Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Freedom is the Answer

When presented with the idea that government should be limited to the police, the courts, and the military, it is not uncommon for an individual to question how certain services would be provided. For example, if water and sanitation were provided by private businesses, wouldn't there be an enormous duplication of pipes and infrastructure? When specific answers are not provided, many immediately reject the idea of privatizing such services.

These are certainly valid questions, and they do deserve an answer. However, the answer that I will provide is much different than might be expected or desired by such questioners.

Underlying such questions is the premise that the way these services are currently provided is the only way to provide them. For example, such questions assume that water must be delivered from a large treatment facility. Such assumptions are, in principle, false.

When individuals are free to act according to their own judgment, they often find innovative ways to provide the values that human life requires. Freed from arbitrary government restrictions, they can challenge the status quo. They can develop and implement ideas that others initially reject. We can observe this in every field, from communications to transportation, from medicine to agriculture, from athletics to literature. Freedom provides the social context in which men can think and act rationally to create the values required to sustain and enjoy our lives. And it allows individuals to benefit--to profit--when we do so successfully.

Consider mail delivery as an example. It has long been held that government must hold a monopoly on mail delivery to insure affordable service to all Americans. Private companies, it is argued, would only serve the most lucrative markets, leaving many without the mail. History however, demonstrates otherwise.

Prior to the Civil War, private mail companies flourished throughout the country. They provided more dependable and less expensive service than the Postal Service. The owners of these companies, acting on their own judgment, found innovative ways to provide the services desired by consumers. And consumers, acting on their own judgment, patronized these businesses to such an extent that the future of the Postal Service was in jeopardy. It literally took an act of Congress--prohibitions on such services--to "save" the Postal Service.

I could not begin to tell you how to efficiently operate a mail delivery service. But those who would enter such a business could. I could not begin to imagine how water service might be delivered by private companies. But those who would enter such a business could. It is not incumbent on me or any advocate of laissez-faire to know how every service would be delivered. That is a challenge for those who enter a particular field. And it is time that we let them meet that challenge by removing the arbitrary government restrictions that prohibit them from doing so.

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