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Hornberger's Blog is a daily libertarian blog written by Jacob G. Hornberger, founder and president of FFF.
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Parking Lot Statism

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Parking lots at local commercial establishments provide a good example of the difference between statism and libertarianism. Such parking lots provide parking places near the entrance of the store for handicapped drivers. Why do they do that? Because statists have employed the coercive apparatus of the state to force them to do so. If parking lot owners fail to comply with the law, they face fines for their recalcitrance.

Libertarians, of course, oppose these types of laws, a position that statists just cannot comprehend. They inevitably conclude that because libertarians oppose such laws, they must hate handicapped people.

Unlike statists, libertarians believe in individual liberty and private property. The owner of a commercial establishment should be free to run his business any way he wants. It’s his business. It doesn’t belong to the government. It doesn’t belong to society. It doesn’t belong to the collective. It belongs to him.

In principle, a person’s business is no different from his home. The owner of a store should be as free to run his store as he is to run his home. They both belong to him. That’s what ownership is all about.

Let’s assume that the owner of the store also owns the parking lot around his store. He should be as free to operate his parking lot as he is to operate his driveway at home. If he wants to establish parking spaces for handicapped drivers, he should be free to do so. But if he doesn’t want to do so, that also is his right. The parking lot belongs to him. Ownership means control.

But consider this: In an unhampered market economy (i.e., unhampered by government regulation), the consumer inevitably is sovereign. Consumers are not forced to patronize any particular business. If they don’t like the goods or service of one business, they can immediately shift their spending to another business.

Therefore, for a business to succeed in the marketplace it must satisfy consumers. If it fails to do so, it inevitably goes out of business.

Thus, businesses might well find it within their self-interest to establish parking lots in which a few parking spaces are marked off for handicapped drivers. By doing so, they satisfy handicapped consumers as well other customers who like the store’s parking policy that caters to handicapped people.

But other stores might well decide not to devote parking places to handicapped drivers. They might be willing to take the chance that their customers won’t care whether they have such parking places or not.

But the point is this: Libertarians, unlike statists, don’t believe in forcing owners to have handicapped parking places. Instead, we let market forces nudge people in one direction or another. If consumers like the idea of handicapped parking places, they will let store owners know. The store owners can ignore the feedback at their peril. Most likely, they will respond positively to the suggestions, not simply because they think it’s the right thing to do but also to please consumers.

Statists see the matter in an entirely different way. They conclude that handicapped parking places are a good idea and decide that every commercial establishment should be forced to adopt them. They don’t want to wait for store owners to be nudged into implementing such a policy. They want action now, which means using the coercive apparatus of the state to force store owners to adopt the parking plan. And statists see nothing wrong with imposing and enforcing collection of fines on business owners who fail to comply with the handicapped parking law.

Force versus voluntarism. Coercion versus freedom. Statism versus libertarianism. It’s the intellectual, moral, and economic battle of our time. It’s being waged not only at the highest levels of the welfare state and warfare state, but also on the local level in commercial parking lots across America.

This post was written by:

Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.