The Instigator
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The Contender
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3 Points

Government is not necessary to build roads.

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 8/22/2014 Category: Politics
Updated: 2 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 861 times Debate No: 60790
Debate Rounds (4)
Comments (7)
Votes (1)




I often hear it said that it is necessary for the government to build roads, implying or even stating that the private sector cannot do it. My goal in this debate is to refute that notion. By roads I am not merely talking about a small private side road but major roads that can be used by anyone. The first round is for acceptance only all other rounds are debate but no new points should be introduced the last round. If my potential opponent is confused about any aspect of this debate I would ask them to ask me about it before they accept. With that being said let's get this started.


I accept.
Debate Round No. 1


I would first like to thank my opponent for accepting this debate.
I will start out by giving evidence by way of examples of where the private citizens were able to do what he government refused or was unable to.

A town in Hawaii built a road when the government refused [1]

While anecdotal evidence is probably the least solid form of evidence I feel it could be helpful to talk about my own experience. About a block from where I used to live, the city dug a hole in the middle of street right in front of a major interaction and just let it sit there for 6 months. If a private company that was not contracted by the city did that they would have been fired long before that time.

There are a number of examples of people fixing potholes on their street when the government refuses to act. Generally when this happens their neighbors are very appreciative of it. I have linked just one such example. [2]

While not dealing with the building of the road itself this does deal with a directly related issue. Some people in the city of Tacoma Washington painted crosswalk lines at their own expense when the city refused to do so, and the city then spend money to have them removed. [3]

As you can see from all these examples when private citizens are involved with the roads, they get it done a lot cheaper and in a more timely fashion than the government. This is because they have a more vested interest in having well maintained roads than the government does.

There are privately controlled toll roads that can be for public use if the toll is paid. There are even private highways.
In fact paying toll instead of taxes is more efficient since it cuts down on waste and only pays for what would be necessary from the amount of wear the road would receive. Looking back to the days of the Transcontinental railroad the government subsidies lead to corruption in the process of building the railroads.[4]
You might think tolls would mean you are paying more but you must put into account this would replace taxes that would otherwise go toward road maintenance.

I have shown how roads could be built and maintained without the government I now await my opponent's rebuttal.


I'd like to thank my opponent for the opportunity to debate this issue.

I'd like to start out by pointing out that none of my opponents examples actually demonstrate public roads being built without government. Even a private highway required the government to supply the land, and assistance in ensuring that the private entity doesn't abuse it's power.

Lets take an actual no government example. I'll call this place Paradise because for a period of time it had no government, and was the perfect opportunity for private entities to take up the slack existed. In 1991 Paradise overthrew its president, but the people who did so failed to form any government in its place[1].

So what happened to the construction of paved public roads in Paradise? Prior to the overthrow the government had been building roads, and had gradually increased the percentage of paved roads from 11.1%(1990) to 11.8%(1993), but then construction stops for the next decade[2]. All the projects the government had started were done, or abandoned, and private entities had done all they were willing to do.

The reason for this is fairly logical and straightforward.
P1) Entity A and B are private entities.
P2) A and B are in direct competition.
P3) A wants to build a road to improve its customers access, and increased business.
P4) Increased business will come from customers leaving B.

Blind faith capitalism would have me believe that the only valid conclusion is that B would then build a road, and life for everyone would improve, or B would fail as the inferior business model. This isn't what happened in Paradise. B could choose to stop A from building the road, or destroy the road after it was built. However A could do something even better. A could simply choose to increase his business by killing B, and ignore the advantages of stealing B's customers via a road. This is what happened in Paradise resulting in the neglect of all infrastructure[3].

