July 12, 2013 by Liberty
It’s the question that has tortured libertarians with a sweet melody repeating itself over and over and over again for as long as statists have roamed. It’s the simple question, “Who will build the roads?” It’s not really the hardest question to answer but no matter what answer is provided, people will look with skepticism at you, as if you’re the one advocating absurd things. Well, the next time you get the question, you don’t need to start twitching compulsively or laughing hysterically. Just link them to this article. It will go over all the major points about roads. It will also introduce the basic philosophy behind reducing the size of government.
If you’ve been linked to this article then you’ve probably asked the question, “who will build the roads without a government?” or a similar question.
This is actually a very common question that people into reducing the size of the government hear. If the person you were asking this to broke into laughter or started acting like it was a silly question, please forgive them. They may or may not have meant to offend you but if you’re reading this, then it means you’re genuinely curious and deserve a thorough answer. People into reducing the size of the state view this as a bit of a silly question but they often forget what it’s like to not have been introduced to the idea. The vast majority of people cannot answer this question. If I do my job right, you’ll be one of those people after reading this article.
The Real Question
This is a very quick but important point.
Who will build the roads? Probably the same people that build them now. Government doesn’t build the roads. Governments hire contracting companies to build the roads for them.
That should lead to the question, “Who will pay the contracting companies?” This is the question that I’m going to be assuming whenever we ask the question, who will build the roads, in this article.
This is going to be the harshest part of the article. This is also one of the most powerful points.
Asking, who will build the roads without government, is like asking, who will pick the cotton when we free the slaves. Don’t just take my word for it.
People believed that slavery couldn’t be abolished in America. Without the slaves picking the cotton, they thought there would be no way for cotton to get picked. If cotton didn’t get picked, clothing wouldn’t get made, businesses would go under, children would freeze to death, slaves couldn’t take care of themselves (racism at its worst,) and many other ridiculous things.
Today, we understand how ridiculous all that is. Since we eliminated slavery we’ve developed some of the greatest technology innovations in history to pick the cotton. That technology development would have been impossible to predict before we freed the slaves. When the slaves were freed, the incentives were in place for someone to invent it.
Morally speaking, when asked who will pick the cotton when we free the slaves, my answer is:
It doesn’t matter. If something is unethical then we shouldn’t be doing it. The ends do not justify the means. I don’t care if some people will have to walk around naked if the alternative is creating a subclass of human beings that we can exploit. Slavery is not justifiable.
You might be asking, what does this have to do with government?
It really has everything to do with government but I’m going to be simplifying this quite a bit because it’s a point that could take books worth of information to make.
Government is non-voluntary. I can’t choose not to be a citizen of America. I need permission to leave. I was born here. I did not agree to that. I’m stuck here, following the rules until government approves of my departure (I even have to pay to eliminate my citizenship. That’s not voluntary.). The rules I have to follow include non-voluntary taxes, social rules (smoking, etc), and business regulations. If I choose not to follow their rules, they lock me in a cage. If an individual were to do this to me it would be extortion, or theft, or kidnapping or any of a million crimes. A government does all these things without labeling them crimes. That makes makes it immoral.
It doesn’t matter who builds the roads. If the requirement to have roads is extorting 300 million people then I personally would rather everyone walk. Fortunately, people don’t have to walk. There are plenty of incentives in the free market for people to build roads.
Would We Need The Roads?
Everything discussed up to now missed an important point that needs to be considered. Why are roads the worlds go to source of transportation? Why aren’t we carrying things on planes or trains? Why haven’t we invented hovercrafts yet? (a personal favorite)
There is no way to know the answer to those questions. We can only take some educated guesses at them and hope we’re somewhere in the ballpark.
One potential reason roads are the go to source of transportation is because they’re efficient. A car can travel from one location to another a lot easier than a train can. It requires significantly fewer resources. They could be the go to source of transportation because they’re the most efficient but…
we can’t completely ignore the negatives. Cars don’t necessarily require roads but cars, as build today, cars really need them to be efficient. The government has build these roads for cars for over a century. If the government didn’t build the roads for cars, would people still be driving cars.
They could be driving off road vehicles that don’t need roads to be build. If no one ever built the roads then car companies might have developed the technology to hover above the ground instead of needing roads. Naturally, this is all silly speculation but there is one untouchable point.
We cannot predict whether we would need roads if government didn’t build them.
Government can effect the creation of a market. Markets that can’t compete with government services (which use unethical activity instead of competing) can’t be developed. That means, the more government interferes with the market, the less we can predict from looking at the world we’re living in.
Okay, so maybe the answers given so far don’t really click with the way you think. I understand that. I was the same way when I started looking into these ideas. Sometimes the more obscure ways of looking at a problem don’t mean a thing.
What I’m going to be going over here could change your life. If anarchy ever takes over the world then knowing this information could make you a highly successful business person building the roads.
To answer the question, who will build the roads, you need to look at the people with an incentive to build the roads.
Cars aren’t all that useful without roads. If government disappeared today then car companies would be freaking out. The roads are essential to the existence of the cars we have today. They rely on the roads for great gas mileage and a smooth ride.
If there were no roads then car companies would have two choices. There first option is build better off road cars. There other option is to build the roads.
