When discussing anarchism with statists you must expect to have a wall of tired arguments hurled at you. The most common criticisms of anarchism come in the form of questions such as “Who will build the roads?” and “Who will haul the trash?” These criticisms rely on the idea that people are unwilling to perform actions in self-interest if those actions may benefit more than just themselves. Fortunately such criticisms are easily addressed by looking at the actions of individuals who have found alternatives to the state for basic infrastructure maintenance and trash disposal:
When the lamps illuminating Ralph Kelly’s street were switched off, he and his neighbours together paid the city about $100 to “adopt” a streetlight and reignite a shared bulb. There was also an “adopt a trash can” program, where the city supplied the bin but residents hauled the garbage to privately run participating dumpsters.
So when the government shut off the landmark fountain in America the Beautiful Park three years ago, non-profits and residents banded together to raise $25,000 to keep it flowing. When the city considered closing the innercity’s Westside Community Center, the Woodland Valley Chapel offered to manage it with only limited municipal support. That partnership, and others like it, continues to this day.
When the police force was slashed and Chief Pete Carey “needed to get innovative,” as he put it in an interview, volunteers became community service officers. They cost 60% less than police officers and can respond to non-injury traffic accidents or even burglaries so long as the thief has left the scene.
“What happens is that neighbourhoods with money started providing these services, while poorer neighbourhoods didn’t,” said Bob Loevy, a retired Colorado College politics professor who paid $80 to turn on his streetlight.
And when the city slashed park services, people noticed.
“I live near a park,” one Grade 8 student told the mayor during the recent townhall meeting. “The bathrooms there are ruined. There are no stalls or doors or anything. So when I go to the park in the summer and I want to go to the bathroom, there are no doors. It’s really awkward. Is there any chance you could maybe clean up the bathrooms in the parks? Make them a little nicer and maybe even supply some toilet paper?”
Statists will point to the streetlights in poorer neighborhoods not being lit and park restrooms not being clean or stocked with toilet paper as support for their claim that the state is necessary. Such a claim entirely ignores the fact that streetlights in poorer neighborhoods and well-maintained restrooms in parks are not actually desired. Consumers have to make numerous economic decisions every day. They have access to a scarce amount of means that can be employed to achieve their ends. As they don’t have enough means to achieve all of their desired ends they must prioritize. Consumers will essentially make a list of their wants and order them from most wanted to least wanted. There are many things I want including a Glock 21 Gen4, a Surly fat bike, and a functioning laptop. Since I don’t have enough means to achieve all of my desired ends, at least not all at once, I have prioritized my wants. The first ends I want to fulfill is getting a new laptop because I use my laptop to perform work. Second on my list is a Glock 21 Gen4 because it’s more attainable (i.e. cheaper) than the bike. Streetlights and park restrooms are ends and people must decide whether or not those ends are of sufficient value to delay or forego other ends.
Obviously people in Colorado Springs’s poorer neighborhoods haven’t given streetlights a high priority nor has anybody living in the town given a high priority to park restrooms. This demonstrates how the state distorts markets. Under the state’s rule streetlights were lit on every street and park restrooms were clean and had toilet paper stocked even though there wasn’t sufficient demand from the affect communities for either. On the other hand the people had enough desire for hauling away trash and security to implement systems to provide both.
When statists ask “Who will light the streetlights in poor neighborhoods?” or “Who will clean park restrooms and stock them with toilet paper?” the answer is nobody because there isn’t enough demand from the affected communities. On the other hand when statists ask “Who will haul away the trash?” or “Who will protect the community?” (I would like to know who protects communities now, but I digress) the answer is those who desire the services. Individuals will cooperate to achieve their desired ends. Few people enjoy living in squalor and will invest means to achieve the ends of a clean living space. Sometimes this involves hauling the trash to a dump yourself, sometimes it involves you hauling your neighbor’s trash away to avoid it affecting you, and sometimes it involves individuals volunteering to haul away trash for the entire community. Regardless of the means chosen the ends will be accomplished without coercive force.