In regards to my opponent's point to local governments failing to repair roads, there is an issue. It isn't that the private entities are better. It's more that repairing roads takes money, and the money for it is actually a fuel tax. The federal fuel tax hasn't been increased since 1993[4], and fuel efficiency has made it so that more driving can be done with less gas. Driving on the roads is what causes potholes, and the weight of the vehicle which is why diesel has a higher tax since it's used in heavier vehicles. It shouldn't be hard to see that if taxes had been increased with inflation, and with the increased fuel efficiency that keeping all the roads fixes wouldn't be as much of a problem. There's a political ideology of no government, and limited government that is responsible for this.

As for the people who slapped paint on the road, and forced the government to remove the paint. It is a safety issue. The regulations don't exist just to impose the power of government on the people. Paint on public roads must meet a minimum reflective standard, and anyone who's successfully passed drivers-ed training knows that at night that paint is still visible when you're blinded by head-on traffic in the opposing lane. Providing the illusion of safety does no one any good, and wastes both parties limited funds.

Unfortunately humans are corrupt. Regardless of what profession, or task we can find someone who is completely corrupt: CEO's, bankers, neighbors, friends, family, and even government workers. This is why government has a judicial system. Though not always fair, without it there is no enforcement other than what Paradise has: at the end of a gun.

Now, to be fair, railroads need to be straight. A train can't take a ninety degree turn without coming to a complete stop, and even then only with special equipment. Turns must be gradual for safety. Giving the railroads a 15 mile margin of error did give them a lot more money than they ever should have gotten. It was necessary to give them that leeway. If anything it's an argument that private corporations shouldn't have been involved. If anyone doubts that a strait line is hard to draw on the Earth between two distant points without satellite mapping you just need to look at the US-Canadian border[5].

Thank you.

Debate Round No. 2


I thank my opponent for his arguments and now I will present my rebuttals.

My opponent starts by bringing up a country called Paradise, if you look at his links you will see it is really Somalia (which I guessed it would be even before looking at the links, it tends to be the go to example for this argument). The problem is the conditions there are completely misrepresented, what is going on is due to the collapse of a totalitarian government in fact even in the side bar it says Somalia: failed state. That is what it comes down to it was the overbearing government that got them into the mess in the first place. Unfortunately, what is going on over there is more complicated than what my opponent implies and I do not want to get distracted on the Socio-Political circumstances as that would merit an entirely new debate.
In Somalia it"s not that they were incapable of building a road it is that there was to much infighting. Sure there government may have built roads but as they say the Fascists made the trains run on time.

My opponent describes a situation with two entities ha calls A and B.
In response to his claim, B could choose to stop A from building the road, or destroy the road after it was built.

My opponent then says "B could choose to stop A from building the road, or destroy the road after it was built". Again, this is exactly what happened during the building of the transcontinental railroad, except in that case both companies were receiving government money in a way that encouraged corruption. He then suggests A could kill B but there are several problems with this. Killing b would violate contract agreements as well as be an act of aggression against them that should be dealt with.

The contract itself is made between the parties without the government involved, the only time the government would get involved is if the contract is violated and that actually has nothing to do with the building of the roads themselves.

Tolls could replace a fuel tax so that you would pay for how much you drive directly to those who maintain the roads. Maybe they could even have different rates for different types of vehicles.

"Unfortunately humans are corrupt." Very true and what is government made up of but a bunch of humans who are in a position to be even more corrupt than normal. A judicial system is one of the few legitimate purposes for government but this is not directly related to building roads. SO this doesn"t prove my opponent"s point. The government need not be involved in the process of building the road.

He talks about the difficulty of drawing a straight line, this is true but it should be able to be straight enough not to derail the train even if done just by sight. Most roads and railroads have curves in them even at some very inexplicable places so I don"t see my opponent"s point. In any case it is moot since we do now have GPS and even before we did the common man and government were limited to the same technology.

