The Roads To Freedom

October 5th, 2010   Submitted by august

To the average citizen, the suggestion that society could function without a government is unfathomable.  We have all been programmed with the notion that statelessness equals chaos and violence.  This myth protects the state by making them appear valuable and necessary.  For those who have the audacity to contemplate statelessness, one of the first questions to arise is:  “How could the roads operate without a state?”

In our current world, it is government bureaucrats who are in control of the building and repairing of roads, setting speed limits, traffic signals and driving regulations.  Not to mention how much wealth gets pilfered from the people and how that money is spent.

One of the biggest problems with this structure is that the road rulers have no access to the best indicator of their product’s desirability: profit.  In a free-market, road owners would want to make a profit and they would have to compete for it.  They would do this by providing the best service to their customers: low congestion, low price, and high safety.  Competition would drive constant improvements.

If roads were privately owned, the popular roads would likely charge higher tolls -and charge even more during peak hours.   Less desirable roads would attract drivers by having lower tolls.  Traffic would be driven away from the most congested routes (and times) and towards the less crowded, equalizing traffic.

Government monopolies have no way to replicate essential market signals and the self-leveling feedback-loops of the free-market.

Those who decide how roads operate have almost no accountability to the market.  They get their salaries regardless of how the roads perform.  They may not even drive on the roads their decisions influence.  They are likely in their position for a few years and any long-term negative results of their actions have little consequence to them.

When individuals own the roads, the owners have a vested interest in the long-term efficiency and value.  Would you rather buy a car or a house from the original owner, or one that was a rental?  Long-term value preservation is a primary benefit of private property over public property.

With the tremendous advancements in technology, there are far more efficient means of private road ownership.  Many regions have developed systems where drivers sign-up for an online toll billing service.  They are mailed a small transponder, which goes on their dashboard.  Every time they go through a posted toll area, their account is billed for that amount.  This is backed-up by license plate reading cameras to bill members in case of a transponder miscommunication and to fine violators who are evading the toll.

There have also been huge advances in GPS navigation for the car and cell phone.  This could easily be merged with a transponder system to track and pay tolls.

This is how it might work with privately owned roads:


On a given city block, each resident owns the portion of the road at the front of their property.  They might form a block, street or neighborhood Home Owner Association (HOA) where they would get together and determine the policies.  Maybe membership and compliance would be required of homebuyers.  There could be additional incentives to belonging to the group such as a blanket private security service, insurance policies (like most HOA’s do now), access to common areas such as parks and pools, and profit sharing.  There could be many sources of revenue: members could pay annual dues; collect tolls, parking fees, traffic tickets, etc.  Currently, the fine for endangering individuals by driving violations goes to the government, instead of the people who were put in danger.  In a free-market traffic fines would rightly go to the owners of the property who were put at risk by the driver.

Street signs could indicate toll amounts, speed limits and the like before entering a block, street or neighborhood.  This information could also be on your car GPS system.  Say a toll was fifteen cents on one block, ten cents on another, and so on.  Before you set out on a trip across town, you could easily tell your GPS your destination.  It could quickly tell you how much the quickest route will cost, or map out and guide you through the cheapest route, etc.  To get across town may cost you five dollars, but this way only the people who use the roads are paying for them, not the members of society who choose not to.

By not charging for road use, our system unfairly takes money from people who do not use them and effectively gives it to those who do as well as those who profit from them; welfare for the auto and oil industries.  It was General Motors, after all, who in 1956 got the state to take twenty five billion dollars from the taxpayers to build our forty one thousand mile highway system; the largest public works project in history.

Property rights on privately owned roads, HOAs, tolls, GPS, transponders and license plate readers could easily steer us towards a better system.  The free-market would provide the signals needed to spread traffic more evenly, fuel countless travel alternatives, create a fair pay structure and stop the corporate welfare.  The driving force behind order and prosperity is not the state, but freedom.

August Wagele is aiming to get to the Freestateproject, an agorist and operates Freedomcam.net.

