Archive for the ‘roads’ Tag

Classical Liberalism Has Failed   Leave a comment

 

What do I mean by that?

It’s an acknowledgment that classical liberals failed in their attempt to limit the power of the state and our current mess in Washington DC is a prime example.

Their failure resides in their ideal allowing for the very thing that is poison to liberty. You see, classical liberals believed that at least a minimal state is necessary for a  functional civil society.  Unfortunately, once the state exists, it is impossible to limit its power.

Believe it or not, I didn’t believe that myself until fairly recently and I instinctively shy away from that realization, but it becomes increasingly obvious to me that even a minimal state will seek to acquire more power and grow far beyond what its original intention, no matter how we might try to limit it.

Image result for image of a public road with potholesOur Founders believed there was such a thing as “public good” – basically, the joint supply of services in such a way as to cease rivalry by a body with a monopoly on institutional coercion that obliges everyone to finance those goods.

Example?

Prior to the creation of the federal government in 1789, lighthouses in the United States were colonial- or state-owned and often privately managed.  Local entities collected “light-dues” based on the tonnage of vessels using the ports the lighthouse protected.

So, most people grew up with publicly managed lighthouses and assumes the state that stood behind them was necessary, even though England had an entire system of privately-managed and -financed lighthouses for centuries before the government took them over. Sailors associations, port fees, and spontaneous social monitoring offered an effective solution to any issues arising from private-ownership.

The “wild” west was indeed wild when first opened to settlement, but many of the problems of, for example, property rights of land and cattle had been worked out before the federal government finally got around to administering those territories. The now much-maligned entrepreneurial innovations like cattle branding, constant supervision by armed cowboys on horseback, and the introduction of barbed wire solved the majority of the issues there a long time before the government showed up.

Today, because the government controls the western states and puts forth a narrative that there would be chaos (just look at the Hollywood movies!) if the state weren’t there to protect the west from “anarchy”, people believe there is no alternative to the state controlling most of the lands in the American west.

People observe that today’s highways, hospitals, schools, police protection, etc., are almost entirely supplied by the state, and deeming these services to be necessary (which they are), they conclude without further analysis that the state must also be necessary.

Most people believe the state is also necessary to protect the defenseless, poor and “destitute”. Small depositors, ordinary consumers, and workers are all deemed too fragile and stupid to take care of themselves.

What if the above-mentioned resources could be produced to a much higher standard of quality more efficiently, economically and individually adaptable through entrepreneurial creativity, private property and spontaneous market order? For example, why am I stuck paying $80 a month for garbage collection on my city lot? I’m charged this regardless if I put out any trash. I might only put out one can every two weeks while my neighbor (who owns a daycare center) puts out a half-dozen cans every week … yet we pay the same amount. Why? Because a statist monopoly requires regimentation and prevents any sort of competition for our money. I could negotiate with a private company  to meet my actual needs and charge me for my actual needs rather than my government-perceived needs.

The hospital in my town is privately owned, though heavily regulated by the state. It never turns anyone away. It didn’t before the state got involved because it was owned by a church. Do those regulations assure that everyone is covered? It wasn’t the case in the past. Why would it be the case now? Have churches doing medical ministries changed their ministries substantially since government started regulating them? But we’re told these regulations are necessary because …????

But what about the roads?

What about them? My neighborhood roads currently look like a map of the moon with a few craters filled in. I live inside the City of Fairbanks where we see road maintenance rarely. Despite the fact that we get significant amounts of snowfall here, we expect to see the plows in March. Sometimes they might do a pass after a heavy dump, but they’ll inevitably leave a berm at the bottom of our driveway that requires quick and muscular action for about two hours after work to clear before the temperatures drop and turn it into immovable white concrete.

My brother lives outside the city in the borough (like a county) which technically does not have road powers. The roads around his house are maintained by a road commission that he pays fees to. The commission hires a contractor to take care of the road. These roads rarely have potholes and they’re fixed quickly if they occur. The snow is generally cleared by the time he gets home from work or when he gets up in the morning. Yes, it costs money, but less than what is collected from me in property taxes. Although the road service areas are administered through the borough, several of them existed before the borough took control of them and they would largely continue to be unaffected if the borough stopped collecting paperwork on them because people would still need to get to and from their homes if the borough stopped functioning in that capacity. My brother gets better road maintenance for less money from the private sector than I do from the public sector.

By the way, he can also now get trash collection from a private company for about the same amount as we pay in the city. I interviewed the owner of the company and he explained that if he had more customers, he could afford to charge less and provide more flexibility in service than he currently does.