My opponent says that in my point about painting a line that the government was interested in safety. How is any painted line less safe than none which is what they would have had otherwise?
People prefer having something get done rather than having government busybodies doing nothing of substance.
Historically many roads have been privately built and operated. The government wasn"t even able to keep up with it much of the time. The government does not have a vested interest in maintaining quality in roads, and in fact it may be politically advantageous to keep them in disrepair, this is not the case with private companies. Another problem is that tax money allocated to transportation can be diverted, this wouldn"t happen if the roads were paid for directly. Toll collecting in the end can be cheaper and easier to collect than taxes especially with new technology that can make such a transaction automatically. Roads could be managed the same way the market for food or any other commodity is in the market. [1]
Thanks again and I look forward to the next and final round.



Thank you to my opponent for their response.

It is not surprising that someone would use Paradise in an argument for, or against governmentless society. Even the anarcho-capitalists at the Mises Institute want to paint Paradise as a success consider it a stateless society for a period starting in 1991[6][7].

Perhaps my opponent is unaware of what failed state actually means. It is difficult to find a standard meaning, but you might consider what Princeton has to offer on it[8]. Simply put, Paradise is a failed state after 1991 because it failed to form a government. In other words stateless, or without government. It has since formed a government, but many parts are still ungoverned which is why it is still considered a failed state.

Utilizing an ad hominem by comparing the fascists myth that Mussolini made the trains run on times is false for being an ad hominem, and for being a myth[9]. The moral, or ethical alignment of a government is beyond the scope of this debate. If an immoral government can construct paved highways, and nonexistent government with only private entities cannot then the claim that government is not necessary for roads would still be false.

So I'll review my first argument in simple terms.
P1) Paradise, Somalia, is a failed state for over a decade starting in 1991.
P2) It is a failed state because it failed to form a government, also known as stateless.
P3) Paved road construction halted.
C) Government is needed at some level in order to construct paved roads.

I'm curious who my opponent thinks the contract would be with in my example of private entities A, and B. There is no government in the example, and they have no impetus to have a contract with each other since they are in direct competition.

If my opponent is unaware of why I brought up straight lines then he needs to review his own source about the corruption of the railways. The corruption of the railroads in the US has to do with the 15 mile radius that the government used its constitutional right of eminent domain to obtain. The railroads were then permitted to resell the land after construction. Perhaps my opponent needs to read their source about railroad corruption. A discussion about the minimum turn radius[10] of a train is beyond this debate. The justification that they needed a 15 mile radius still holds because they couldn't draw a straight line on the Earth at that period in history. My opponents source might be right that the situation with the railroads was less than ideal, but it is cherry picking its facts to make it sound more corrupt than it really was.

The claim that people in government are "more corrupt than normal" is unsupported. There exists ungoverned areas of the world that are rife with piracy[11]. He can prove that governments can be corrupt only because humans can be corrupt, but he has not provided any evidence that they are more corrupt.

My opponents question "How is any painted line less safe than none which is what they would have had otherwise?" was answered by me, and by my opponents source. To quote his own source: "city crosswalks must comply with federal guidelines related to sight distance, traffic volume and street width". In other words the crosswalk needs to be visible to traffic. Instilling the false sense of safety is worse than knowing that you're not safe to cross.

At a minimum government is needed for order, and for land ownership. Without the government to say who owns what you cannot build, and enforce any form of toll road. Without the governments power of eminent domain even private road operations claim that construction would be more costly[12]. Cheaper only happens when the Government is involved because it has the power to get the land where the private entity could be extorted for much more than fair market value. Not having the government's eminent domain rights even caused a developer to abandon their own private road project[13].

This doesn't even touch upon how toll roads would adversely affect the poor. If I was broke, and the road to the Hospital was a toll road what do I do? Do I run the toll, and risk private police pulling me over? Do I have to explain at each, and every toll booth that I need to get to the Hospital?

Private roads might have limited uses, but you will still need to have the government to establish public roads accessible to everyone at all times.

Thank you.

Debate Round No. 3


I will be responding to my opponent’s arguments and clarifying my own but will not make an entirely new argument that I won’t be able to respond to a rebuttal to.