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14 Responses to “The Roads To Freedom”

  1. Seth KingNo Gravatar says:

    What august does well here is use his imagination. I’ve noticed a trend with libertarian anarchists that we are usually very imaginative people. If you ask an average goomba to imagine a world without government roads, the best they can do is simply imagine a world with no roads.

    Imagine getting rid of government schools I’ll say. And people will reply, nobody will go to school. It’s like “come on people!”

    This is what we’re up against. The majority of the population is completely unimaginative, and so we stagnate.

  2. Bob LadwigNo Gravatar says:

    Great article, I had this same discussion over dinner with my neo-con father in-law and as Seth put it, this notion was entirely inconcievable to him. I don’t think I am any smarter than him or anything like that it simply is that people really refuse to think certain thoughts, I suppose that’s why there are so many who still think Oswald killed JFK.

    The only thing I would add to the mix is on more of the neighborhood level, it seems rather onorus to have to pay a toll just for pulling out of your driveway so I would suggest that either the developers of the subdivision or the homeowners could form a covenant to for the roads construction prior to any groundbreaking. This would eliminate any free rider problems.

    The other upside to private roads that is often overlooked is the quality of the roads. As of right now the communist roads are made to fall apart. It seems like every 5 years they have to rip up the same road and do it again. Not to mention the ripping up of roads that are perfectly fine in an effort to “create jobs”. In the privatized system it would inherently be in the interest of the road owners to build the best roads possible to last the maximum amount of time.

    • Seth KingNo Gravatar says:

      There really are so many dimensions to roads that it would be impossible to put it all in a blog article, or book for that matter. But I try to relate to the internet. The internet is like the world. Each website is a new destination. Some destinations are off limits, but most are open to everyone. The ISPs are the road owners. The cable, cell towers, and satellites are the roads. The internet is more complex than any one person can conceive, and yet, it operates magnificently with zero government regulations. The regulations the government does make are unnecessary at best and potentially devastating at worst.

  3. Seth KingNo Gravatar says:

    One thing I also like to mention when it comes to privatizing roads is the fact that it would be much more environmentally sound to do so. Right now, the government subsidizes driving. Were it not subsidized, the market might very well put more money into bike lanes and, subways, trolleys, and trains. Buses might be smaller for less trafficked routes. People would carpool more to save money. People would make sure they make less trips to the grocery store, dry cleaners, etc. because each trips will cost more money to drive on the road again. Right now, the only cost in driving is gasoline(also subsidized) which is cheap. Add to the mix the true cost of driving on the roads and people will be much more environmentally friendly, without having to resort to fascist methods like gasoline rationing, forced carpooling, higher taxes etc.

  4. augustNo Gravatar says:

    Thanks guys.
    @Bob. I guess that’s why they say: “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks”? The longer you think one way the higher the walls get protecting your reality.

    The best chance of convincing the left is probably using the environment, oil addiction and corporate welfare.

    Update:
    There is already a system in place, which is similar to the GPS/toll system described above. It is used by millions of people everyday and works so efficiently that hardly anyone even knows it exists!

    That is the complex system of “roaming agreements” which all cell phone providers use.

    When your phone enters an area not covered by your provider a complicated process happens in the blink-of-an-eye. The provider of that area sees your phone in their area, contacts your provider, gets authorization and provides you access to their network. They not only provide you incoming and outgoing calls, Internet access, etc. but they track the time, duration, numbers called and send the bill to your normal provider. Bada-bing.

    This seamless technology could probably be adapted for a complex(?) system of national tolls?
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roaming

  5. LB2No Gravatar says:

    I have listened to Walter Block talk about the privatization of roads. I think it is a great idea and a very interesting one. I just have one question on this. What about rural areas where the roads don’t have enough traffic to make it feasible for a private company to take ownership of that road? If there is only 1 property owner for 1 or 2 miles, doubt they want to maintain the road. If they did maintain it, it would cost a large fee to drive it. If that were the case, the small amount of traffic would take a different route. If there was no other choice, they are stuck with an outrageous toll. There wouldn’t be competition, because there is not enough traffic to encourage competition to buy the road and charge for it. There may be answers to these problems, but I have tried to come up with my own and have struggled to get one in this type of scenario.

