This article was published in the
Autumn 1998 issue of Formulations
by the Free
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:
"...it 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."
"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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