Why is it that some people – most people, unfortunately – short-circuit when the idea of roads built by other-than-coercive methods comes up?
McDonald’s doesn’t need to force people to buy Quarter Pounders. Those who want them, buy them. Those who don’t – don’t.
My gym has a membership fee. If you want to use the facilities, you pay the fee. People not interested in using the facilities aren’t forced to buy memberships they don’t want or use.
This is considered reasonable. In fact, most people don’t give it a thought. It’s as automatically natural as taking a breath.
How come they can’t extrapolate that idea – people freely choosing what they want (and don’t want) and being free to make those choices without coercion – to roads?
Authoritarian statists (redundant, I realize) can be counted on to unpack the “roads” straw man argument in defense of their system of collective coercion. That – absent government and its taxes-at-gunpoint (and much else besides, such as eminent domain at gunpoint) we’d all be stuck in the 19th century, unable to get from A to B. Or at least, unable to get from A to B as efficiently as we do on roads built at gunpoint.
They might be right (bear with me a moment). Let’s assume that they are right. It still doesn’t make it right to do violence to people. Their argument is a utilitarian argument. The same sort of argument used by Stalin to justify his collective farms. So much more food could be produced (for the state) that way, he claimed.
And it was true.
Of course, millions of small land-holding peasant farmers (the Kulaks) lost everything for the sake of Stalin’s “plans.” So it is with all such plans. There are winners – and losers. Just as there is a winner – and a loser – in a confrontation between a street mugger and his unarmed victim. The mugger is “better off.” But the fact remains he violated his victim’s rights to get that $20.
It is the same with regard to government roads. No matter how sparkly the asphalt glistens, nor how gracefully laid out the road, if it was done by doing violence then it was not done right.
I live near the Blue Ridge Parkway. It’s a gorgeous road cut through the mountains that runs from the Shenandoah through the Blue Ridge in Virginia all the way down to North Carolina. It was built on the destroyed lives of American kulaks – rural Southern mountain folks. To make way for the road, America’s Mussolini – Franklin Delano Roosevelt – had federal troops forcibly remove these rustics from what they thought was their land. Whole communities were excised. You can still view the sad remains of what were once people’s homes . . . or so they believed until the fed’s shock army advised them otherwise.
Does the scenic beauty – the usefulness – of the Parkway wash away the horror visited upon those poor people? Of course it does not. We – most of us – simply blank it out. We enjoy the road. Just as we enjoy the land seized from the Indians and revere the likes of Andrew Jackson – an earlier tyrant who force-marched another group of kulaks off the land they once imagined (silly Indians!) to be theirs.
But, could roads exist without wholesale evacuations and gross violations of property rights – all of it backed up by bayonets and bullets?
We know they could – because they did (and do).