This article was published in the Autumn 1998 issue of Formulations
by the Free Nation Foundation
A Note About Roads
by Richard Hammer

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We in FNF have not yet written much about roads, even though we intend to formulate the critical institutions in a free nation. For two reasons I have felt little interest in formulating how markets would provide roads.

First, I assume that markets would do the job to my satisfaction.

Second, we already seem united on this question. It seems that most libertarians share my confidence about roads, so no doubt or dissension on the subject deters our progress in a significant way.

We have faith. But, according to a recent article by Carl Watner ("The Road to Hell Is Paved with Good Intentions: Voluntaryism and the Roads," The Voluntaryist, June 1998), we cannot base our faith upon experience. Watner studied the history of roads, and he concludes:

" turns out that 'private' roads and highways have never really been allowed to function because they have always been hedged with special State restrictions. ...there has never been an opportunity to see how completely voluntary systems might work."  He explains: "Once trade routes were established by the market, it was not long before they were used as highways of conquest. The ancient rulers of the world, whether in China, Persia, or Rome, all recognized that the unity of their empires depended on their ability to move troops in order to subdue rebellious areas or conquer new territories."  The history of states, as I have come to view it, shows that states grow as soon as there is sufficient wealth to feed them. And, given Watner's observation, it seems that the amount of wealth which is required to make road improvement a viable enterprise is also sufficient to feed a state. Since states have vital interests in roads, they soon usurp the building, or at least the regulation, of them. So, while we can find examples in experience to prove to ourselves that almost all critical needs can be filled by voluntary institutions, we will not find good examples of comprehensive networks of voluntary roads.

I find this instructive. But I am still not worried.

In the plans which FNF Member Michael van Notten has prepared for freeports in the former nation of Somalia, roads will be provided, along with many other services, by the entrepreneurial company which negotiates the lease for, and subdivides the land within, the region. It sounds to me like that could work. D

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