    • Seth KingNo Gravatar says:

      Excellent question!

      There are two arguments I will make, the moral and the utilitarian.

      The moral argument against the government providing a road to a rural area is, why should somebody who lives in a non-rural area be forced to subsidize somebody who lives in a rural area? Since all taxation is theft, if the government provides the road is must be stolen money to pay for it. Therefore it is wrong.

      On utilitarian grounds it gets even more fun. There are two reasons to need a road out to nowhere, residential or commercial.

      If it is commercial, then the cost of building and maintaining a road should be factored into their overhead. Say there is a forest out several miles from town. If a logging company wants to log the forest, they will first have to build their own roads, and maintain them. This will drive their overhead costs up which will more accurately reflect the true cost of lumber. Therefore, the higher the cost of lumber is born by the lumber consumers, instead of being subsidized by the taxpayers, who might be lumber adverse. The same thing goes for quarries, or casinos out in the middle of nowhere or whatever. The commercial interest should not be subsidized by taxpayers. Another good point is that let’s say there is a forest that will yield 10 million dollars on the market, but the road to get there costs 15 million dollars. It wouldn’t make sense to build the road for the lumber because you would operate at a loss. But when the government subsidizes it, the company will go after a resource that is a net loss for society.

      If it is residential, a two mile road to nowhere might not be cost effective if it is for only one house. It might be more cost effective if it is for say, 50 houses. Unless the person is rich and wants to pay for his own road, chances are it will take more houses to make it worth while. If the government subsidizes 1 person’s house, then why not subsidize one person who wants to live 100 miles from civilization? You see, that logic could go for anything including electricity, sewage, internet, water. This all gets extremely resource intensive. If these resources are all provided by private entities, then they have to weigh the costs with the potential gains. The government gets their money through theft, so they can be extremely wasteful and the costs are borne by the taxpayers.

  6. RJ MillerNo Gravatar says:

    What I think would be interesting is the presence of roads specifically made for street racing. Laws prohibiting such a thing might not be as necessary if those who choose to do it merely have to stick to certain routes.

    I can think of five people now who would love road privatization for this reason alone…

  7. IsaacNo Gravatar says:

    eh….. this article goes off about the theoretical, but completely ignores the applied….. in Switzerland, most roads are privately funded, and other than freeways and some other long haul routes it’s just appreciated that reduced need for car repairs (for neighborhood associations) and increased business (for businesses) will pay for the roads without requiring tolls….. moreover, the idea that you’re going to permit people to monopolize land, and not just revert back to statism is just absurd….. and finally, “private security companies”? the only way that a private security company won’t become a self-serving mafia running a protection racket is if the citizenry has the private security company out gunned to the point of making them unneeded……. I’m all for free-trade, but this idiotic notion that capitalism is somehow a magical cure-all is just bullshit…..

    • Seth KingNo Gravatar says:

      Can you tell me what your background is, philosophically? Are you familiar with the Ludwig von Mises Institute, just out of curiosity? How did you stumble across this site? I appreciate your response but I would love to know more.

      • IsaacNo Gravatar says:

        I don’t know what my background matters…. history, politics and economics tends to be what I study, though not in a formal setting…. I read the Mises website with some frequency, and I came across this site from the Daily Paul site…..

  8. KathyNo Gravatar says:

    We live on a private road and it is the responsibility of the homeowners to maintain it. Cost is prorated and the person who lives the farthest pays the most. In many new subdivisions, homeowners dues are collected to cover common areas, pools, tennis courts, whatever, and roads. People who live in very rural areas don’t always have government roads to access their property. Again, their are private roads and can be anything from asphalt to chip & seal, to dirt, depending on what the farmers can afford. Sometimes, to maintain privacy, people leave their roads in disrepair to discourage curiosity seekers. Great article.