The correct message from the bridge collapse, which was allowed to happen with full knowledge of the bridge’s structural problems, is that government cannot get the job done. The government lacks the incentive to fix problems. And even with the incentive, there is a core calculation problem associated with prioritizing the use of resources. This is where private markets excel. They are not perfect but resources are used efficiently to solve the most urgent demands as revealed in the system of profit and loss. The government lacks this mechanism, so everything becomes arbitrary at best and political at worst.
Too much government was the cause of the problem; adding even more government will inevitably make the problem worse. I guarantee the additional money will go to the same old government contractors — builders and engineers — some predictable percentage of whom will offer kickbacks to inspectors and bureaucrats to get favor over other builders and engineers. Once a government official is on the illegal gravy train, inspections never become more intensive.
The correct solution: get government completely out of the business of building bridges. Private engineers and inspectors, completely independent of the power of government to insulate them from the consequences of shoddy work, will inspect with the zeal of (most) private accounting and law firms, who jealously guard their reputations for excellence. Imagine how safe we’d feel if the people who inspect and approve bridges could actually lose their jobs and their fortunes if they make a fatal mistake!
And it is no longer just the free-market think tanks that think this way, Governor Rendell stated on CNBC that the bridge collapse should teach the lesson that we need private sector solutions in transportation.