If car companies were looking to keep growing, they’d need the number of roads in this country to keep growing. This is a great incentive for car companies to pay for the building of the roads. At the very least, they’re going to be one of the top investors in private road building companies.
Private Road Building Companies
Roads would be an unbelievable opportunity for people to profit without government. That would almost inevitably lead to people going into the road building business. Roads can get millions of people on them every single day.
You might be wondering how they could profit off building roads. That’s a fair question. How does government profit off roads? Tolls are one option. (No, if people had to make a profit off every road they wouldn’t have toll booths. They could easily get car companies to put chips in cars that count road usage.) The people that use the roads would pay for the roads instead of the 300+ million people the United States government currently charges
The funny thing is, private road building companies could profit without even charging people that drive on the road.
Roads are not only useful for car companies and individuals using the road. They’re also profitable for the people that own the land they’re build on. Property owners may actually pay the road builders themselves. That leads to the next road building contender.
Road front property is more valuable than non-road front property. Many landowners would be begging for roads to be built on their property. That’s because their property value would increase exponentially with a road built through it.
What used to be a backwoods property is now prime business property. Roads would only be built when they’re profitable and busy. Busy roads mean more traffic for businesses along its sides. Landowners could easily double their property value in a day by building a road along it.
A question that you may have had by now should probably be addressed:
What if one landowner REFUSES to have a road build through his or her land? Don’t you need eminent domain to deal with that? If you buy up one hundred peoples property and then one guy refuses to sell the road builder could go broke.
No road builder would buy land without an option contract (unless they have some logical reason.) They would use contracts that are contingent on all the land needed being contracted. If one landowner refuses to sell then the road company could just bounce their route over to the property owner next to them and work on a few more options contracts to make it work.
Quite frankly, based on the value increase in property with roads, 99% of landowners are going to want the roads being built.
Private Non-Road Businesses
What if you were lucky enough to get a road built on your business’s property but the road was 500ft away from where your business was located. You talked to the road building company that you contracted with and they told you that’s the only spot they could build the road and have it go where they need it. Does that mean your business will never get the traffic from the road into the business?
Of course not. Just like any business in the world today, people build driveways. Those are nothing more than short roads to get people from one area to the next. You just hire someone to build the road yourself. You could probably even take some of the payment the road company gave you to buy it.
If you have any doubt about the ability of the free market to build the roads then think about the railroads. Railroads were not originally built by a government. They were built in the free market to provide value to customers. (See comment below for more on this)
The funny thing about all these problems is their lack of complexity. Anyone can figure out the solution to these problems. You just have to find solutions where everyone gets what they want. They’re more common than most people think. You don’t need non-voluntary taxation to build roads. People have plenty of business and profit incentives to make it happen without government involvement.
Throughout this section, did you think of a voluntary way to build the roads that I didn’t mention? Comment and say it below. There are millions of potential answers and I’d love to hear some of yours.
The Real Answer!
Okay, all of the answers provided were real but this is the most realistic of them all.
Who will build the roads?
No one knows.
Helpful one, isn’t it?
The truth is that no one can predict what would happen if something happened differently in the world. Predicting what the world would be like without government building the roads is about as accurate as predicting what the world would be like if Germany won WW2 or if grass suddenly all turned bright purple. It’s an abstract question that holds millions of potential outcomes.
This article is not intended to predict what the world would be like. It’s meant to introduce ideas. We don’t always need non-voluntary transactions to get what’s best for everyone. In fact, many people think that all non-voluntary transactions are unethical.
The question you need to be asking yourself is whether the non-voluntary methods you support to solve the problems aren’t creating more problems themselves. A voluntary solution doesn’t always have to be right because everyone involved is taking the risk without threats being used against them. When threats are used, the solution that you’re using better be the right one or, in my opinion, you’re being a very unethical person.
No one knows how much different the world would be if government didn’t build the roads. Anyone that claims otherwise is lying. The points you need to consider are probably not logistics. If you’ve read this whole article then you’ve probably already seen most of the answers to those problems. The points you need to be consider more are the ethical implications.
Do you support extortion, kidnapping, theft, and every other non-voluntary transaction used to build the roads*? That’s the real question.
*Pay your taxes or we will (extortion) take you to jail (kidnapping). We will use eminent domain(theft) to use your land if you don’t want to sell it to us (extortion again). The other non-voluntary transactions involved are a much deeper topic that you might want to look into yourself.
Thank you for taking the time to consider who will build the roads. If you actually read this whole article then I am truly thankful. Not many people have the courage to read through a view like this and consider it thoroughly.
If you’ve read it and it’s got you thinking more about this subject then please subscribe to this blog. It’s a free way to keep gaining an understanding of a more voluntary perspective. At the very least, act on your curiosity and start looking for some new sources of information to learn more from. Please comment as well so I can work to improve this article.
If, at the end of this, I have failed to convince you then I want to apologize. I hope you learned at least one new idea. I’ve dedicated quite a bit of time to trying to make this hit every major point because I want the world to be a more voluntary place. I’m writing this article because I care and I hope that someday I can convince you better or learn something better from you. Please comment below. You’ve taken a lot of time to read this. Tell me what I have right or wrong. What important questions did I not address?
Thank you for taking the time to consider this.
Next time someone asks, who will build the roads, keep all these factors in mind when explaining or better yet, just link them here.
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