Reader Question: Justified taxes?

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Here’s the latest reader question, along with my reply! 

Pete asks: I agree with some of your argument that the government is really the owner of your car but you fail to address that infrastructure to drive your car does need to rebuilt.  So roads, lighting, guard rails, signs, etc. all wear out over time and do need to be rebuild/repaired. That money to rebuild does have to come from somewhere. So whether a state does it through licensing, tolls, gas tax, whatever the amount we pay does at least equal a user fee to repair/replace what your driving on which is actually fair to me. I think there is way too much corruption/waste in all levels of government and if that could ever be cleaned up we’d all pay considerably less for everything. How in your Libertarian utopia would we maintain roads?

My reply: Sigh…

Is the current state of affairs utopian? Why is it that Libertarians are expected to establish perfection as the counter to imperfection?

What Libertarians do advocate is the reduction of – ideally, the elimination of – coercive collectivist interactions in favor of voluntary/peaceful ones.

A fee is voluntarily paid; a tax is not.

I’ve written previously about motor fuel taxes – which function as fees, since there is no coercion (and which fees go to build and maintain roads, on a pay as you go and anonymous basis). But taxes on vehicle ownership (e.g., property taxes, registration fees) are very different. They are both coercive and punitive, as explained in my article. The effect of them is to render the idea of owning a vehicle absurd, since the tax applies even if the vehicle isn’t used.

In a Libertarian system, people who wanted to use a road would pay for the service, just as they pay for any other. But no one would be forced to pay – for anything.

And once you paid for an item like a car or house, it would be yours. No one else could legally force you to continue making payments on it, in order to be allowed the “privilege” of possessing and using either thing.

Would it be utopia? Of course not. The word – coined by Sir Thomas More – literally means No Place.

Exactly so.

But it’d be preferable to what exists now.

. . .

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  1. The Interstates were originally sold to the American public by the Eisenhower Administration as the “National DEFENSE Highways”. In the last few months of WWII, once the Allied armies had breached the Siegfried line and were invading Germany, their movement was facilitated in some cases by the brand- new Autobahns, of which only about 15% of the planned mileage had yet been built. Likewise Hitler had not only pushed them as examples of German engineering, but had intended them as well to facilitate rapid movement of men and/or material between fronts. The only problem with that was the Wehrmacht was chronically short on logistical vehicles and FUEL, so what they had built was largely UNUSED…until April 1945, when the US Army certainly “used” them. One only has to look at pictures of US Army tanks and trucks moving on one side of the Autobahn, with POWs and refugees trudging along the other.

    Nevertheless, Ike was very impressed by the Autobahns and was determined to get an American equivalent built. As a young Army captain, shortly after WWI, Ike participated in a convoy that drove from Washington DC, along the so-called “Lincoln” Highway, all the way to San Francisco, a journey that took TWO months. The inadequacies of the American highways for military purposes were obvious.

    There might be SOME justification for the role of the Federal Government if indeed the military logistical requirements couldn’t be better satisfied by other methods. Ike had overcome health difficulties in 1955 and was considered a shoo-in to win re-election; the Democrats had no one besides Adlai Stevenson, whose 1956 campaign was even more feckless than the previous one. What was at stake was control of the Congress, with the Democrats having slight majorities in both House and Senate. This Interstate Highway bill was criticized by some (whom weren’t the major recipients of planned work, of course!) as pure pork barrel stuff…but in spite of how hard Ike pushed in, the GOP still lost a few seats in the ’56 Congressional elections, and then got creamed two years later, when the country was experiencing a recession and there were fears of a “missile gap” and Russian technological superiority.

  2. Precisely, Eric. Utopia is NOT an option. Yet, that is what is expected when anyone challenges the statist quo.

    This applies not just to roads but, schools, healthcare and any number of vices. If GovCo currently demands control of a situation any challenge to it is met with, “well, so-and-so wouldn’t get a cookie if we did that”.

    With no sense of irony people will criticize GovCo schools yet, if you then demand GovCo stop running these minimum security indoctrination day camps you’re met with charges of hating children. If you’ve ever tried to have a reasonable, logical, rational discussion with someone in charge of GovCo schools you know why Johnny Can’t Read.

    It will all collapse one day under the weight of its own contradictions. I only hope and pray the implosion will be as peaceful as that of the Soviet Empire.

    • Thanks, Mark!

