Over the past two weeks, the sites of many major German news outlets featured articles about the German government planning to privatize the famous Autobahn. Actually reading the articles, one would have found out that the proposition was a bit different: A private company would be in charge of maintaining the German highways system, but only about half of this company would be sold to private investors: the government would own the other half and keep a slight majority of the shares. Of course the company wouldn’t just be sold to anyone, but exclusively to larger financial corporations, like insurance companies. These companies are in dire need of things they can invest in, due to the low interest rates. The German highway system would be a perfect investment for them: It’s a fairly safe investment (insurance companies are not allowed to invest in risky assets) and it would be profitable. The people who’d like to drive on the Autobahn could be charged a car toll. This all was proposed by Wolfgang Schäuble, Germany’s current minister of Finance.
Now, what sounds like (and is) a perfect example of corporatism, does actually convey an interesting idea. A strip of asphalt, a guardrail – all these things have value for those using them, irrespective of who has paid for them. Yet still, it seems to be a concrete-cold fact, almost a rule, that roads, especially highways ought to be paid for by taxpayer money, in other words: to be funded by the government. But why not leave it to the private sector completely?