Although the state insists its existence is necessary to defend property rights and coordinate social processes, the fact is that they are a body with a monopoly on violence (or its more subtle sister, coercion). The state invariably acts by trampling on numerous legitimate property titles, defending them very poorly, and corrupting the moral and legal behavior of individuals toward the property rights of others.

We shouldn’t be so wedded to the status quo that we refuse to see there might be other, better ways of doing things.

 

 

Framing the Kobuk Road   3 comments

I wrote this a couple of years ago, but the topic came up recently and I thought it was appropriate to re-run it. Lela

 

While the Yukon River Access Road (currently just the 54-mile Road to Tanana with a distant dream of taking it all 500+ miles to Nome) is welcomed by the majority of the residents of the corridor, not every community wants roads for a variety of reasons.

Source: Framing the Kobuk Road

I make no secret that I think my mother’s people are among the most bigoted ethnic groups in the United States. Although I am a stateside Indian, I see the same cultural prejudice at work in the Inupiat and Athabaskan of Alaska. I find it odd that a people who so pride themselves on a history of non-ownership of the land are so greedy for it in this generation. I’m told that’s the Caucasian in my blood stream talking. If I weren’t a “breed”, I’d get it. Then they turn around and say white men are greedy for land in an unhealthy way.

Related imageAnd, people wonder why I think my Indian cousins are bigots ….

Can we just admit that mistakes were made in the past, but that we live in a different era today, so should start working together as the human race, not as separate competing silos of skin color? As one who stands astride more than one silo and does not see a compelling reason to choose which part of my DNA to reject, this bigotry got old and worn out a long time ago. That’s my transracial rant for the day. Back to the subject at hand.

Sometimes the real issues involved in building a road or developing a mine get obscured with the window-dressing of environmental and cultural issues. Let me lay it out for you. The Kobuk region is losing population fast. The old folks are dying off and the young folks are moving away. It’s approaching a point where the only ones still left in Ambler are the alcoholics and bootleggers – those who can’t leave because they can’t function in the modern world and those who won’t leave because they derive a benefit from those who can’t function in the modern world. The Kobuk region is a beautiful place and there are some truly lovely people who come from there, but those truly lovely people tell me that Ambler is in trouble. There are plenty of theories why. Some would say it’s all the fault of the “white man” who came bringing “alien ideas” and telling the young ones that the life there wasn’t worth living.

I’m popping bubbles today.

Eskimos make their own choices just like everyone else. If you don’t want to lose your culture, make it worth keeping. Sexual abuse of minors and alcoholism are not cultural values worth hanging onto. For those who are self-aware, the causes are a bit more complicated than “the white man caused it.”

Life in a Native village that is not connected by road is isolated and limited. You collect wood to burn, you haul water, you hunt and fish in season, you pick berries and grow a garden … and then you sit in the cabin all winter and stare at four walls. That might have been enough when they didn’t know there was more, but that time went away a long time ago. Now the mind-numbing boredom of eight months of winter wears on a person. Alcohol is readily available and Alaska allows its citizens to grow their own pot. Both drugs are depressants. The television brings in images of places where it is warm and sunny and you can do something besides stare at four walls or haul water. The imported teachers try to educate the kids, but when you’ve been up all night hiding under your bed to avoid your drunken father’s sexual advances, it’s really hard to even go to school, let along concentrate on algebra or English, skills that would allow you to move to Anchorage or Fairbanks or even just Kotz and get a job. The suicide rate among teenage Natives is huge. The alcoholism and drug addiction rate is even higher.

Then there’s Tim’s family. They are a Native family that lives in Fairbanks. They have a nice home and jobs and they don’t drink. I go to their house for agutaq (Eskimo “ice cream”) and muktuk (whale meat) and they tease me because I don’t understand the appeal of seal oil. Tim’s mom is an Inupiat from Kotzebue whose mother is from the Kobuk, but his dad is Yupik from the Bethel region. A century ago their ethnicities were at serious war with one another. Today they’re married. They foster kids from the villages. Most of the kids they foster are doomed before they ever get them. When your mother drank a fifth of whiskey every day while she was pregnant with you, your brain doesn’t develop correctly and you are forever damaged by it. But occasionally, they get kids who can take advantage of the non-drinking environment to get an education and learn to keep those parts of their culture that are worth keeping and adopt those parts of modern culture that are worthwhile. Tim talks about his “brothers and sisters” who now live out on their own – some going to college, some to trade school, some of them now have jobs and families of their own. They go back to the village to visit, but they don’t live there.

