Who will build the roads?
In libertarian circles, this question pops up with obnoxious frequency. Arguments that government should recede and allow free people to run society without coercion are invariably met with mocking retorts that government is necessary to produce basic community services like roads. Despite the fact that privately owned and maintained roads exist all over the place, most people seem unable to grasp the concept that people, without being forced, would take care of the property they need to go to work, go to school, and obtain basic consumer goods.
But seeing is believing, and in Portland, Oregon of all places, a group of self-described anarchists are proving that you don’t actually need government to solve problems. The group, Portland Anarchist Road Care, has been repairing potholes in Portland’s ill-maintained streets under cover of darkness, wearing masks to preserve the anonymity of its members. They cite as their motivation both frustration with the city’s inaction and a desire to demonstrate the power of voluntary cooperation.
At this point, many readers will probably be confused by the term “anarchist.” Isn’t an anarchist someone who sets things on fire and throws bombs? Actually, no. Anarchy comes from Greek roots and simply means “without rulers.” While some historical anarchists have been violent, it is mostly an intellectual movement of people who believe that government is an impediment to peace, freedom, and prosperity, and that we could do quite well without it.
A spokesman for the group clarified his position, in an effort to clear up misconceptions: “To be exceptionally clear, anarchists do not desire chaos, we desire freedom and equality … By creating structures to serve the same purpose as state structures, such as our organization, we have the ability to show that government is not necessary for society to function, that we can have a truly free and liberated society.”
So far, the group has limited its activities to repairing a few potholes, but says it has plans for other community-based projects in the future.
The irony here is that government, which purports to be the only instrument through which societies can exist, has failed in its responsibilities to keep Portland’s roads safe and functional. This despite taking full advantage of its ability to tax citizens, seizing their hard-earned money with assurances that it will be put to good use. While this money is squandered, for the job falls upon unpaid volunteers to do the work themselves. Imagine how much more could be done if people were allowed to keep their earnings and put them directly towards solving problems instead of relying on bureaucratic middlemen.
Pothole repair is a small thing. It cannot compare to major state-funded projects that require both more capital and expertise to carry out. But whenever individuals can shatter the conception that voluntary action doesn’t work, it’s a clear step in the right direction. Maybe in time the mentality that we need to delegate these tasks to government authorities will begin to erode, and people will rely less on the state and more on themselves and each other.
So, the answer to the original question, “who will build the roads?” is quite simple. We will.
This article originally appeared on Conservative Review.