How would X work without the state?

In discussions about libertarianism, people will frequently ask how a particular good or service that is currently monopolized by the state. These questions are important, and a free society will have to find answers to them. But in the course of argumentation, such questions tend to be a trap. The intent behind such a question is frequently to derail the conversation by going deep into the weeds on a particular topic, where the libertarian can be lost in endless proposals and criticisms. Before attempting to answer how X would be supplied or work without the state (where X can be any good or service currently monopolized by the state), one should point out a few things.

The first thing to note is that no statist of any kind has legitimacy to ask such a question. A statist supports the operation of a state of some kind. The state is a group of people who exercise a monopoly on initiatory force within a certain geographical area. When the state monopolizes any good or service, its agents exercise their monopoly on initiatory force to stop competing good or service providers from operating. While a few basic aspects of good or service provision may be deduced a priori, competing providers must operate in order to provide the empirical evidence necessary to know the details of how X would work without the state. Thus, a statist who asks how X would work without the state is supporting efforts to destroy an experiment while asking for the results of said experiment. This is a contradiction, and contradictions equal falsehood. Therefore, only an anarchist may legitimately ask how X would work without the state.

The next matter of importance is the moral aspect of the question. Let us begin with argumentation ethics. When people agree to engage in rational argumentation, they implicitly accept certain behavioral norms. Among these are that truth is universally preferable to falsehood, that reason is universally preferable to initiatory force, and that one will make an effort to persuade others of one’s philosophical position. (This does not mean that all people at all times will believe this and behave accordingly; only that they should.) These norms must be accepted because if truth is not universally preferable to falsehood, then the argumentation may be dishonest and irrational, tending toward deception and fraud; if reason is not universally preferable to initiatory force, then engaging in argumentation rather than resorting to force is a performative contradiction; and if one is not going to make an effort to persuade others of one’s philosophical position, then the argumentation lacks meaning and purpose. The non-aggression principle, which condemns all initiatory force, is therefore impossible to argue against. As the state is based upon initiatory force, it is inherently immoral. As such, the question of how X would work without the state is morally irrelevant. One might as well ask, “If we free the slaves, who will pick the cotton?”

Finally, one should point out that X frequently works poorly with the state monopolizing it. The roads frequently have potholes. The schools frequently indoctrinate children with a pro-state, anti-liberty worldview while failing to teach them useful information. The restaurants are frequently inspected at times when the owners have been given advance warning to eliminate any improprieties. Medicines are frequently held up by government regulations and kept from people who could be saved from death by them. The police are frequently more hazardous to people who are respecting people and property than the criminals they are supposed to help defend against. The military frequently murders innocent people overseas, thereby helping to motivate new enemies faster than current enemies can be killed. The electrical grid is one computer hacking or solar storm away from returning all of us to the 19th century. Suffice it to say that in most cases, the bar above which a free society must operate is set quite low.

None of this is to say that the question of how X would work without the state is unimportant, or that one should not make an effort to answer it. But to do so blindly without contemplation of the motivation of the questioner, the moral irrelevancy of utility, or the horrible jobs that state monopolies tend to do is a mistake.

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