My opponent proves my point with his links to Mises, I am not going to start a new argument this round but my opponent already did it for me. No one is saying they are great off but how they got into the predicament in the first place was an overreaching government that collapsed under its own weight. According to the data in the Mises article many things have improved like life expectancy and GDP since their government fell and have better access to cell phones. But this is a bit of topic since it is not focused on roads specifically but it does show how government does not need to be the one to provide these things.

My opponent took my comment about making the trains run on time seriously when it was actually meant rather sarcastically. I hardly see how it qualifies as an ad hominem. The point is whether or not it is accurate, it was the perception just like in “Paradise” the perception is that the government kept them together for better and that just because an oppressive government does something good does that justify it?

As for the contract they would not have a contract with each other but rather with their clients and the clients would get to choose which one they go with based on quality, price, etc. Like they would when purchasing anything else.

My opponent mentions eminent domain but in order to deal with that, a private company could agree to buy it from the current owners. The government need not be the one to decide who owns what, the person buys the land from someone and gets the deed proving they own it just like any other piece of property. A company could buy up a strip of land from the current owners in order to build the road or train track. Government does not cause it to be cheaper competition does, if it is too much the consumer will go to another company offering to do it for less.

How do you deal with someone who is too poor to pay the toll? There are few ways this could be dealt with, there could be a charity set up that provides them with something like a toll voucher that allows for necessary travel. Maybe if they cannot pay the toll, the company that owns the road could have them work for it. Those are just a few options, in that situation there would likely be many more available.

My opponent’s final source is a curious one since it doesn’t really work in favor of his case (a Cato article no less), in fact I considered using the same source myself last round but thought the title might give the wrong impression as it seems to have with my opponent.. While he may think by simply reading the headline that it is arguing that sprawl is a good thing take a closer look at the article itself. Take this excerpt for example: “Taxpayers, however, shouldn’t have to pick up the tab for other people’s preferences for suburban living, yet that has been the effect of the federal interstate highway program since the mid-1950s. The construction of free beltways and expressways has subsidized suburban development. The “correct” or efficient amount of suburban development is the amount that consumers are willing to pay for so long as they bear the incremental costs of land acquisition and expressway construction.” Topped off with this quote “In short, private roads offer far more potential for managed growth than do highways owned by public agencies.” It goes on to explain why taking government out of the highway business would be beneficial. That doesn’t sound like a shining endorsement of government involvement in roads.

In conclusion what my opponent has brought up as reason the government needs to be involved in roads can all be handled by the private sector there is no magic power that gives government the ability to do something others can’t.

I thank my opponent for participating. (Handshake)

In retrospect I probably should have added another round to this debate. Vote Pro.



I'd like to offer thanks to my opponent for bringing up this debate, and bring this debate to a close.

This debate is about whether, or not our Public Road System could be done by a private entity instead of the government. It's an easy claim to state, but a difficult one to prove.

My opponent has claimed that private companies would do the repair work better. It is an interesting point, but it is irrelevant to the debate. If the private sector could build the interstate highway system of the United States then my opponent would have a point even if they were worse at maintenance. The Mid-State Tollway could not be completed by the private company building it because it lacked the government power of Eminent Domain. Without that power landowners can refuse to sell at any price, or make it so that it will never be profitable in a reasonable period of time. The Government isn't concerned with profit, and, in the US, can force a sale at fair market value per the 5th amendment.

"nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation."

Clearly I don't care if someone believes Somalia is a success, or failure of anarchy. This debate is about roads, and not the quality of life of Somalis. Now my opponent has flip flopped in regard to Somalia. First he claimed it shouldn't be counted because it was controlled by an evil government. Now because I cited the lords of anarcho capitalism he's willing to see it as a success. However, that does not change the fact that the decade of stateless rule resulted in a cessation of paved road development. Somalia has since reestablished its government. It is still fairly weak, but even a weak government has taken action to bring what little it has under control up to more modern road standards[14].

