How Would “X” Work in a Free Society?
People often ask how this or that function of society would work in the absence of the State. Of course, each of those questions has its own answers, but there are some underlying core ideas that can help you come to your own conclusions, and which would become rather repetitive if I outlined them every time I wrote an article. So the next time you’re trying to figure out how we could possibly live without slave masters, ask yourself the following question.
Is it valuable?
This might be lost on some liberals, but even your average Fox News viewer can tell you that markets provide. If a thing can be done, and people are willing to pay for it, someone will be willing to do it, for a price.
Who will build the roads? Who will provide security? Who will educate the children? How will medicine and food be kept safe? Without going into the specifics on each question (or even pointing out what a terrible job the State has done of providing these things), it would stand to reason that since most people desire roads, and security, and education, and safe food and medicine, so much so that they are willing to accept taxation and war and oppression to obtain them, they would be willing to pay for these things voluntarily in the absence of the horrors of statism. If people are willing to pay for these things voluntarily, it would stand to reason that somebody would be willing to do them, for a price.
It is so simple, that the mind is repelled. We are told our entire lives that these things are so complicated, and so they require these very wise men to manage them for us. But as we know from experience, the folks who find themselves in positions of power are rarely the wisest amongst us. In reality, they are simply the most skilled liars. Simultaneously, wise men do not make things complicated, they make things simple, and so the abundance of fools in charge of our affairs goes a long way in explaining why society has become so complicated.
The only tool the State has in its toolbox is violence. How many very intelligent people do you know, who use violence in their everyday lives? Putting aside the love affair so many people have with police and military men, those who use violence in society are generally looked upon as the scum of the earth, and for good reason. Violence is the tool of the man without answers. One does not break down a door, unless he lacks a key. So when we give roads, and security, and education, and food, and medicine to people who have no answers, let us not be surprised when we are stuck in traffic, unsafe, poorly educated, and sick.
The most cursory study of real (Austrian) economics will tell you that in a free market, the best products and services at the best prices will win out over poor or overly expensive products and services due to competition. In a free market, the man who sells dangerous food finds himself short of customers, the school that teaches lies goes out of business, the security force that commits more crimes than it solves gets arrested by the security force that sells peace. The simple and singular difference between these free market services and the State is the use of initiatory force, a thing which almost nobody in civil society would even consider doing. Not only does the State not go out of business when it fails to accomplish its stated goals, it actually rewards itself more by raising taxes and borrowing more money from future generations and inflating the currency. Whereas market based services have the discipline of failure, the State rewards its failures by claiming it needs ever more resources to be taken by force from those who would otherwise simply purchase a different service.
Why are we not taught this simple logic in public schools? As I mentioned in my article on intellectual property, ask a question, find yourself without an answer, and the State will answer as it answers all things, with violence. The State steps in when we lack answers, so if the State runs education, and it is in the State’s best interests to make sure you have as few answers as possible, what incentive is there for the State to provide you with good education? None. The exact opposite is true.
If the State is responsible for roads, and it rewards its failures with more resources, what incentive is there for the State to provide better roads? None. The exact opposite is true.
If the State is responsible for food safety, and unsafe food leads to bigger budgets, what incentive is there for the State to provide safer food? None. The exact opposite is true.
This list could go on for all of eternity, but hopefully you can see where this is going. If you fail to do your job, you lose your job. When the State fails, it gets a raise. How good would you be at your job under this system of incentive?
The Tragedy of the Commons
Per Wikipedia: “In economics, the tragedy of the commons is the depletion of a shared resource by individuals, acting independently and rationally according to each one’s self-interest, despite their understanding that depleting the common resource is contrary to the group’s long-term best interests.”
One common theme of statism is that we must have certain shared resources, and that without the State to regulate the use thereof, these shared resources would become unenjoyable by any of us. Traffic cops are necessary to keep the roads safe because otherwise everybody would drive drunk and blow red lights causing mass death and destruction. “We” have to ban drinking in public so that children can enjoy the parks. Education benefits the whole of society so even people who don’t have children must pay for the education of others. With every day that passes, the State tries to turn something else into a common resource. Everything from medicine to sugary drinks somehow has some common interest amongst “the people” and so the State must insert violence into the equation of all things.
Let me say it plainly. The only way to solve the tragedy of the commons, is to eliminate the commons.
We don’t have a tragedy of the privates, do we? When one owns a resource, they are typically inclined to care for it. One does not buy a home to burn it down. Nor does one buy a resource in high demand and keep it to oneself, they sell it for a price so they can acquire more of it, as well as other resources. This is not to say that resources will not be shared, there will simply be some rational accounting to the matter. If the State can operate a public road or a public park or a public police force, and wage war, and build huge datacenters to spy on the entire planet, and do all these other things that we do not like about the State, then of course a private entity could do all of these good things at lower prices without the overhead costs of all the bad things, and with the aforementioned discipline of failure. If you have to pay $10,000/year in property taxes plus income, sales, inflation, and other taxes to pay for all of these “services”, what would be the great tragedy in paying one dollar to visit the park? Two dollars to drive down the highway? In the end, you would pay less, get better services, and not be menaced by people who have atomic weapons at their disposal.
If we allowed rational economics to take hold in the absence of the State run economy, what would change about technology? We know that even with the burdensome regulation of the State economy, technology advances ever more rapidly by the day. Without the burdens of licensing, regulations, taxes, and intellectual property, we could expect technology to move forward even more rapidly. While you today say “Who would build the roads” in reference to the State, people once said “Who would pick the cotton?” in reference to slavery. Who would ever have imagined during those times, that machines would suck oil from beneath the earth, refine it into fuel that would power other machines to do all of this work automatically? Likewise, when you ask me “Who would build the roads” I say, “Screw roads, I want a flying machine”.
Many years ago, the government saw electricity as such a wonderful thing that it used it’s power over the commons to create power lines to deliver electricity to each of our homes. What if the lack of commons forced engineers to come up with more efficient generators that we could each have in our homes? There would be no more blackouts, no constant menacing over the need for “cyber security” to “protect the infrastructure”. This technology exists today, if you were not paying for wars and espionage and all manner of violent, evil, State activity, I imagine these things would be very appealing options.
The fact of the matter is, when you say “How would X work in a free society?”, the only answer I really need to give is “I don’t know”. If you ask a dozen anarchists for an answer, you will get a dozen different answers. The nice thing about a free society is, we have choices. What worked for me in a free society, might not work for you. If we respect each others choices, if we let the market work, there’s no telling what solutions said market will bring to the table. We do however know what the State brings us. Poverty, misery, and death. Most of our lives are uninterrupted by State intervention, we cooperate with one another and come to mutually beneficial solutions to nearly all of our problems. The State on the other hand, under the best of circumstances leaves one of us injured, and in entirely too many cases, hurts all of us.
Since I find myself without a very strong closer of my own. I will end with a quote by Robert Higgs,
“Anarchists did not try to carry out genocide against the Armenians in Turkey; they did not deliberately starve millions of Ukrainians; they did not create a system of death camps to kill Jews, gypsies, and Slavs in Europe; they did not fire-bomb scores of large German and Japanese cities and drop nuclear bombs on two of them; they did not carry out a ‘Great Leap Forward’ that killed scores of millions of Chinese; they did not attempt to kill everybody with any appreciable education in Cambodia; they did not launch one aggressive war after another; they did not implement trade sanctions that killed perhaps 500,000 Iraqi children.
In debates between anarchists and statists, the burden of proof clearly should rest on those who place their trust in the state. Anarchy’s mayhem is wholly conjectural; the state’s mayhem is undeniably, factually horrendous.”
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