“What about the roads?” they ask. What, indeed? The statists ask it rhetorically, but it’s worth asking properly.

The assumption behind it, when asked, is that since the state does finance and facilitate the road system, that there is no other way one could do it. It exists, therefore it must be.

But let’s apply some thought: why exactly do most states control the roads whereas most states do not raise grain or build automobiles? What is it about roads that makes it so common for states to ‘provide’ them?

The statists may assume that roads are a definite ‘public good’ in the sense that they are used by a a large collective of people. They make up a common link across the entire land, bringing the nation together and facilitating the entire economy. It is a big positive externality to pretty much every individual. We would not do without the roads, therefore, everyone in the country must contribute to pay for it.

Packed along with this assumption is the assumption that the only way roads could ever be provided is by the state.

Let’s unpack:

First of all, there is nothing inherent in services that need to be provided a large collective that individuals need to be forced to pay for it. Services such as internet, plumbing and electricity can be and have been charged on an individual basis only to those that use them. So that’s out.

And there is nothing to say that only the state can provide these services. Private internet, plumbing and electricity companies exist. So that’s out too – the argument is done and dusted.

The “what about the roads?” question is embarrassingly poor in a defence of the state – it’s a mystery why it’s the go-to retort to anarchists.

The real reason why the state does the roads is nothing to do with collective service provision; it’s about revenue and control.

Roads are a creation of traders. Merchants relied on a functioning road system to transport their stock. The sight of a road was the prospect of great wealth passing by – hence the rise of highwaymen.

The state controls the roads for the same reason that highwaymen parasited off them: more goods to expropriate!

In modern times, control over the roads has been convenient in enforcing the drug war as well as controlling immigration. If the roads were privately owned, the state would find it much more difficult to pull over drivers they suspect hold illicit substances and stop undesirables from entering the country.

The statists will reply that controlling immigration and the use of drugs is a good thing. In that case, they should stop implying that roads cannot be provided by private companies, because they clearly can, and start admitting that they just like the idea of the state aggressing against people.