Would they chose to live there if there were jobs not only to provide money to buy food, fuel, etc., but also to provide adults the dignity of meaningful work and to alleviate the mind-numbing boredom?

Some say they would. Some of them point out that the opposition to the Kobuk road is driven by outside environmental interests more than by local sentiment. When you’ve got someone whispering in your ear that all it would take to save your village is to seal the modern world out and that a road would do just the opposite, you’re going to fight against the road. But the modern world has already brought a corrupting influence to the village. Bootleggers wouldn’t bring the alcohol in if villagers didn’t buy it. The television that helps to relieve the boredom of the parents also brings in glimpses of the world beyond the village that tempt the children to leave.

There’s no sense closing the barn door after the cows have run off.

The State of Alaska also has an interest in building the road that goes beyond the economic benefits of providing access to the mineral prospects. There are costs associated with people sitting on their asses not producing anything of value. Village police officers are needed to keep drunken idiots from beating each other to death or gang-raping young girls. I’m not making that up. Read the Alaska media and you’ll see this happens often. Health aides are needed to treat the affects of alcoholism and drug use. Mental health clinicians are also needed to combat the damage done by a culture of alcoholism and sexual abuse. The State of Alaska provides a school for every village with at least 15 students, but the students aren’t learning because of the alcoholism and resultant chaotic environment. Public assistance dollars must go to support a “subsistence” lifestyle that increasingly depends on modern technology – rifles, snow machines, 4-wheelers, power boats, fuel to power these items and heat your home, sewer treatment to deal with the effects of staying in one place for generations, etc.

The road would provide jobs and access to services and allow the people of the Kobuk Valley to start supporting themselves rather than forcing those of us who don’t even live there to support them so they can live there. But it would also provide them with a reason to get up in the morning and do something with their lives besides stare at four walls. It’s not a panacea for the cultural sickness in the Kobuk Valley, but it might well be a step in the right direction, a step away from deliberate isolation in the interest of protecting a culture that was never as lovely as portrayed and has become undignified and damaging to generation after generation.

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

Keeping a stranglehold on a culture that is dying doesn’t save the culture. It just kills the people who are doing the strangling. Adapting to the inevitable might help them save those parts of their culture that are worth saving.

Adopt A Highway   Leave a comment

Image result for image of a gravel roadMy friend Mila sent this to me via email and it was intriguing enough that I researched it. Mila lives here in Alaska, but she was born in the Ukraine. Her husband Alex is from Russia. They escaped the USSR about two years before perastroika, so they know a thing or two about risking all for the chance at freedom. Maybe someday they will let me interview them.

Anyway … back to the subject at hand

 

The Moscow Times:

“Smugglers have transformed the gravel track in the Smolensk region in order to help their heavy goods vehicles traveling on the route, said Alexander Laznenko from the Smolensk region border agency. The criminal groups have widened and raised the road and added additional turning points, he said.

The road, which connects Moscow to the Belarussian capital of Minsk, is known to be used by smugglers wishing to avoid official customs posts and is now under official surveillance.

A convoy of trucks was recently stopped on the road carrying 175 tons of sanctioned Polish fruit worth 13 million rubles ($200,000). The produce was subsequently destroyed, TASS reported.

Local border guards, customs and police officers have checked over 73,000 vehicles entering Russia from Belarus this year, Laznenko said, claiming that the number of heavy goods vehicles crossing the border from Belarus has increased dramatically in the last year, he said.”

 

So, as I work on the 3rd book in Transformation Project (yeah, that’s right, I’m working on it even though the 2nd book is more than a month from launch), I’ve been asking myself these questions, trying to see beyond my marginally statist myopia.

Who will build the roads if the government doesn’t?

Apparently criminals will, if they need to and it benefits their own interests. And, catch what they’re bringing in — fruit.

Image result for image of truckload of fruitOh, the horrors of black marketing! Someone might get addicted to bananas.

The smugglers adopted a gravel road from Moscow to Minsk, raised it, widened it and added turning points. The secret project increased traffic and prompted a government takeover, complete with customs abuses.

So, let’s just take a pause and think about this. A company builds roads. By the way, the government does not build roads. The government gives money to companies to build roads. So the government goes away (or at least stops being able to fund roads) and the company does what?

Well, the statist answer is that they would go bankrupt because no roads would be built. The capitalist solution would be that they either build the road themselves and recoup the cost through tolls or they contract with the people who need to road to get their goods to market and build the road on their behalf.

See! No government needed! Just enlightened self-interest and a dump truck and grader.

