An oft-asked and ill-informed question that collectivists present to liberty-minded people is the tired old saw of, “If government doesn't do it, who would build the roads?"
To which we often reply, in part, “You mean those roads that are in terrible disrepair, see money syphoned to other projects, and, when they do see repairs, also see the state-funded projects take ages and go way over budget?” There are many more, deeply historical, answers to offer, but that practical one is often a nice little icebreaker at parties.
Now, thanks to some fed-up residents of Port Arthur, Texas, there’s another, more visually absorbable example of why one might want to look for an alternative to the government road-runner system.
Angry folks in Port Arthur have become so frustrated by the lack of road upkeep and lack of response by “authorities” to their complaints, they have begun to plant small trees in their enormous potholes.
As KFDM television’s Angel San Juan reports:
The holes are so deep that residents planted small trees in them. One neighbor said it was to alert drivers about the potholes. Another says the pothole plants are a message to city hall. KFDM reached out to several city officials for a response to the potholes, including the public works director, the city manager and even the mayor. We left messages, but have not heard back.
So the reporter is in a similar position, communication-wise, as the residents: the government officials aren’t responding.
Resident Ramon Jernandez’ reaction to the moon crater situation on 42nd Street in Pothole – er, Port -- Arthur? A bemused, “No bueno.”
Resident Jeremie Wilson noted that the trees were planted to warn people as they drive by, so they don’t ruin a tire.
Jernandez says that if the town doesn’t want to repair their roads, “let somebody else do it.”
And the only public official who did speak to the reporter passed the buck, saying he would have the Public Works Director call them.
By the time the news report had to be filed, that Public Works Director had not done so.
It’s good to see we can count on government officials to behave in their tried and true manner, exhibiting the same modus operandi that has been the hallmark of tax parasitism since the creation of the polis: because they have captive taxpayers and a legal monopoly, they don’t have to compete on a free market level, and so governments don’t bother to please the “customer”. Heck, there are no “customers” for state “services”, there are only tax slaves, recipients of the graft, and the people who are overlooked, even as they’re forced to pay for it.
So, to answer that hackneyed question, “Who will build and maintain the roads?” The first answer is that the government does a sloppy and slow job building them, often builds them for non-market purposes, uses eminent domain to steal people’s land, usually paying them far less than what the owners would have wanted even if they had voluntarily chosen to sell, then doesn’t maintain them. Meanwhile, all one need do is to compare how governments with captive taxpayers handle the roads to how private merchants handle theirs...
Live in a snowy area? Take a look sometime at which has their surfaces plowed and salted first (if at all): government roads, or market-dependent participants in the economy who need to make sure consumers can get to them safely and with ease. Live in Florida? Compare the privately run Disney multi-lane highway and bus system to the government roads in the area.
Want deeper historical evidence that the normalcy bias of contemporary Americans about the “need” for government roads is incorrect?
Look at America in the early days. As I have noted in my book, “Live Free or Die,” and as Thomas DiLorenzo wrote in his book, “How Capitalism Saved America,” thousands of miles of roads were built and maintained by private companies in the early American colonies and states, sans eminent domain, and sans taxpayer funds. Often, private companies got involved in the building or maintenance, overcoming the bogeyman of so-called “free rider” issues by showing that market participants had incentives to get customers to and from their establishments, to get shipments to and from their businesses, in efficient and easy ways. Just as we see private market participants offer good roads and parking lots, offer air conditioning and bathrooms, offer places to sit in comfort, offer snacks and free wifi, so, too, did business people of “olden times” try to make shopping a pleasant and easy experience for their customers.
Even today, we see private industry stepping in when it’s beneficial, and when bureaucrats won’t handle their roadwork. Just last month, Newsweek reported that Dominoes Pizza is going to start filling potholes. The reason? The company needs to get its product to customers quickly and safely, with less damage to employee vehicles.
So let’s enjoy the realization that the popular notion that government force is needed to handle the roads is mistaken. The folks in Port Arthur realize it, and they follow in the tradition of some legendary people, and hand-in-hand with some courageous entrepreneurs like Dominoes who are taking matters into their own hands.
Who will build and maintain the roads? If we want roads, we will.
Without the use of force.