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A loyal reader and commenter Harry referenced Bastiat’s Negative Railroad. It is worth quoting nearly the entire passage:

There should be a break in the railroad from Paris to Bayonne at Bordeaux; for, if goods and passengers are forced to stop at that city, this will be profitable for boatmen, porters, owners of hotels, etc.


Here again we see clearly how the interests of those who perform services are given priority over the interests of the consumers.


But if Bordeaux has a right to profit from a break in the tracks, and if this profit is consistent with the public interest, then Angoulême, Poitiers, Tours, Orléans, and, in fact, all the intermediate points, including Ruffec, Châtellerault, etc., etc., ought also to demand breaks in the tracks, on the ground of the general interest—in the interest, that is, of domestic industry—for the more there are of these breaks in the line, the greater will be the amount paid for storage, porters, and cartage at every point along the way. By this means, we shall end by having a railroad composed of a whole series of breaks in the tracks, i.e., a negative railroad.

But he wrote this before the invention of the light rail and all of the public works jobs that could be created by building those white elephants. I think Bastiat would have been amused at the inherent conflict between the negative railroad as he imagined it and the beastly creations of today.

As a side note, it is interesting to follow the history of railroad track gauges and the standardization of parts and equipment in general. Did you ever wonder why and railroad track is virtually all the same gauge today and how that got organized? Did you ever wonder why screws and screwdrivers, door frames, tire irons, etc. are all so nearly standardized? Or how about monetary units in the pre- Federal Reserve era? Was all of that due to the omniscient planning of government? What does this tell us about the ability of private interests to coordinate other complex structures, such as what you might see in health care administration?

One Response to “Bastiat’s Negative Railroad”

  1. […] talked about “negative railroads.”  I consider Senators to be “negative […]

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