John Stossel

In "Myths, Lies and Downright Stupidity," I bet my readers $1,000 that they couldn't name one thing that government does better than the private sector.

I am yet to pay.

Free enterprise does everything better.

Why? Because if private companies don't do things efficiently, they lose money and die. Unlike government, they cannot compel payment through the power to tax.

Even when a private company operates a public facility under contract to government, it must perform. If it doesn't, it will be "fired" -- its contract won't be renewed. Government is never fired.

Contracting out to private enterprise isn't the same thing as letting fully competitive free markets operate, but it still works better than government.

Roads are one example. Politicians call road management a "public good" that "government must control." Nonsense.

In 1995, a private road company added two lanes in the middle of California Highway 91, right where the median strip used to be. It then used "congestion pricing" to let some drivers pay to speed past rush-hour traffic. Using the principles of supply and demand, road operators charge higher tolls at times of day when demand is high. That encourages those who are most in a hurry to pay for what they need. It was the first time anywhere in the world that congestion pricing was used. Bureaucrats were skeptical. Now congestion pricing is a hot idea for both private and public road management systems.

Likewise, for years there was a gap in the ring road surrounding Paris that created huge traffic problems. Then private developers made an unsolicited proposal to build a $2 billion toll tunnel in exchange for a 70-year lease to run it. They built a double-decker tunnel that fits six lanes of traffic in the space usually required for just two. The tunnel's profit-seeking owners have an incentive to keep traffic moving. They collect tolls based on congestion pricing, and tolls are collected electronically, so cars don't have to stop. The tunnel operators clear accidents quickly. Most are detected within 10 seconds -- thanks to 350 cameras inside the tunnel. The private road has cut a 45-minute trip to 10 minutes.

Indiana used to lose money on its toll road. Then Gov. Mitch Daniels leased it to private developers. Now it makes a profit. The new owners spent $40 million on electronic tolling. That's saved them 55 percent on toll collection. They saved $20 per mile by switching to a better de-icing fluid. They bought a new fleet of computerized snowplows that clear roads using less salt. Drivers win, and taxpayers win.

It also turns out that government roads often run more smoothly when drivers have more, not less, freedom.


John Stossel

John Stossel is host of "Stossel" on the Fox Business Network. He's the author of "No They Can't: Why Government Fails, but Individuals Succeed." To find out more about John Stossel, visit his site at >johnstossel.com. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com. ©Creators Syndicate