How long does it take new highway construction to pay for itself? And how do you tax those who presumably use it? Toll roads are not overwhelmingly popular and since Eisenhower’s Highway Act in 1956, the federal government has shouldered an important part of the burden. That means gas taxes of course. But less toll booths as the years have passed.

It should be remembered that the prime motivation was General Eisenhower’s military experience, and his observation of Germany’s infamous and famous autobahn system, which was a way to move military material around Germany in an efficient manner. Yes, the highway system is essentially a Nazi invention.

So carefully measuring internal rates of return based on the expected time it takes to return the cost of a project were not the drivers of America’s massive roadway project. It was rather a case of providing a durable and robust series of connections between military – especially Air Force – facilities in case the nation faced a soviet ground invasion.

And the beneficiaries were Americans in general, both consumers and businesses, who could trade and travel at far more efficient levels than before. Imagine Wal-Mart without the current highway system.

So highways have often come to us often by the heavy hand of a protective state. From the King’s highways in England to your local stretch of interstate, that’s being redone at a hefty cost that needs financing on terms the private sector would be reluctant to offer without revenue streams like toll booths.

And the heavy hand of government tends to take care of it’s other hand, as well as other grasping hands. So it is almost a categorical imperative that highway bills shall be leavened with K Street goodies like farm subsidies. This is not a sneaky detail snuck into a worthwhile bill in the dead of the night. This is the raison d’Atre of any hard working senator worth his or her salt.

You want federal funding for that stretch of interstate? Sure, you bet! And we’ll make sure that America benefits from protected farm production. Or at least the targeted constituency that has bent our ears.

Or instead, you could have a smaller more focused set of farm subsidies flowing to those small family farms that really need them.

America could follow that giant of capitalism and freedom, New Zealand. Where they cut farm subsidies – very substantial farm subsidies – 30 years ago. Guess what? The overwhelming majority of farmers adapted, and are thriving, diversified entrepreneurs today.

It may be a while before America’s mobile consumer economy can prosper without a subsidized highway system – even with those annoying gas taxes. But the time is long past due for a shakeout of the goodies forged by beltway insiders. And dispensed by the federal government.

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