What about the roads?

Roads. They are at the top of the ancap bingo card. When a statist wants to challenge an anarchist, roads is often the go-to topic. Statists just can’t seem to get their heads around how a free market in roads could possibly work.

I have great sympathy. Shortly after I first encountered anarchism, I made a genuine post in an anarchist forum titled “How would roads work without a state?”. I couldn’t get my head around it, either.

Once I eventually did get my head around it, I could see the great benefits to having a free market in roads, and the great costs of what we currently have: road socialism, all roads owned by a monopolist, the state. Because it was such a mental stumbling block for me, and because I have been asked about it so many times over the years since, I think I am reasonably good at responding by now.

Below is a conversation I had with someone (call him J) in a mainstream politics Fb group. It was unusually pleasant and constructive, so I thought it was worth pasting here for posterity.

G: Abolish the state

J: what about the roads?

G: Roads would be much better if the state had nothing to do with them.

J: so who runs the roads?

G: Road owners

J: who are they?

G: Whoever wants to own a road. I expect local communities will want to own local roads, while road entrepreneurs will want to own larger roads. Either way, because they bear their own costs, they will have a strong incentive to make them safe, efficient, and good value for money. You wouldn’t get backhanders to road contractors or roadworks for miles going on for years. A business wouldn’t be run like that. Only the state can get away will delivering such poor road service, because they have a monopoly.

J: so would an entrepreneur buy the M4, for example?

G: We can’t know until we try it. We need the market to discover the best way of doing things.

J: do you think it might be a teensy bit chaotic if you try it without working out how it works?

G: How could you find out what works without trying it?

J: planning and testing

G: Right. And we know entrepreneurs do both of those better than states.

J: so, would they buy the whole M4? Or just a stretch of it? How would it work?

G: The thing about freedom is, you don’t know how people are going to use it. I can’t answer your questions.

Imagine all restaurants were state owned and I proposed a market for restaurants. You would ask me who would own the restaurants, how many, what would they sell, what prices would they charge, how will people pay, etc. I could not have answered those questions, and yet the restaurant industry works fine. The market works these things out. It is an optimisation process. The market has given us plenty of restaurants, but not too many, they are well run, and there is a quantity and variety that reflects supply and demand. From our perspective, it seems silly for someone to worry about what will happen if restaurants were not state owned.

Same for roads. I can’t predict the outcomes of freedom, but we know that markets and entrepreneurs figure things out and do a much better job of it than states.

J: I can see an argument for turnpikes, where people pay to use a stretch of motorway. But you seem to be advocating the same approach for all roads. Do you think that is practical?

G: It will vary depending on the road. I expect most roads will be free for car users, and road entrepreneurs will make their money from lorries, service stations, advertising, etc.

J: interesting. Has your idea ever been implemented anywhere?

G: Historically roads were built and run privately, and there was competition between road owners. It is known as the turnpike system. It declined in the 19th and early 20th century when the state gradually monopolised all roads. It is similar in other industries. A few generations later and people can’t even imagine what a free market in roads would look like. The benefits would be huge though: cheaper, quicker, safer roads, saving much money and many lives.

J: wouldn’t a private monopoly over the M4 mean that the owners charged as much as possible to people travelling between London and Swansea?

G: No, it would depend on many things.

First, who owns the road and what their goals are. They may not be a profit-seeking firm. I expect a typical city street would be owned by the residents. They won’t want to charge guests or delivery vehicles to drive on their street, or be charged each time they use it. They won’t think of the street as a profit-making business. I expect they would pay for road maintenance through a monthly fee, like a ground rent, contracting for services. This business model probably wouldn’t work for the M4 though.

Second, suppose the M4 is entirely owned by a single profit-seeking firm. As I said before, they may well not charge car-users anything at all. Their business model may be to charge lorries (they do a lot more damage, and are easier to collect from) but make it free for cars. They might arrange it so they get a cut of sales made at service stations, or businesses in the locations along the road. They might use more advertising boards. In this case, they would be foolish to charge any fee to car users, because they want as many customers as possible using their road.

Third, suppose they do charge car users. I expect the price would be lower than what you currently pay in car tax and petrol tax for driving from London to Swansea, due to competition with other roads and other forms of transport. This would make the profit-maximising price lower than the monopoly price we are charged today. The state sets their price (tax rates) as high as they can without causing a riot, while in a free market, the amount that can be charged is limited by competition.

Fourth, I expect there would different prices for different times of day. As a monopolist, the state has little incentive or information to set their price where supply meets demand. As a result, for most of the day, most roads are fairly empty (demand << supply), but at rush hour you get traffic jams (demand >> supply). A profit-maximising business would use pricing to balance this out, e.g. car users pay a fee to travel between 7am-10am and 4pm-7pm, but all other times it is free. It is amazing that people just accept traffic jams as inevitable, when a free market in roads could solve it quite easily.

