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Friedrich Engels Answers the Question All Libertarians Have Been Asked

Summary:
Who will build the roads? Every libertarian I know who has been one for 5 years or more has been asked this question. Our answer is typically that for-profit firms will build roads and that sometimes neighborhood associations will do so. What I hadn’t known is that Karl Marx’s buddy Friedrich Engels answered the question with empirical evidence over a century and a half ago. Here’s Engels: The whole British Empire, and especially England, which, sixty years ago, had as bad roads as Germany or France then had, is now covered by a network of the finest roadways; and these, too, like almost everything else in England, are the work of private enterprise, the State having done very little in this direction. Before 1755 England possessed almost no canals. … [But now in

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Friedrich Engels Answers the Question All Libertarians Have Been Asked

Who will build the roads? Every libertarian I know who has been one for 5 years or more has been asked this question. Our answer is typically that for-profit firms will build roads and that sometimes neighborhood associations will do so.

What I hadn’t known is that Karl Marx’s buddy Friedrich Engels answered the question with empirical evidence over a century and a half ago.

Here’s Engels:

The whole British Empire, and especially England, which, sixty years ago, had as bad roads as Germany or France then had, is now covered by a network of the finest roadways; and these, too, like almost everything else in England, are the work of private enterprise, the State having done very little in this direction.

Before 1755 England possessed almost no canals. … [But now in 1845:] In England alone, there are 2,200 miles of canals and 1,800 miles of navigable river. In Scotland, the Caledonian Canal was cut directly across the country, and in Ireland several canals were built. These improvements, too, like the railroads and roadways, are nearly all the work of private individuals and companies.

Philosophy professor Stephen R. Hicks quotes this in “Friedrich Engels answers: Who will build the roads?” October 13, 2019. Hicks is quoting from Engels 1845 “Condition of the Working Class in England.”

David Henderson
David Henderson is a British economist. He was the Head of the Economics and Statistics Department at the OECD in 1984–1992. Before that he worked as an academic economist in Britain, first at Oxford (Fellow of Lincoln College) and later at University College London (Professor of Economics, 1975–1983); as a British civil servant (first as an Economic Advisor in HM Treasury, and later as Chief Economist in the Ministry of Aviation); and as a staff member of the World Bank (1969–1975). In 1985 he gave the BBC Reith Lectures, which were published in the book Innocence and Design: The Influence of Economic Ideas on Policy (Blackwell, 1986).

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