Monday, March 19, 2012

Chris Dillow — Why privatize the roads?

There are two arguments for road privatization that are plain daft.One is that it will “unlock large-scale private investment” from pension and sovereign wealth funds. This argument fails because the government can already borrow from these through the gilt market at almost zero cost - the yield on 50-year index-linked gilts is below 0.2%. The cheapest way to invest in roads is for the government to borrow. To think otherwise is merely irrational debt phobia.
The second argument is that the private sector can manage the roads better than the Highways Agency. This fails because, insofar as the private sector is more efficient than the public, it is because the pressure of competition forces it to be so. But giving private firms long-lived leases over natural monopolies is no way to increase competition.
So, what is the case for privatization? Jonathan sees it as a step towards road pricing. But there is another argument.
It originates in perhaps the most important fact about western capitalism in recent years - that there is a dearth of investment opportunities; this is why business investment as a share of GDP has fallen in recent years, and why companies have for a long time been saving much more than they‘ve invested in real assets.Faced with this problem, one function of the state is to create new investment opportunities. And road privatization - like steps towards NHS privatization - does just this.
Read it at Stumbling and Mumbling
by chris dillow

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