Finally, if supply and demand conditions are such that a road is lucrative for it’s owner (high profit margin), he has an incentive to optimise it, e.g. widen the road, and other entrepreneurs have an incentive to build a new road, or provide other forms of transportation, to compete. Road infrastructure on popular roads would improve a lot faster if they were privately owned in a free market, and there would be less wastage on projects for which there is little demand, e.g. the literal “bridge to nowhere”, and other scam road projects that the state pays for with the money it has stolen from us.

J: interesting and thoughtful, thank you. Do you think that there is any prospect of your ideas coming to fruition?

G: Thank you for your questions and interest. I do not expect a free market in roads to happen any time soon. I think the arguments in favour of a free market in roads, and against road socialism, are strong. But I think the arguments for free markets in education and healthcare are stronger, and those industries are also more important than roads. I think we will see a free market in education and/or healthcare before we see a free market in roads, and the likelihood of either one of them happening soon is very low. Too much love for socialism in this country, whether it is roads, education, or healthcare. Until the prevailing ideas change in favour of free markets generally, we are stuck with socialism in all these industries.

Hoppe and Block on Immigration

Hans-Hermann Hoppe and Walter Block are our two greatest living libertarian intellectuals.  Naturally, they agree with each other on 99% of topics within libertarianism, because they are both geniuses starting from the same foundational principles, who rigorously apply them all the way to their limits. These two men are the most libertarian of libertarians.

But they do not agree with each other on everything.

If these two titans of libertarianism disagree about a topic, then that surely must be the hardest topic in the whole of libertarianism!  It is such a difficult topic that even these two geniuses have completely opposite positions on it.

It is worth remembering this when us mere mortals are discussing this topic.  Whether you agree with Hoppe or Block, do not claim to be more libertarian than someone with the opposite view.  Do not claim that your own position is the only principled one.  It is a hard topic.  We are all doing our best to apply libertarian principles correctly and, like Hoppe and Block, we are reaching different conclusions.

So… what is the topic?  The hardest topic in libertarianism…


Walter Block takes the more traditional open borders or free immigration position.

Hans-Hermann Hoppe thinks free immigration is actually forced integration, and that therefore a restricted immigration position is the correct one for libertarians.

Which side are you on?

Here are a couple of useful overviews by Jeff Deist:

The Block-Hoppe debate started when the following two papers were published together in the Journal of Libertarian Studies:

The debate continued. Here are four subsequent pieces by Hoppe:

And here are four subsequent pieces by Block:

P.S. The mentor of both Hoppe and Block was Murray Rothbard, the godfather of modern libertarianism.  Rothbard was in favour of open borders his whole life… until 1994, a year before his death, when he changed his mind!  Hoppe’s argument convinced Rothbard to switch sides… that is why Block refers to “Rothbard II” in the title of his 2011 paper.

Privatise the Armed Forces

I posted this comment in a Fb group:

The armed forces should be privatised so that the law can be applied equally to everyone.

Below are some questions I received, and my responses.

What if a private armed force decides it wants to take power for itself?

That is the current situation. We have one gang (calling itself “the state”) that is so powerful that no other gang can compete with it. The answer is to decentralise power, so that there can be checks and balances: market competition. If power was decentralised it would be so much easier to hold it in check: you wouldn’t need to wait for an election, or persuade other people of anything, you just stop paying if you don’t like the service.

The people would be safer if the armed forces were privatised, because they would be used only for defensive purposes. Economic calculation would become possible, so resources would be used more efficiently. The incentives of the military would then be aligned with the people (their customers) rather than the politicians and the military-industrial complex. While the state has a monopoly on armed forces, we are, relatively speaking, sitting ducks for anyone who wants to invade. We have all our security resting on one monopolistic structure, especially where the state has disarmed us.

Only billionaires would be able to hire their own armies, so if a force decided to invade, wouldn’t our lives then depend on their individual wealth?

Security isn’t so expensive that only billionaires can afford it. Most people would probably decide to pay by direct debit for it the same way they pay for broadband or electricity, opting for a firm and package that suits you. You’d subscribe to whichever security firm you feel offers the best value for money, and if you have any doubts, you can switch security firm as easily as you can switch broadband provider. This is what keeps the firms in check, and it’s the reason a monopoly on armed services is so dangerous. Coercion is used to attain income, and there are no competitors; this is why we see state armed forces used aggressively… because people are forced to fund it and have no choice.

How are the security firms all supposed to coordinate if our territory was invaded?

