Rolling Back Prices at the Paris Metro

Government uses the enormous wealth it extracts through coercion to establish monopolies for itself or for its favored private profiteers. But prices can still be driven down using creative competition.

In 1844, American libertarian Lysander Spooner established a private mail delivery service to challenge the government-supported monopoly. His American Letter Mail Company delivered mail much cheaper than the government service could. The competition his company offered drove down federal postal rates until the government used legal measures to force him out of business in 1851. Thus the federal monopoly on mail production was secured by threat of government force.

Since then government, sometimes working with favored corporations, have monopolized transportation systems. Since it is usually not practical to build a competing subway line or road (even if the government actually did allow it), the problem might be best addressed by realizing that the trains belong the people anyway – they were built and maintained by wealth taken with the backing of government force, administered by the most powerful interests in society.

In Paris, subway fare dodgers have devised an ingenious method of competing against the government subway system. They offer an alternative method of price collecting.

Essentially, insurance funds for fare dodgers have been established. Henry Chu reports in the LA Times that for approximately $8.50 a month, an individual can participate in a fund that will pay your fine if you are caught dodging fares. At least one such group has been operating for years and several funds are now operational in Paris.

By contrast, a legal monthly pass costs about $74, and a single ride about $2, with fare increases scheduled for the near future.

While it seems unlikely that the government will respond by cutting overhead costs and lowering fares anytime soon, the insurance groups do reduce prices for those who participate in them. And unlike government, which forces people to obey the terms set by those who have politically maneuvered themselves to the top, the funds operate on the terms of those who choose to participate.

Those who forcibly monopolize things aren’t your friends. Cheating them means that wealth you would have given to a rigid coercive bureaucracy can instead be used on more productive things – like creating the organizations for a future of freedom.

Of course the success of such a venture would depend on the cultural context. At the least, one would need an idea of what kind of crackdowns the public will tolerate. Chu says that fare payers he interviewed were generally not concerned with efforts to cheat the system, and some even expressed support.

Other lessons can be drawn from the Paris experience. Whether or not the creators of fare-dodging funds have sound economic principles in mind, their experience shows that the concept of mutual insurance, not dependent on large top-down firms, can function at least on some level. Bold entrepreneurs could create fine insurance or even arrest insurance for those who operate counter to the establishment economy. And those who prefer other methods can compete against state services in less risky ways like carpooling networks or encouraging bicycle-friendly roads.

Wherever the state tries to exert control, there will be resistance or evasion. A society that functions by including people as equals, rather than by forcibly trying to arrange life according to the policy of the powerful, will be a society that centers on mutual benefit, not on power struggles. In resistance to authority we can see the freedom of tomorrow enacted today. Spreading anarchist principles can turn resistance into consistent action toward true liberty.

Free Markets & Capitalism?
Markets Not Capitalism
Organization Theory
Conscience of an Anarchist