My opponents entire argument about private entities doing the work better is based on a naive notion of capitalism. Capitalism works because a private entity has to compete with others. This forces them to create a better product, and for a cheaper price. However, this does not apply to roads because they are a natural monopoly. If I built a road that was the shortest distance between two points there would be no alternate route that could be built to be cheaper, or faster. It's not a problem with Government, but rather a simple fact of geometry.

If I owned the road leading to the hospital, and wanted to charge a 100 dollar toll nothing, except government, could legally stop me. I could easily neglect the road until it was just a bit better than going a much longer scenic route because there would be no competition that could make their road shorter. I wouldn't have to accept vouchers, and I might only accept gold one ounce coins. Unless a government mandated me to do otherwise.

If they could be done, Private roads, on a large scale, present an obstruction to one of our basic rights. The Freedom of Movement may not be explicitly granted in the US Constitution, but it was apart of the articles of confederacy, and has been recognized by the US Supreme Court as far back as 1823 as an interpretation of Article IV Privileges and Immunities Clause[15]. If all roads are private it would give those private entities the power to restrict movement. Ether by only accepting special currency like gold, or by simply refusing to let someone pass. There is no harm if it's a private road to a resort, but it becomes an issue when it's the roads between cities, states, hospitals, and homes. In other words, our Interstate Highway System is a vital part of our freedoms, and critical that it stay in the hands of the public, and not private entities.

I'd like to thank the voters, and my opponent for their time. I rest my case.

[15] Corfield v. Coryell (6 Fed. Cas. 546, no. 3,230 C.C.E.D.Pa. 1823)
Debate Round No. 4
7 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 7 records.
Posted by BennyW 2 years ago
I have changed it to be more specific in the wording.
Posted by BennyW 2 years ago
Medv4380 good advise I will change it and no I was not trying to exploit semantics.
Posted by medv4380 2 years ago
Your debate is worded in such a way that it will become a systematic debate in your favor. You're leaving road so vaguely defined that if someone goes at with with the real argument you can just default to "anyone can just build a road". In reality the argument that Governments are needed to build roads comes down to public roads. If you changed it to public roads instead of roads then it would be accepted. As it stands only someone interested in debating semantics to twist roads to public roads. Otherwise your asking for a debate on the merits of public vs private roads which your debate isn't worded properly for ether.

Only an idiot would accept it as you've put it since a government isn't really needed for a private road. That is clearly the loophole in the logic that you're wanting to exploit, and everyone can see it.

Otherwise I would have accepted this at 4 today when I first read it.
Posted by BennyW 2 years ago
I wonder why no one has accepted this debate I would think they would want to jump on it, as often as I hear the claim made.
Posted by ZakYoungTheLibertarian 2 years ago
gooo benny
Posted by Vajrasattva-LeRoy 2 years ago
Has any politician EVER actually built a road, or done any real work ?
"Governments" , "laws" , "authorities" , etc. , don't exist.
Free people, Free societies, Free countries, like this one, don't have such things.
Posted by superbowl9 2 years ago
Libertarian much?
1 votes has been placed for this debate.
Vote Placed by bladerunner060 2 years ago
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Total points awarded:03 
Reasons for voting decision: Con squeaks out a narrow win, here, on the basis of a tweak of the resolution--I mean, clearly a road CAN be made without Government; the resolution seems more properly interpreted as Con did, that is, whether a system of roads accessible to all is plausible without government. And Con showed it wasn't plausible. Pro's best response was 'Well, it would just work'--I'm paraphrasing, of course, his 'there might be charities or they could work for the road company' argument. It wasn't particularly compelling, and was the main reason I think he lost this debate. I'd be interested in him refining his arguments and trying again, though--and I'd suggest some refining of the resolution, as well. As always, happy to clarify this RFD.