Firms cooperate and coordinate with each other all the time in the marketplace. They do so more efficiently than do departments of the state, because they are responding to market signals and incentives, rather than bureaucratic signals and incentives. Resources would be used more wisely by competing security firms than they are by the monopoly state armed forces. Coordination to repel invaders would be enhanced.

What if enough people don’t sign up to any security firm?

Your relationship with your security firm would be similar to the relationship you have today with your broadband provider. It doesn’t matter how many of your neighbours “sign up” to the same firm as you, or a different firm, or forego broadband entirely. As long as demand is above a very low minimum threshold that makes it worthwhile offering service to that area, security will be available. And I predict pretty much everybody will sign up with some security firm, because people like being secure just as much, if not more, than they like broadband. The amount of resources a society devotes to security will be determined by how much consumers are willing to pay for security.

What happens if other countries offer the security firms a better deal?

That is incredibly unlikely given the differential between how much people are willing to pay to retain their own freedom versus how much they are willing to pay to take somebody else’s freedom. And even if the security firms are bought by a foreign power, new firms will immediately spring up to replace them… can you imagine what would happen if all broadband providers bizarrely decided to stop operating in the UK because they got “a better deal” from another country? Obviously you would get new firms buying up the capital, employing the same labor, and operating the same way as the old firms, and this would happen extremely quickly due to the strength of market incentives.

If you think about it, this is a strange objection, given that it is far less likely for all the security firms to be bought out by a foreign power than it is for the state to be bought out by a foreign power. Politicians are cheap! Corruption is easier! And talk about having all your eggs in one basket! Having a monopoly on armed forces is practically begging for a wannabe dictator or foreign state to take over. If you are worried about foreign influence, or the influence of a small group of billionaires, the state is the worst possible thing to support, because it is the system that most empowers them.

If military forces were purely private businesses wouldn’t they literally fight wars over markets and resources?

States fight wars over markets and resources. Private firms would be far less likely to do so, as they have more to lose, since they can’t externalise the costs of war onto taxpayers, the way states do. States can ignore a million people marching in the streets and still go to war. A private security firm is not going to be able to start a war when it’s customers could cut off all their revenue just by canceling a direct debit. Wars would be less common if armed forces were privatised.

A private army is loyal to it’s bank balance, nothing else, and would work for the highest bidder – not necessarily a country. Many large multinationals could support a small military of their own. Imagine Shell have just attacked and captured a BP oil rig, what could be done to make them return it before BP launch a counter attack?

You have a choice to buy from Shell or BP or neither. If you don’t like what one of them did, you can literally cut off their funding, by no longer buying from them, and this removes them of all power. Consumers have so much more power over what firms do than voters have over what states do. You stop buying their product, and they can no longer pay their army. That’s consumer power!

Whereas, if your government decides to go to war, what power do you have? What power do a million people marching have? Evidently, not enough to prevent a war. The state is getting your money using coercion, you have no option to stop paying, so it doesn’t care that you don’t want your money spent on military aggression overseas. The state gets paid regardless of your disapproval.

Attacking a competitor’s oil rig would be the most monumentally stupid business decision. Shell would be out of business overnight and their leaders would be brought to justice. Whereas states endure, and can’t go bankrupt because they can always just steal a little more. Lack of competitors means leaders of states that started wars are rarely brought to justice: Blair, Bush, Obama, Cameron… why aren’t any of them in jail? Because of the monopoly. The armed forces should be privatised so that the law can be applied equally to everyone.

Arbitrary, inconsistent, petty rules: a sign of authoritarianism

A sign of an authoritarian state is many rules, contradicting each other, with arbitrary enforcement, mostly relying on voluntary compliance through brainwashing and herd mentality, with exceptions for the state and its leaders and cronies.

With so many petty rules to abide by, the people become weary, stop questioning the rules, and stop questioning the purpose of the rules. Justifications for the rules are no longer required or presented.

The men in white coats, the gods calling themselves “the science”, must be followed at all times. This is the technocratic element of the regime. The rule by men is being replaced with rule by “the science”. No contrary views are to be allowed, and anyone with unauthorised views must be shamed and ridiculed, called evil, selfish, stupid, dangerous, and dirty.

People comply with the rules out of habit and to avoid stressful conflicts with the new morality police force, the brainwashed idiots, snitches, and karens of the world, as well as the covid marshalls and covid compliance officers, the new brownshirts.

We are about to go back into full lockdown, and most people have already accepted it as necessary and inevitable, and at this point do not need any justification to be presented. A vague reference to a “second wave”, and a few scary looking projections, will at this point be enough to ensure most of the population complies. They will comply, even though the first lockdown turned out to be pointless, caused many deaths, and resulted in unprecedented economic destruction and misery.

I am impressed by just how quickly the global elites have been able implement the authoritarianism they have this year. Their agenda for global domination has taken a great leap forward.