The Government Takes a Vacation
In the town of Lebanon, Maine, where about five thousand people live, they don’t need a government this summer. After the population voted down all town budgets, the Town Office is closed until at least the next vote – August 14th – and most services are privately contracted in the meantime. And most people are content with the situation. Not only that, but they did it before, a decade ago.
That means no more police station, car registrations, marriage licenses, health code violations, tax collectors, animal control officers or rescue teams in Lebanon, for the entire summer. This state of affairs may seem catastrophic, but citizens use a private ambulance and get car registration services from a nearby town. Furthermore, they have lived for a decade so far without a police station, paying for protection to the county sheriff instead, and it’s going just fine.
It is only one example of what libertarians have been saying forever : that the government not only does not work, but provides sevices that can be given more efficiently by free people. Private systems all over the world prove the efficiency of private systems as opposed to politically-motivated governmental systems :
* Allowing multiple competing electric networks drives down utility prices and increases consumer satisfaction without noticable additional environmental impact (Lubbock, Texas).
* Allowing multiple competing cable companies can drastically reduce consumer costs, increase channel availability and increase consumer satisfaction (dozens of cities).
* Big cities can exist and thrive without any zoning laws at all, using free-market mechanisms to anticipate and resolve disputes – in such a situation, housing costs are reduced, homelessness is reduced (Houston, Texas).
* Fire service can be provided through voluntary means, either with a nonprofit volunteer department or a for-profit subscription service (hundreds of cities).
* Private libraries are cheap and can provide high-quality service even to people who can’t afford to pay for it (in dozens of cities).
* Security services can be provided either via contract or volunteer patrols (hundreds of cities).
* Private services can deliver stuff faster and cheaper to more places with higher reliability than public services can (UPS, New Zealand).
In relation to what happened in Lebanon, Robert O’Neill, president of the National Academy of Public Administration, is reported to have said that “[t]here are things you cannot do for yourself and can only be done in a collective way”, in reference to schools and the sewer system. However, some of my articles have shown evidence that private schools outperform public schools by a significant margin and cost only half in terms of tuitions (in “Regulated Education”), and that private health care may be substantially less expensive (see the Daily Telegraph article “NHS is left trailing by the Americans”). Finally, there is also evidence that private charity is at least five times more efficient in the private sector. Statist systems are soundly defeated whenever they are put to the test alongside the private sector.
The question of public services is deeper than simply asking what the government should do and not do. It also incorporates a general philosophy about the greater issue of problem resolution : what to do when the system breaks down. In cases where the government doesn’t have enough money, in the case of social problems, or in cases of disasters and wars, most people would be inclined to tip the scales towards more government instead of less. This is part of what leads to the erosion of freedom. However, the people of Lebanon have chosen the opposite option, and it is a paradigm shift that we should all study carefully.
The experience of Lebanon does not prove that anarcho-capitalism is an efficient system. Indeed, while it is possible for an anarcho-capitalist system to exist without problems in a relatively free country, an entire anarcho-capitalist system would experience the same phenomenon of law-subjectivism than any anarchist system experiences. However, it does show that the government is not necessary for most aspects of daily life, and in many ways imposes a burden on us which we should refuse to grant them.
It is only one example of what libertarians have been saying forever : that the government not only does not work, but provides sevices that can be given more efficiently by free people.