      Any reasonably bright, conscientious parent can teach a kid to think better – and faster – than any government school, which does not exist to cultivate the critical faculties. Provide a child of normal intelligence with books; encourage inquisitiveness; answer the kid’s questions – or show the kid how to find the answers – and by the time the kid is 10 he or she will be thinking… the rest is just integration of facts, broadening of knowledge.

      • It’s worse than that. Kids’ brains naturally soak up whatever information they can get as a survival mechanism. Shoving them in neatly arranged desks and forcing them to watch the dancing bear in front of the room for hours on end basically shuts off most of the active parts of the brain. At some point they’ve matured enough that they can absorb knowledge through lecture, but probably not until age 12 or so. And even then without a healthy dose of hands-on relevant physical activity it usually takes ages to learn.

    • I occasionally go to a big town, 100K+ population, dumbed down to the nth degree. But due to a big AF base, there is a huge feed off the interstate with multiple lane roads and concrete dividers. I see the stuff intended for military use being hauled down it from every direction. It’s just more of Dwight’s vision coming of military access come to fruition. Probably most of the “airmen” on the base don’t even realize what it is.

  3. Well, just to look at it another way: a lot of the state/federal gas taxes that I pay are for gallons burned up on roads not funded by gas tax but rather than by my property taxes (not that the county helps the roads very much, either). My pickup only goes to town a few times a year and that’s the only time it sees the state/fed highway.

    Just in general, the windmills always win – LOL

    • Out where the land is flat, farmers commonly had these graders you could pull behind a farm tractor. They had the same blade adjustments for the most part that graders had but the adjustment on most was hand/gear driven so making big changes required you to stop for the most part. Still, you could get a lot done in a day with them. They were made to level farm fields or at least that’s what they were bought for. I haven’t seen a grader without an engine in decades but some people still have one.

      • Funny you should mention that! About 20 years ago, I helped a buddy (he’s passed away now I think) grade a private road* with his “antique” grader. I drove the tractor and he operated the blade adjustment wheels while riding back on the grader. Lots of me looking over my shoulder and him giving me hand signals. A great time was had by all!

        * Probably most of the roads in our county are “private” that is not county maintained (as opposed to the county roads that are not county maintained – LOL). This was in a different neighborhood but pretty much the same where I live now. I do have the county road cutting through the corner of my land but all the side roads are private.

    • Fuel taxes are not perfect when it comes to a user fee for this road or that road. However, that imperfection preserves anonymity. If the government entities know exactly what roads to charge a person for they must monitor that person’s travels. Also fuel taxes have low collection costs.

      There is a push to put in a vast expensive ANPR system to tax per mile. The collection cost is high so the per mile taxes have to be higher just to pay for the ANPR system. The reasons to do it are squabbles between government entities on who gets what, tracking people, and dealing with electric cars. None of which I consider legitimate. The ability of electric car owners to avoid road taxes should be dealt with for them. It’s fairly easy, when their car reports its miles traveled to central command, tax them through a little bit of math. Miles travel divided by set miles/gal times the fuel tax per gallon. Done. Sure they lose a little privacy but electric car owners already giving that up.

      • Just pointing out that I pay school taxes though my kids are long grown (and I would never put kids in PS, that’s child abuse) and also pay some gas taxes for roads I don’t use.

        There’s no Ewe-topia unless your a ram in Wyoming – LOL

        • “you’re a ram”

          Dammit, I know the difference but sometime my fingers just type something else. I hate it because it makes me appear ignorant.

  4. eric, of all places I didn’t expect to find the history of the world powers and how long they lasted and why they ultimately failed, I stumbled on a 1965 auditory history and warning by Paul Harvey. And he’s so right it’s chilling. I encourage all to take a brief listen.

  5. Hi Eric,

    I don’t disagree in the slightest. The only area I struggle with is how would humanity transition from what we have now to privatized roads? Who would get the rights to control them? An auction of sorts?

    • Hi c,

      What we’re looking at is not unlike what Europeans were looking at in the summer of ’45… starting over, rebuilding from the wreckage. It’s daunting – even overwhelming. But, one brick at a time… one street… one block…

      • eric, in the tiny town I grew up in people would pledge to pay for a half or a block of street. It was a long term investment($500/half block in 1960)but well worth it. We kids were fascinated by the construction. I was probably the kid standing there say “I could do that”. I don’t recall there ever being a half block paved.

        • As stated in another post, most of the roads where I live are already private. The people that live along those roads get together to maintain them more or less. Usually one bored retired guy with a tractor works it over on his own. The public can still drive on them to visit people that live there.

          • a decent fellow,

            Are you talking about roads in a subdivision/h.o.a. community type of situation? Did the people you’re referring to fund the building of said road(s) or are you just referring to maintaining them?

            My big question is what about the bigger road systems? The county/state/federal highways and Interstates. How do those get built in a privatized system or would major roadways like that go the way of the dinosaur in that situation? Part of me says that wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing if they did. It would be more adventurous that’s for sure and maybe we’d rediscover the pleasure of getting lost again.

            • The roads were originally built by the developer who subdivided what was once a huge cattle ranch into originally 160 acre lots. Not sure about the county road itself; it was probably a wagon road from way back. Our neighbors used to haul grain in a wagon down to the now defunct station on the now non-existent railroad, and herd their cows to and from summer pasture right through here.

              As far as main highways and interstates, how do we have grocery stores? Does the govermin build and supply stores so we all will have a place to buy food?

              • We’re on the same side chief. I get all that. You don’t have to convince me (or most here) as to right and wrong; what is just and moral. Of course the govermin doesn’t build and supply grocery stores. But said grocery stores get shut down real quick without the trucking industry. The trucking industry being so efficient because of highways and interstates. In fact this whole country is dependent on trucking and shit would hit the fan real quick if the trucks quit delivering goods. A matter of days in fact. We walk a very thin line when it comes to goods getting delivered to stores and the vast majority of the public has no fucking clue about this.

                I’m simply wondering how such things would be built if/when we are able to move to a privatized system of roads. We’ve all been over the right and wrongs and how things should be a thousand times. We’re preaching to the choir as far as that goes. I’m searching for answers/solutions at this stage because I’m not intelligent enough to figure such grand problems on my own.

                • Hi c_dub,

                  Well, the system we have – including the network of roads – is the result of the corporatist system which has existed since at least the 1860s. The country would be a very different place today if – just one example – the Interstate system had never been built. It would be more rural, almost certainly.

                  So, we are talking about maintaining a system built by a different kind of system.

                  The government school system would certainly go away if people adopted a Libertarian view (and ethics). Instead, parents would either educate their own kids or pay people of their choosing to do so. There would be no centralized regime of one-size-fits-all.

                  I think roads would operate on much the same basis. Some communities would have different (and better) roads than others. It would probably be not as easy to drive from state to state, because of these differences. Things would become more regional and local again, as they were once.

                  Not a bad thing, in my book.

                  • eric, my great grandparents didn’t go to “public” schools. They had teachers hired by sometimes single families and parents that actually knew match, history, literature, etc. I know, it boggles the mind….I mean how did they ever keep up with Fantasy Football.

                    My ex roomie, Wild Bill, was in a tiff because he had no computer. It began a conversation that led down the path of what you can do with a computer. He only had one use, Fantasy Football. I mentioned the just then ruled illegal by the federal govt. armed thugs and the dropping of charges against Clive Bundy and his crew. Wild Bill had no idea what I was speaking of. You can’t make this shit up…..unfortunately.

                    • See, I didn’t re-read it so I didn’t catch “match” instead of “math”. Disheartening.

                    • Hi Eight,

                      My parents provided me with lots of books; adult books when I was still very young. I devoured them. Reading has always been among my greatest pleasures. They also sent me to an excellent private school. I cannot say enough about the difference between that experience and my later (junior high/high school) experience in a government school. I could literally have skipped both (junior high/high in government schools) and gone straight to college as a 12 year old.

                    • Good morning eric. I see a direct connection with you and the private school at the start of your education.

                      I was also a reader before going to school with two older siblings. Talked my parents into buying me a trombone, learned to play it before ever seeing sheet music. It was literally sheet music that was my setback to some degree. I often refused to play the parts assigned to my instrument and played what I thought was the best accompaniment to a song. I never had a music teacher have a problem with that.

                      My mother once said she never had a problem with me not having a playmate since I could entertain myself all day no matter what it was I decided to do.

                      We’ve lost that in society these days. Now everything is structured to the point of dominating people’s lives.

                      My wife was educated in parochial school. Having only a mother beyond age 3 when her father died, she didn’t like church based school but said she just marked time the rest of her junior/high school years when her mother could no longer afford to have 3 girls enrolled. It’s a meme I’ve heard before from other privately schooled kids.

                      I had my 8th grade teacher tell me to have my parents meet her one day after school. I was sweating bullets not knowing what I had done to offend her(plenty, probably since I was definitely the nonconformist in class).

                      Turns out I had taken, along with everyone else, a federal test of mainly involving your vocabulary knowledge.

