It seems like every time someone is defending socialism they say we already have socialism, and they bring up police, fire, roads, and schools. Now, those of you who follow my blog, know my opinion on schools. Schools are a horrible example, if your goal is to preach the greatness of government or socialism. Of course, trying to argue against police, fire and roads is not an easy task. But hey, what’s the point of easy arguments, right?
So first, let me ask why these are considered socialist programs? They are not a redistribution of wealth? They are more like insurance for inhabitants of a neighborhood, at least the police and fire departments are. Those inhabitants pay in the form of property taxes, income taxes, sale tax, or however they chose to fund these insurance policies. Those who pay the most for them, property owners, are the ones who benefit the most from them. They protect property (supposed to anyway). Also, as far as roads go, as a neighborhood, state and country, we as citizens want to be able to get places. We want to get to the store, our family members’ houses, vacation spots, etc. We want the police and fire departments to be able to get to our house in an emergency. In order to have roads, we pay the government to make roads. Again, this is not as socialist as say welfare, universal health care, etc.
With that being said, even if these are sort of socialized, does that mean they are better than they could be if they were privatized? How about if they were never a government function in the first place? The problem is most people cannot imagine the world beyond what is constructed around them. The government steps in and takes over what the private sector used to deliver. Then when people say the government should shrink or go away, the sheeple say “yeah, but who’s going to do this, that, or the other thing.” Just imagine if you told a welfare recipient that we need to take our government back to the size talked about in the constitution. They’d say “Yeah, but who’s going to give me money to spend? Who’s going to give me my groceries?” They have forgotten that a job will give you those things.
Now, I really don’t want to get into each one of these in detail. When you bring up topics like this, people want to hammer you with questions about how you would fix some aspect of our society that they believe the government is fixing, but really the government is not. They say things like, yeah but in a free market, you’d have the ultra rich taking advantage of the rest of us, robbing us of our money. Meanwhile, under our government, the ultra rich already do that by government force. What do you think TARP, bailouts, Fed induced inflation, etc is? In the free market, at least you have a choice. The gun of government is not pointed at your head forcing your to hand you money over.
I myself cannot construct a complete system for police, fire and roads. If I could, then we should crown me King of the land, and shower me with gold. What I have done, after not believing these were possible without government, is try to think of possible ways these services could have been provided by the private sector had government no imposed it’s limited view on us. Let’s just go through some thoughts.
Police - To start, the more we force citizens to give up arms, the more police we need. An armed citizen can prevent crimes, can protect his family, and can protect his neighbors. Re-arm citizens and the need for police is greatly reduced. If everyone had a gun, do you think people would be more polite, less inclined to be violent, and commit less crime? Would they risk getting shot, since any person around them could and probably is packing? In addition to a well armed citizenry, who is to say without government, we couldn’t have private defense agencies. With private defense agencies, there would be competition. In order to gain new customers, agencies would have to compete on price and track record. If one agency has customers being robbed, they’d lose business. If privatizing is just too hard to imagine, one could argue, that the main point of government is to secure our liberties. Since that is the case, policing does have a role in society. Then again, if we can secure our liberties without government, there would be no need for government.
Fire - This is one that socialists love to bring up. Let’s just think if we had no fire departments. Is it possible that they would come about without government force? To start, you could have companies delivering these services. You could have the exact same setup, but they could just be funded differently. It would seem to me that insurance companies could pay private fire companies a fee per insured house in a given area. This would help minimize the insurance company’s exposure. With private fire companies, you would have competition, competing on how fast they got to the fire, how contained the fire was, how much damage did the fire create, whats the cost per household for their services, and who has the best technology to fight fires.
Also, who is to say there wouldn’t be better technology if government didn’t force a certain system on society and spread the cost out amongst everyone. Maybe building materials would be much more fire retardant. If you want a certain insurance rate, you must use fire retardant materials or you must retrofit your house with some fire proofing technology. The innovation of the free market is hard to imagine, but that is because our minds are limited by the government imposed system. I’m sure many people could not have thought up some of the technologies we use in everyday life just ten years ago, but those technologies have not been suppressed by government imposed systems.
Roads - Aaaahhh, roads, what socialists believe is a modern marvel, because it creates public works. Are roads really that hard to imagine without government? Did the government invent roads? Did they not exist prior to government stealing our money to pay for them? Roads may seem hard to privatize, because they are massive. The problem is government is so ineffective, it’s hard to imagine that the roads developed by government are even efficient. They sure are not cost effective. We all have seen the group of men standing around watching just one man work. I’m sure there are many political handouts involved in roads. I can just imagine land speculation is a big thing for well connected people. They probably buy up land knowing that their political friends are going to buy it back for their new road project. Anyway, why would roads not be built if government ceased to exist tomorrow? Would we all just sit in our houses mourning over the lost of our oppressive government? I doubt it, and if there is demand for a means of travel, then their will be solutions. Again, who is to say roads are the way to go? Maybe to avoid the expensive building of roads, private innovators would have developed new traveling technology? Maybe you would have your car from “Back to the Future”. Surely, if the money was not taken out of private hands for the $400 billion road bills, that money would have been better utilized to innovate. OK, OK, I know it’s hard to imagine anything beyond our current view. So, let’s just say roads are here to stay. Who is to say they wouldn’t be built? I would think developers, if they wanted paid to develop, would build roads. If you are developing a plan of homes, don’t people need to get to those homes? If you are building a shopping plaza, don’t you want people to get to the stores? If you want people to get to your plant, office building, etc don’t you need a way for them to get there? Businesses would pay for road development. It is as simple as that. They would make sure the roads they developed were low cost and efficient. That is how the private sector works. Road projects would be steered to those who are the best at building low cost, efficient roads, because it would be paid for right out of the pockets of a developer. His profitability is effected by it.
Ok, this post is getting a little long. I just wanted to throw some thoughts up on this topic, because it’s a favorite of the statist. I myself used to think these things were in the realm of government, but someone on Mises.org’s forums asked me do I think government is more efficient or less efficient than the private sector. With that one question, I had my answer. Government is always less efficient. It does not matter what statists try to pitch. It cannot be efficient, because it requires a gun to your head to impose its vision. Efficiency does not require a gun. Efficiency is chosen freely by citizens looking to get the most out of their labors.
Hopefully, this got you thinking. I’d love to hear some ideas on how others think these services can be delivered.