But what about the roads?
Anyone who has tried to advocate for a libertarian society – i.e., a society in which coercion is the fundamental crime – has heard this refrain. Its premise is that we’d have no roads to travel on if it weren’t for government seizing people’s land – this is styled “eminent domain,” to make it sound official rather than immoral – and forcing people to pay for the roads laid down upon them.
It’s a strange argument given that – in the first place – roads precede government. They may have been (at first) mere paths or trails through woods and fields – but the function is fundamentally the same as any other road.
Some of these trails and paths eventually became very much like the roads as we know them, sans the asphalt and guardrails, of course. These roads were considered the public right-of-way for much of history – and it was accepted that everyone had the right to travel upon them.
So, roads – and the principle of the public right-of-way – predate government.
It is government which has abused the public right-of-way, by claiming ownership of them and by turning the use of them into a conditional privilege which may be (and often is) rescinded at the government’s pleasure.
People are compelled to apply for a license to use what were the public right-of-ways and may only use them in government-approved vehicles, the ownership of which has also been turned into a kind of conditional rentership, in that the “owner” is compelled to make regular – and endless – payments for such things as “registration” in order not only to be allowed to use the vehicle on what once were the public right-of ways but also to retain possession of the vehicle, itself.
If government got out of the road business there would certainly still be roads – because there always have been roads. And people would be free to use them – and to pay for them – according to whether they needed to or wanted to use them.
Is government necessary for commerce to exist?
This is the best way to answer the person who worries there’d be no roads if there were no government.
Commerce also predates government – but it is preyed upon, by government. Absent government, people are free to engage in commerce; i.e., to participate in voluntary free exchange. Transactions occur based upon the willingness of the parties involved to exchange one thing for another thing they value more – and which the person on the other end of the exchange also values more. Smith has a coin in his pocket, but he cannot eat the coin and he is hungry. Jones offers tasty sandwiches at his store, in exchange for such coins. Smith and Jones engage in the free exchange of the one for the other – and both end up with something of greater value (to each, respectively) than the thing he had before.
The exchange is not only free, it is whole. No portion of the value exchanged is sucked away from either party to the exchange in the form of such things as “taxes” – the euphemism for theft by government or “inflation,” the euphemism given for the devaluation of money by government via the compulsory use of fiat “money” as the only lawful medium of exchange.
People get what they want; they aren’t forced to pay for what they don’t want – much less for what they don’t use – as in the case of the government schools people who home-school or don’t have kids are forced to pay for via the regular – and never ending – payment of “taxes” on the homes they are never allowed to truly own, by dint of being obliged to endlessly pay “taxes”on their home.
Some say only government can build and maintain modern roads. And yet, modern private roads already exist. It does not require government to buy or lay asphalt or to buy and improve the land upon which roads are built any more than it requires government to build a Starbucks or buy the land upon which it is built.
It does, of course require government to force people to surrender their land – i.e., to “eminent domain” their land. But it is ridiculous to insist that roads could only be built via “eminent domain.” Rather, it would require those who wish to build roads to pay the market price for the land upon which they’d like to build them – that being a sum sufficient to persuade the owner of the land to freely exchange it.
A good – modern – example of this being fact rather than fiction is the way cell phone towers are being erected in rural areas such as the area where this writer lives. The companies who want to erect a tower offer the owner of the land upon which they’d like to site the tower a sum of money in exchange for his permission to put the tower up and to have right-of-way access to it. He is free to accept this deal – or not. If he does not, perhaps his neighbor will.
There is no reason such a principle could not also be applied to the laying down of roads as the principle is the same. You pay for what you use – and you don’t take what you haven’t paid for – or which the person isn’t willing to sell you.
If the road builder bought the land upon which the road is built, improves the road – as by paving it, as by widening it, as by extended it – and then offers it to those who wish to use it, who pay a sum to use it that is worth more to them than whatever that sum happens to be, to them, then everyone profits.
That’s free exchange.
It works by definition – because it wouldn’t happen, otherwise. Only when coercion is applied can that which doesn’t work – as defined by the unwillingness of the affected parties to be a party to it – be made to “work.”
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