot of our economy underground forcing us to raise rates. How do we prevent that from happening?

https://www.google.com/search?q=us+gdp


VAT is the usual way. The total tax ends up being 12% (or whatever), but it ends up being a much smaller percentage of the total price at each stage because it's collected throughout the supply chain. And then business customers want to make sure the tax is being collected because they can't deduct the already-paid tax when the item is resold if it wasn't reported by the seller.


How does vat work in other countries? Is it one rate across the country? Do provinces and local government get any of this money? Are they banned from imposing an additional sales tax? I'd think you don't want additional sales tax if you have vat but then you'd lose some revenue for local government.


The simplest way to do it would be to add e.g. 8% to the VAT and then give that part to the state where the buyer lives to use for whatever they like. But there is no inherent reason why states couldn't keep their existing sales tax instead. I mean you never want additional any tax, but the money has to come from somewhere.




Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact

Search: