According to the libertarian ideology everything should be private, including the street that passes in front of your house. Most houses I know have access to only one street, thus most people would be stuck to the mercy of one road monopoly in front of their homes in order to get out and go around. This street owner could even abuse of their power and ask an exorbitant charge to use their road system or the person could become fenced in. This would be even worse if you have no neighbors to ask to jump the fence or if you have and they refuse. How would this issue be addressed under the libertarian ideology?

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    Related: Without government, who would build the roads?
    – Philipp
    Dec 2, 2017 at 23:48
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    While I can't provide an answer, I will just mention that the government has occasionally denied me (and all my neighbors) access to the road that passes by my house, sometimes for what seems to me quite trivial reasons.
    – jamesqf
    Dec 4, 2017 at 19:09
  • @jamesqf Did you get trapped or fenced in or did you have another alternative access? Dec 4, 2017 at 19:11
  • @Gabriel Diego: In the most memorable incident, it was a case of being kept out by cop cars blocking the highway. At the time, the only alternative access would have been ~50 miles on pavement, or ~10 miles that would require high-clearance 4WD. But surely you've seen plenty of instances of people blocked out of places by barriers of yellow crime scene tape?
    – jamesqf
    Dec 4, 2017 at 19:48

5 Answers 5


Essentially, you wouldn't agree to live in a house where this was a possibility. Instead, you'd insist either:

  1. That the road is owned by a home-owner's association or similar that you would be a part of.
  2. The there is a signed agreement guaranteeing you access to your house at reasonable prices.

Developers, wanting to sell their houses at the highest possible price, would ensure that one of these possibilities is in place.

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    If the road owner had signed a contract, they can't change their mind. That's how contracts work. Dec 3, 2017 at 1:47
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    There's a third option, which is that the homeowners association or equivalent owns the small capillary roads which are directly connected to houses and they lead to multiple artery roads owned by multiple different road companies, so all companies have to compete. There are likely more options as well. Dec 3, 2017 at 3:29
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    @GabrielDiego, but "absurd" pricing is exactly the right thing to do in that situation. If we can't increase housing and people can't move elsewhere, the only solution is to give every person less housing. In the market, this is accomplished by making the housing really expensive so that everyone will be forced to economize and use the smallest house they can, or share with other people etc. Dec 3, 2017 at 22:55
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    @GabrielDiego, what makes these terms predatory or unfair? Yes, it would expensive to get good terms. But that is an unavoidable consequence of the extreme limitation on land in this scenario. Dec 3, 2017 at 23:19
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    @GabrielDiego, if you've actually deceived someone into signing a contract, that's fraud and considered by most libertarians to be a form of theft. Its one of the few places that a minarchist libertarian would involve the government. Dec 3, 2017 at 23:47

Libertarians believe that the government is a necessary evil that does perform some limited functions. Often times, building and maintaining roads is an accepted function of government that Libertarians will acknowledge (as well as the safety of the drivers who use the roads). Thus it would be paid for by taxes, which Libertarians aren't necessarily opposed to paying, they are opposed to paying for things that the government should not be involved in. Ideally, this would best be done by the government collecting the funds to build/fix the road, paying a contractor to fix it.

From there, how involved government is in the actual work largely depends on how much you believe it should be... they can coordinate with the contractor to direct traffic around the road work in the interest of public safety OR they could provide the workers who's job it is to hold the "Slow/Stop" sign. If the contractor is feeling real nice, they can even make up their own rules as to how often they have to turn the sign back and forth (After all, it's important to remind people how annoying government can be when they think they are given power).

All joking aside, Libertarianism is not total private ownership of all things, but limited government interference into individual's choices. Government does have some function in the Libertarian system, but it is only to protect the rights of the individual from infringement.

  • Life, liberty, and property, absolutely.
    – MDMoore313
    Dec 4, 2017 at 17:21
  • Your answer does complement the answer by Winston a lot. I which I could choose both as answers. Dec 4, 2017 at 17:31
  • It looks like that there are two lines of thought on Libertarianism. One that preaches that even the streets should be private and other that street keeping still is a government matter. I guess that both already coexist as of today with public streets and HOAs. Dec 4, 2017 at 17:34
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    @GabrielDiego: Well, he did answer first. I think once you buy onto the concepts of Libertarianism, the biggest flaw of it is it can't agree where the Government ends and the private ownership begins... but they all agree that that fence should look like the T-Rex Paddock from Jurassic Park. With multiple redundant layers of generators.
    – hszmv
    Dec 4, 2017 at 17:38

This question is a variation of But without government who will build the roads?

First, there is no consensus among libertarians on the role and scope of government. Many believe some form of minimal government is necessary. Many others believe government can be eliminated entirely and replaced with private sector solutions. Few believe infrastructure is a necessary role of government. Private sector alternatives to government vary.

Let's assume the scenario posed in the question. All property is private property. In other words, there are no "public roads" because either government doesn't exist or whatever government does exist doesn't collectively own any property. Under this scenario how would individuals live? What would travel look like?

Private property doesn't necessarily mean private access

There are plenty of examples of privately owned property that is open to the public. The vast majority of businesses have a publicly accessible building in which they conduct business. While somewhat rare, there are also businesses that own the roads connecting their properties with public roads. Most absorb the cost of maintaining the property into the price of the products and services they offer. There is no reason to think this would change under a system in which everything is private.

There are also plenty of pay-for-access roads as well. The primary example is a toll road but let's not dismiss the idea of subscription based access either.

And of course, there are various forms of neighborhood associations that collectively own roads, club houses, parks and playgrounds. These tend to pass the cost of maintenance onto members in the form of membership dues.

Ownership isn't the only form of property right

Tenants have a contractual right to the property they occupy in exchange for some form of payment to the property owner. Land owners routinely negotiate easements among themselves to allow access to property that would otherwise be landlocked. Waterways throughout most of the world are governed by riparian rights. None of these strictly requires a government to accomplish. Anthropologists believe property rights developed some time around the development of agriculture, about six or seven thousand years before the development of what we could recognize as a government.

Property rights must be enforceable or they don't exist

Let's say a property owner intends to make money by buying up the property surrounding a neighbor (never mind how he can afford such a venture) then demanding a large fee for the right to access the landlocked property. The neighbor has a number of alternatives to paying:

  • Cross the property when the owner isn't around.
  • Cross at night.
  • Dig a tunnel.
  • Pay for a helicopter to pick him up and drop him off.
  • Abandon the property.

Any of these would deny the property owner his expected payout. Leaving him with a lot of land he bought for a scheme that failed to produce any profit. Now this property owner could take measures to prevent the neighbor from trespassing without payment but at what cost? Compare the enforcement costs of the unscrupulous property owner to the neighbor's costs of avoiding payment.

And lets not forget the social implications of such a move. The property owner has other neighbors. What would be their reaction to seeing him box in his neighbor and extort him? I don't know about you but if I witnessed something like that at best I wouldn't associate with the property owner. At worst, I'd take measures to ensure he didn't try the same thing to me. Never underestimate the power of social ostracism.

  • "Never underestimate the power of social ostracism": Which works fine as long as the rogue property owner is just one householder among many. But how are you going to socially ostracise a megacorp that owns most of the property in your area? Dec 4, 2018 at 9:32
  • "Dig a tunnel": this is probably trespass as well. Property rights extend underground. Dec 4, 2018 at 9:33
  • Actually "ransom strips" are a thing. Social ostracism isn't a factor. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ransom_strip Dec 4, 2018 at 9:34
  • Let's say the landowner isn't interested in a fee at all and just wants to make the land worthless to you so they can buy it from you on the cheap. Your first three "options" seem to be criminal, and most people can't afford a daily helicopter to commute to work. That leaves "abandon the property" the best choice, and makes selling look attractive. You're either stuck with worthless land, or give in to your unscrupulous neighbor, who can squeeze you on price.
    – Geobits
    Dec 4, 2018 at 13:21
  • @Geobits if "everything's private" as the scenario suggests, that would include rulemaking and enforcement as well. In such a scenario "criminality" gives way to social norms, contractual obligations, arbitration and what is practically enforceable. Jan 22, 2019 at 18:06

This already occurs in practice and is called right of way.

For example, say you purchase a large property and divide it into two lots. It may occur that the owner of one lot can only access the road through the property of the other. In this case a right of way is created.

This is different from shared ownership. Due to land use regulations, the lots may need to exceed a certain area for construction to be allowed. For example, if the land use regulation states that an area of 1000 m2 is required to build a house and you have a 2000 m2 lot, then you can divide it in two 1000m2 lots (one having a right of way for the other) but you would not be able to create, say, two 950m2 lots and one 100m2 shared access way, as that would not allow two houses to be built.

Once a property has a right of way benefitting someone else's property, it can only be removed if both agree.

For example, I cannot build anything on the alley on my property which the neighbor uses to access the road, since he has a right of way. I can't install a portal either, unless he can also open it.

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    This depends on regulations and building codes and enforcement of these codes, which kinda defeats the purpose of a libertarian system. Dec 3, 2017 at 17:58
  • Agree on land use (it was for sake of example). Even in a libertarian society, a system to keep track of who owns what would be required though. I don't see a problem with property having strings and contracts attached. Other examples would be: how much of the water in a stream that goes through your land can you use? Or you can sell a forest, while transferring a contract with someone who harvests the wood, etc.
    – bobflux
    Dec 3, 2017 at 18:07
  • Is n"right of way" a concept in libertarian writings?
    – user4012
    Dec 3, 2017 at 19:00
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    @GabrielDiego, to the contrary, right of way is a contract of how you use your land, which is fully allowed under libertarian ideas. Dec 3, 2017 at 23:20
  • Under German law it's a bit different. There are three newer houses near my house, and the access to them and their garages runs down the side of my house on a little private patch of land. To get permission to build the new houses, they had to buy and own this patch of road jointly. It is private so they have to pay to maintain it themselves.
    – RedSonja
    Dec 4, 2017 at 12:28

Precisely in order to avoid the problem you have raised here, most libertarians advocate the view that streets should be owned in a body-corporate arrangement linked to ownership of the properties they connect to. So if you were the owner of a house in a cul-de-sac then ownership of that house would be linked to ownership of a share of the cul-de-sac you are in, plus a smaller share of ownership of the connecting road, all the way up to the major arterial roads. Like a body-corporate arrangement for common property in an apartment block, this share of ownership would usually give the following rights and responsibilities:

  • Full easement rights for you and your visitors to travel to and from your property;
  • Proportional voting rights in the body-corporate that administers the road (including the right to collectively vote them out and choose a new body-corporate).
  • You would be expected to contribute your proportion to the costs of maintaining the roads.

Roughly speaking, you would expect the shareholding proportions of the roads to be roughly proportional to the number of houses you own on the road, relative to the total number of houses. There might be some arguments as to exactly how the shareholding should be allocated ---e.g., in terms of house-count, block size, road frontage, etc. Nevertheless, it would essentially be the same kind of system that is used in apartment buildings to allow owners to have individual ownership of their properties, and collective ownership of the common areas.

(Note: For renters, the rental contract would presumably subrogate the easement rights of the owner to the tenant for the duration of the tenancy. So when you rent a property, it would come with a guarantee that the owner will allow you to use their easement rights to travel to and from the property.)

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