One of the most common questions asked of a libertarian or anarchist when discussing the idea of a Stateless society with someone who believes in limited government is “What about the roads?”. In fact it becomes a cliché to anyone who debates regularly. I hope to share some history that is conveniently left out of the public school curriculum and provide an alternative to the current system.
Imagine a time when there was no direct tax on a federal level, limited state income tax and no sales tax on products purchased. With the exception of course during periods of war. This is the period in which the States first started commissioning private companies to build toll roads. From 1792-1845 there were 1552 toll roads in the United States. They were financed mostly by private stocks and were to pay dividends. Although the financing was mostly looked at as an investment in the local community. Inevitably the State governments created regulations on the construction, maintenance, toll collection and toll rates for the private corporations. The results of these regulations in turn made profitability difficult. Another problem was a practice known as “shunpiking” or toll evasion and the government restrictions on implementing countermeasures. However, even an unprofitable turnpike stimulated commerce, raised land values, and aided expansion.
At the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century taxation was on the rise along with Progressive policies in all levels of government. The overall attitude of a private company owning a “public good” became taboo.
What do we have to show for 100 years of government roads? On average in the US, 48.5 cents per gallon is for Federal and State taxes. According to the US Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), the average American driver logs 13,476 miles each year. Assuming an average fuel economy of 25 miles per gallon that would mean approximately $262 annually per vehicle paid in taxes. I drive a tractor trailer for a living and have seen more roads than most. Corruption is rampant.
“Without the government, who would build the roads?” is what we hear every time we offer alternatives. The truth is government takes your money and gives it to a government approved contractor to build the roads at a much higher cost than in a true free market. In a Stateless society there would be no taxation and all voluntary transactions would be uninhibited. The free market would provide solutions for infrastructure. One possible solution would be toll roads. Another would be advertising sponsorship for portions of a particular roadway. Still another option would be residents of a community voluntarily contributing to complete a roadway that would benefit them. In addition, the market without restrictions would inevitably provide solutions that haven’t been thought of due to government regulations.
Any time government forces it’s way into a market the products or services are inefficient, expensive and lack quality. Don’t let something as simple as roads prevent you from imagining a world without a coercive government.