The disappearing stimulus Republican American   Leave a comment

While traveling across the country with your kids this summer, be sure to buckle up and do your best to overlook all the potholes and crumbling bridges out there. Even if funding were available, things probably would remain in disrepair until your kids are grown, thanks to big government regulations and red tape.

Source: The disappearing stimulus Republican American

Posted June 10, 2016 by aurorawatcherak in economics

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One Tiny Step in the right direction   Leave a comment

BLM releases decision on Greater Moose’s Tooth-1 road – Alaska Journal of Commerce – Breaking News 2015 – Anchorage, AK.

Now watch some other federal agency put the brakes on it.

Drive It Like You Stole It   Leave a comment

That speed limit sign beside the side of the road may seem arbitrary government caprice … and it most probably is if it reads 55 MPH and has been there for decades.

However, maybe it isn’t. Since Congress lifted the 55 MPH national limit that the Carter Administration Department of Transportation, speed limits on most highways and interstates are set by state DOTs. Is the 85 MPH speed limit on a Texas highway “arbitrary”? According to the Texas DOT website it was determined by road engineers — people who have actually studied highway engineering as a science — who evaluated the average speed of drivers along with the road geometry, prevailing road conditions, the traffic density and other factors to determine the speed limit. Is that arbitrary or is it instructional?

I don’t live in Texas with its flat, wide open spaces. I live in Alaska. Our roads are curvy, mountainous, and frost-heaved. Our pavement is frozen much of the year and moving the rest. Drifting snow, ice fog and short daylight hours reduce our visibility. Wildlife considers highways to be great game trails. The highest posted speed limit in Alaska is 65 MPH.

Is that arbitrary or instructional?

On a hot summer’s day on the Richardson Highway between Fairbanks and North Pole, I could easily drive 75, but the majority of the days in Alaska are winter. At 55 or even 65, I’m pretty sure I could stop in time to avoid a moose collision but at 75 …?????…. People hit moose all the time in that corridor and statistics show that if they’d been going the speed limit, the wreck might have been avoided or at least not been so bad.

Alaska has a large military population. They arrive usually in October, from Georgia and California and they are given no instruction in winter driving. They and their spouses take to our roads and drive in what they insist is a safe manner. In fact, they complain that Alaskan drivers are “horrible”, slow and cautious and we maintain too great a following distance. They express their displeasure by high-speed tailgating until there is an opening in traffic when they roar around us, risking a head-on with opposing traffic. If you get a chance to talk to them, they will insist WE are making them act that way.

Of course, they sing a different tune when one of our infamous Alaskan frost heaves shrugs them off into a ditch and we offer to pull them out. The smart ones are much more contrite than they were when they blew our doors off a mile back. The dumb ones … I leave in the ditch to contemplate their folly.

If all government went away tomorrow, there would still be a practical speed “limit” set by road engineering and conditions like weather and traffic density. And idiots would still exceed the “good sense” limit because idiots always think they’re smarter than those around them.

It’s obvious to them that the driver slowing them down on the road is a lousy driver … until that driver has to pull them out of the ditch.

Posted April 18, 2014 by aurorawatcherak in Alaska

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New plan aims to advance Knik bridge – Alaska Journal of Commerce – March Issue 5 2014 – Anchorage, AK   Leave a comment

New plan aims to advance Knik bridge – Alaska Journal of Commerce – March Issue 5 2014 – Anchorage, AK.

This is one of the infamous Alaskan “bridges to nowhere” that brought down Congressional Republicans in 2006 and 2008.

Only the Knik Arm Bridge (KABATA) is not a “bridge to nowhere.” Anchorage — the largest city in Alaska — home of the third busiest international airport in the United States and the busiest cargo airport in the US — is at one end. The other end is a planned port facilities at Pt. McKenzie. Anchorage, as the 1964 earthquake graphically showed, was built on shaky ground and the current port has also outgrown both its location. Relocating it (or building a second port) at Pt. McKenzie makes sense because it avoids the bootleggers clay and Army Corps of Engineers backfill that underlay much of Anchorage’s water front.

Alaska is sitting on the largest gas reserves in the world and Asia would love to buy it from us. They want it so badly that Mitsubishi was willing to build a pipeline, but Alaskan officials messed up the deal. Although I favor taking the pipeline down to tidewater in Valdez for in-state reasons, Pt. McKenzie makes sense too, because if we can unstrand our gas, we’re going to need a bigger port to ship it. It’s either going to need to be built in Anchorage or Valdez.

Sometimes a bridge to nowhere goes somewhere that just needs to be built.

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