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Libertarianism Doesn’t Pretend to Solve Socialist Woes

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Last week, the New York Times reported:

The level of the most important heat-trapping gas in the atmosphere, carbon dioxide, has passed a long-feared milestone, scientists reported Friday, reaching a concentration not seen on the earth for millions of years…. The best available evidence suggest the amount of gas in the air has not been this high for at least three million years, before humans evolved, and scientists believe the rise portends large changes in the climate and the level of the sea.

According to the article, part of the problem stems from the large number of automobiles on the road.

Yet what do statists still claim as one of their most prized socialist projects?

The Interstate Highway System! Yes, that gigantic socialist project in which the federal government constructed an extensive series of highways all across America and, in the process, totally distorted what would have been a naturally evolving transportation system.

Imagine that: statists, with their devotion to socialism, have turned out to be a major cause of the carbon dioxide concentration that scientists now claim is going to bring big climate changes and sea levels. How’s that for irony?

I have written in the past about the socialist boondoggle known as the Interstate Highway System:

The Liberal Blind Spot by Jacob G. Hornberger (March 2013)

Highway to Collapse: Spending on Infrastructure by Jacob G. Hornberger (April 1993)

As I pointed out in those two articles, this massive socialist project distorted transportation by encouraging people to buy automobiles. In fact, in some areas the project was supposed to relieve traffic congestion. But because so many more people bought automobiles after the project was completed, the traffic congestion just got worse.

Moreover, it also destroyed long-established neighborhoods with eminent domain. It also bankrupted businesses that had come to rely on traffic on regular state highways.

And now we learn that it also has contributed to the climate problems.

A question that libertarians are often asked is, “What would libertarians do about traffic congestion?” The answer assumes that libertarianism has some sort of solution to socialism. But it doesn’t. Libertarianism provides the principles for a free society. It does not pretend to solve problems that socialism creates.

Consider the Interstate Highway System. After more than 50 years, it is drastically in need of major repairs. Yet, the money to make such repairs isn’t available. The federal government certainly doesn’t have the money—it’s already spending a trillion dollars more than what it’s bringing with taxes. And the state governments don’t have the money either.

So, how would libertarians handle the Interstate Highway woes? We never would have built it.

A statist might respond: “But it was built. What is the libertarian solution for it?” Again, libertarianism doesn’t provide a solution to socialist woes. We could say—and probably would say—privatize it. But still, that presents a host of problems. The real problem is that this socialist project was built in the first place.

Another example of how people get frustrated with libertarians for not solving socialist problems is with respect to public schooling, which, again, is a giant socialist program. Everyone knows what a mess public schooling is. After all, not even the president of the United States sends his children into public schooling.

So, the statists will say, “How would libertarians solve the public schooling mess?”

Our answer: “We don’t. Libertarianism doesn’t pretend to solve the woes that come with socialism.”

Thus, libertarians don’t spend their time coming up with ways to, say, teach free enterprise in the public schools or to inculcate students with libertarian principles. We simply say: Separate school and state. Get the government entirely out of education.

That obviously frustrates statists. They want their socialist programs and they want libertarians to get on board and help socialist programs to work. That’s not what libertarianism is all about. Libertarianism is about the principles of a free society.

Not surprisingly, there inevitably will be problems in transitioning from a statist society that has built massive socialist programs (i.e., the Interstate Highway System and public schooling) to a free society. But it’s important to keep in mind that those problems arise because the society originally embraced socialism, not because it is now transitioning to libertarianism.

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.