                      I had a score that was above the range for my age so I had, in essence, a non-score.

                      I was relieved. I got into enough shit without having more stacked on for a friggin test.

                      One of my common retorts: “So, if I didn’t bow my head and close my eyes during prayer how is it you would know that? Can you see through your eyelids?”. If it weren’t for music, I would have never gone to school often enough to get a grade.

                • Well, we used to have railroads to move goods and people across the country. In fact, one could argue that the federal interstate highway system was a direct gov-funded competition to railroads.

                  Before our time in Montana, there was a x-country railroad running 8 miles down the road from our very rural location. There was a little town down there where one could buy/sell stuff, and I suppose at one time you could have hopped on a passenger train and gone anywhere in the country.

                  The tracks were all ripped up sometime in the 1980s.

                  • Back in the 70’s when that godawful 55 mph was implemented and fuel prices had literally doubled, truckers were going under left and right. At the same time fedguv was giving the RR’s $1B/year…..and that wasn’t chicken feed back then.

                  • as you wish,

                    “In fact, one could argue that the federal interstate highway system was a direct gov-funded competition to railroads.”

                    Back in the day, before honest Abe became the great decider, he was an attorney for Illinois Central Railroad. He personally arranged to take away people’s land to be given to the ICRR.

                    If you were to look at a map of Illinois from the 1890’s you might think it was a current map. Except for the fact that automobiles were in their infancy.

                    The US Highways (with the white and black shield like Route 66) were predominantly built within sight of the tracks. The Interstates (blue, red, and white shields or green “business loop”) were then built close to the US Highways.

                    Again, the land was taken from the people by the tax farmers. As they had discovered the human livestock was more productive with an increase in mobility.

                    “I suppose at one time you could have hopped on a passenger train and gone anywhere in the country.”

                    In the 1960’s you could just stand by the side of the tracks and flag down the IC trains. Right out in the middle of a corn field.

                    Back then, the fare could be paid in coins. I remember going to Chicago, a conductor on the City of New Orleans gave me back a “real” silver quarter and asked my mom if she had one of those new ones. He told me to hold on to it.

                    You can still flag down that train but you have to be in one of those bus stop type shelters at an official Amtrak station. And you’ll need some folding money to pay the conductor.

                    • Back in the late 1970s you could get on the Alaska R/R and ask them to drop you off at mile marker X in the bush. Or you could flag them down (correctly, or else they would emergency brake!) to get a ride back to town. They had a separate car for this to keep the smelly people away from the tourists. And we handed backpacks and rifles back and forth to/from the crew in the baggage car.

          • Meanwhile in Chicago street parking is either handed over to a crony corporation or carved up into residential parking permit zones. If you don’t live there (and don’t have a visitor pass the person you are there to see has to buy ahead of time) your car can be ticketed and towed by the city. It’s essentially a no visitors (by automobile) policy.

      • General Patton noted that once the shooting had stopped, once the US Army had secured a German town, the residents were at work repairing the damage to their homes and businesses right away, in contrast to the French, whom seemed to have their hands out immediately.

        • Hi Doug,

          Yes, indeed. And it is a tragedy beyond measure that Patton’s advice in re carpe diem wasn’t followed. American soldiers – and many more Europeans – died to “liberate” the continent from Nazi Germany… only to allow its occupation by the Soviet Union.

          • Damn eric, I’m shocked. Well, I was shocked the first time, nearly 50 years ago, when I understood what Patton had to say. Then I ruminated on it and realized he was correct. Not sure if it had been feasible given the US Nazi’s were giving the Russians our nuclear secrets and the means to create their own weapons. But when Patton made his announcement, he was correct….and was assassinated for it. I won’t ever be convinced his demise was due to an “accident”.

    • There’s a movement that’s pretty far along to privatize the air traffic control system. Other countries have already done it and are showing that it can work. The idea is that a non-profit entity is created that is self-funded by user fees. It’s not a perfect solution, because Uncle is the primary shareholder.

      I could see a system of co-op corporations where if you purchase a road-worthy vehicle you’d get a share (and voting right). Fees would be required of course, but since we’d all be shareholders, with a proxy, we could also get a dividend back. Again, not the ideal anarchy that some might like, but you have to start somewhere.

      Finally, remember that the railroads are all private road networks. Sure, they’re living under some very harsh (mostly welcome) regulation, but the roads themselves are owned by corporations. They allow rolling stock from other roads on their lines, and vice versa. Not something that I’d like to see, but it is an example of private roads.


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