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It’s only a negative when it’s for something I don’t like

Matt Yglesias writes about one of my favorite people.

Randall O’Toole is a relentless advocate for highways and automobile dependency in the United States. Consequently, I don’t agree with him about very much. But the thing I consistently find most bizarre about him, is that the Cato Institute and the Reason Foundation have both agreed to agree with O’Toole that his support for highways and automobile dependency is a species of libertarianism. For example, O’Toole whines a bunch about how Ray LaHood wants to spend less money on highways and more on transportation alternatives before denouncing this agenda as “central planning.”

Central planning, of course, is the reverse of libertarianism. So if promoting alternative transportation is central planning, then building highways everywhere must be freedom! But of course in the real world building highways is also central planning. The Long Island Expressway is not a free market phenomenon. The Interstate Highway System as a whole reflects, yes, planning. That’s how it works. And beyond the interstates, American cities made a collective decision in the early part of the twentieth century to totally reconfigure their streets so as to become more convenient for car traffic—they’d be paved in an auto-friendly way, and the streets divided into a (larger) cars-only portion and a (smaller) people-only portion. That’s planning. It’s true that proposals to rebalance and make more space for buses and bikes and streetcars and pedestrians is a sort of central planning. But so is the alternative.

It’s just a field that, intrinsically, requires a lot of planning. The question is about what kinds of plans to make.

I don’t think I can add anything to this, except perhaps to note that maybe this is where some of the fervor for privatized toll roads comes from. Even there, of course, it’s not like your private toll road building firms were the ones deciding where the roads would be going. It was central planning all the way down to the point where construction and ultimately operations were to be handed off. Yet somehow that sort of thing never bothers the Randal O’Tooles of the world. One can only wonder why that may be.

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One Comment

  1. Joe White says:

    Howdy Kuff,

    For a libertarian critique of O’Toole, take a gander at

    http://marketurbanism.com/2009/06/04/otoole-under-more-fire/