Central Impeding

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Through a John Stossel column, I learned of British entrepreneur Mike Watts, who saw opportunity when highway repairs ended up taking far more time than originally anticipated.

Government said it would take a year to rebuild the road. On TV one bureaucrat said, "you can't just do what you want ... (Everything must) conform to highway standards!"

But Mike built his "private road" in just 12 days. He paid for it by collecting a $3 toll. Drivers cheerfully paid because Mike's road saved them so much time. (British private toll roads like this are where we got the word "turnpike." Private tollbooth operators would lift a "pike" to let the horses through.)
Intrigued, but dubious that the roads were of similar quality, I found a more detailed account in The Daily Mail. My hunch was right, but I am now incredulous for another reason altogether:
Mr Watts said he has received constant opposition from the local authority, which bombarded him with red tape and forced him to spend £25,000 gaining retrospective planning permission.

He also revealed that officials at Bath and North East Somerset Council had sent him a £3,500 bill for business rates despite the toll road not being official.

'It feels like they may have raised the money to take me out of the equation.' he said.
The small toll road would have been profitable nonetheless, but the government then miraculously found money to complete work enough ahead of schedule to cause Watts and his partner to merely break even.

Probably due to considerations of brevity, Stossel's account runs the risk of sounding like it is comparing apples and oranges, and doesn't quite capture just how bad central planning can be, when pettiness and vindictiveness are factored in.

To do that, imagine how an entity owning the highway for a profit might have responded to the discovery that the problems with the road were much worse than originally believed. The company could have built a temporary detour much like Watts's. None of the expenses added on by the officials would have occurred. Any profits from the detour could have helped defray repairs to the highway -- or the company could have used a lower toll (or none at all, to foster good will among its customers). Even if (as I doubt), the repairs would have taken a year, it is easy to imagine a far better outcome absent the meddlers in charge.

-- CAV

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