Nobel prize winner Vernon Smith (our emeritus colleague at GMU) is a bold thinker. I have long proposed selling “government” land in the West but Vernon takes it a step further, privatize the highway network to create a permanent income fund. Essentially what Vernon is proposing is a libertarian method to fund a universal basic income. Can’t we all agree on that?
Even more than in the United States, there are many countries in the world today where the government holds trillions of dollars assets that are underutilized. Selling those assets to create a permanent income fund would be good for efficiency, liberty and equality.
…[T]he richly interconnected highway network really could be auctioned. Between major highway intersections there are alternative routes that could be auctioned to different bidders, assuring drivers of a choice of toll roads, along with state and local freeway alternatives. That competition would keep tolls affordable.
Perhaps most important, surface transportation rights of way would be opened to new mass-transit innovations at a time when driverless vehicles are making their entrance. A few autobahns might also compete more effectively with short- to medium-haul airline routes, but you will need to resist airline opposition.
You should also consider auctioning off the Bureau of Land Management’s extensive grazing lands. Better incentives through ownership, or long-term leases, mean better stewardship and innovation. But neighboring farmers and ranchers won’t like the impact on their land prices.
How could you use the money from highway and land sales to benefit all Americans—and improve your own popularity? By creating a new Permanent Citizens Fund, invested in stocks, bonds and real estate world-wide. Every citizen would hold an equal share, with annual dividends paid in cash.
Better highways, more land for productive development plus a permanent fund sending checks to every citizen. A guaranteed basic income financed from public assets waiting to be monetized and put to work. You might even get the progressives’ vote. Have you ever made such a great deal?
If you think it’s pie in the sky, ask an Alaskan. The Alaska Permanent Fund, initiated in 1976 to distribute oil revenue, has a market value I estimate at $72,000 for each Alaskan citizen. Annual dividends began in 1982, when the public corporation that administers the fund cut the first checks for $1,000. Little wonder that Alaska is second among all the states in income equality.