Road Socialism Leads to Broadband Socialism

In a previous post I pointed out the slippery slope in accepting government-backed licensing of “crucial” professions. The problem with slippery slope arguments is that they tend not to be rhetorically-compelling to those without a sufficiently cynical, I should say realistic, conception of the state. They are simply not convinced that allowing certain “reasonable” policies now will set a precedent that will lead to unreasonable policies down the road. Our worries are discounted as merely hypothetical possibilities. They are quite content to put off discussion of crossing that bridge when we come to it…if we come to it, as they see things. And, in any case, something needs to be done about the current problem now, dammit! The trouble is, by the time we reach that bridge of unreasonableness (wherever it happens to be for our interlocutor), we have already gathered so much momentum from sliding down the slope that it is difficult, if not impossible, to halt, much less reverse, the slide. Along the way, with each new government intervention, people grow increasingly used to turning to government solutions for every little problem — they lose the ability to even imagine the possibility of private, market solutions — and what was once thought unreasonable no longer seems so.

We libertarians have more than merely consequentialist, slippery slope arguments against government policies, of course, but I still think it is useful to point out dangerous precedents, particularly when our worries are not just theoretical as we are already well on our way down the slide. The acceptance of professional licensing of “crucial” professions has over time been expanded into ever more areas, even to the licensing of florists in my home state of Louisiana and now to calls for the licensing of parents.

Others have pointed out that despite seeming like natural allies, the divide between anarchists and minarchists is actually greater than the divide between minarchists and (other) statists. Minarchists give away the game at the outset when they accept that a government monopoly in X or Y service (say law and security provision) is necessary. This is especially true of small government types who can’t imagine how the free market can provide, for example, roads or postal service. It is fairly trivial for left-liberals to extend the reasoning behind the need for government to provide such services to the need for government to support their own pet projects.

With that in mind, consider a recently published paper I just came across written by a left-liberal philosopher, Eric Thomas Weber, who is an acquaintance of mine. He cleverly co-opts an institution beloved by conservatives, arguing that the Founding Fathers’ arguments in favor of government postal roads and services can be extended to expanding broadband services through a government initiative. What principled argument can Republicans, and even minarchists, offer against this? Indeed, on his Facebook page, he relates that after giving a presentation of this paper a fellow from AEI told him he had been convinced. Another case in point, the first person to comment on his Facebook Wall post claims to be libertarian-minded (!) and yet convinced by Weber’s historical-constitutional argument that broadband would meet his personal criteria for acceptable government involvement.


Cross-posted at Is-Ought GAP.