Tuesday, September 06, 2011

No hypocrisy in using public utilities

No hypocrisy in using public utilities

(My Clovis News Journal column for August 4, 2011. As originally written, not as published!)

I've noticed non-libertarians will frequently make the claim that liberty-lovers are hypocritical if they use things that are paid for with taxation. What an odd notion.

As long as The State exists, and continues to fund things through coercive taxation, you and I will be paying for a lot of things we didn't have any choice about funding. We are forced to pay for public schools, libraries, museums, and "public" roads whether we use them or not. In some instances, such as roads, it is impossible to avoid them, so there is no hypocrisy in using what you pay for. If you are paying for something you may as well use it- if you want to. How could anyone have an objection to people using what they are paying for?

This is not the same situation as welfare, which involves people using things not they, but others, were forced to pay for.

With government programs you are forced to pay even when you are allowed to use a private alternative. In this case you end up paying twice- once for the government service you are opting out of, and once for the private alternative you are choosing. Yet, people still make the choice to pay twice, on a daily basis, in order to get what they really want and need.

There is nothing carved in stone saying that using public schools, for example, is against any purported Libertarian Commandment. I do not think public schools are the best choice for educating your children, and in many (or most) cases I think they are actually harmful. However, as long as you are being forced, ultimately at gunpoint, to pay for these schools, you may use them with a clear conscience. If you feel any guilt, it is between you and your children for handing them over to The State for the majority of their formative years.

The same goes for any other service provided by The State. Everyone should have the choice of what to fund and what to use. No one should have to fund the things I choose to use unless they want to.

The hypocrisy is in pretending that it is OK to have a government monopoly, or to force people to pay for something twice if they wish to use an available private option. Opting out of the government "option", including not paying for it if you choose to not use it, must always be allowed.


1 comment:

  1. Also important is something I like to illustrate with dogs and a steak.

    Imagine you have a hungry dog and a raw steak. You sternly tell the dog, "Don't eat this steak!" then you drop the steak and walk away. So, when you come back and don't have a steak, who's fault is it? Certainly, it would be better if saying not to eat it would result in not eating it, but it's not reasonable to assume it will.

    If the government wanted me to not use the roads, then they're going to have to put security on them. It's not reasonable to suppose that it won't be used freely by anyone unless they do.

    If I leave a wad of loose cash on a boulder with a sign, "Please don't steal!" it may not be good that it won't be there when I get back, but it won't be anyone's fault but my own.

    Essentially, if you don't secure your property against obvious threats, you're saying you don't care enough to keep it.

    Similarly, as an anarchist, I don't consider myself a citizen. So when did the government bar non-citizens from using the roads?

    And regardless, formally speaking, 'the people' aka me, own them.

    The problem with this argument is that it isn't compressible to a sound-bite, and thus it tends to be useless against statists, in practice. It would require them to put effort into understanding their opponents. I'm more likely to convince them by dint of starring in a movie or doing a triple lutz.

    On the other hand, it's not clear to me that using welfare materially harms anyone. (Well...it would harm me, I'd feel icky.) If I could stop the welfare program by abstaining, I would, but as long as I can't, it hardly matters. Government accounting is such that if one person goes off welfare, most likely the cash will just find some other corrupt tarpit to go rot in.