TAMPA, March 22, 2013 — Libertarians have to deal with a lot of nonsense when making their case. Invariably, if a libertarian suggests any reduction in the power of the state, he is regaled with this supposedly devastating rejoinder:
“So, I suppose I won’t see you driving on any of those government roads.”
There are many reasons to stomp on the stupid button. Here are just a few.
First, there is the implication that the libertarian is disingenuous or even ungrateful. He seeks to reduce the power and influence of the state, perhaps even (gasp!) lower taxes, yet still has the audacity to drive on the roads that the government provides.
This argument holds no water. After being forced to purchase a road whether he wishes to or not and being virtually prohibited from building his own, exactly why should the libertarian not use the road he has paid for? Where is the contradiction in pointing out that the government road he was forced to buy would have been cheaper and of higher quality if it were produced by the market? Exactly why is he disingenuous or ungrateful by suggesting that the next road be financed the same way as houses and factories?
Of course, if the government didn’t build the roads, they wouldn’t exist, right? The proponents of this farcical idea should read some American history. For much our first century, the chief domestic policy debate was over whether the government should be allowed to subsidize roads, and the government side lost. As Tom Dilorenzo writes in How Capitalism Saved America,
“But the fact is, most roads and canals were privately financed in the nineteenth century. Moreover, in virtually every instance in which state, local or federal government got involved in building roads and canals, the result was a financial debacle in which little or nothing was actually built and huge sums of taxpayer dollars were squandered or simply stolen.”
All of the heroes of that century were on the private road side. Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, and Jackson argued against government-subsidized roads. Alexander Hamilton, Henry Clay and finally Abraham Lincoln – the proponents of state capitalism and privileges for the wealthy – argued for them.