The most common objection to abolishing the government provision of a service is that if the government does not provide it then the service will be unavailable.  The proverbial, “Who will build the roads!” Though it is a real concern, assuming that if the government doesn’t provide something that it will absolutely not be provided is a formal fallacy.  I kiddingly call the claim that a service won’t be provided if government doesn’t provide it the denying the market fallacy. It is a particular form of the denying the antecedent fallacy.

First, we must understand the denying the antecedent fallacy.

Here is an example of denying the antecedent fallacy:

If it’s raining,  (antecedent)

then the streets are wet.   (consequent)

It isn’t raining.   (denial of the antecedent)

Therefore, the streets aren’t wet.  (potentially false conclusion)

Antecedent means a thing or event that existed before or logically precedes another. Denying the antecedent means to assert the opposite of the antecedent and assume that the opposite of the consequent must be true.  The mistake is that though the premise tells us the antecedent is sufficient to cause the consequent, it does not tell us if it is necessary.

The denying the market fallacy is a particular form of the denying the antecedent fallacy.

Formal general example of denying the market fallacy:

If government provides something, it is provided.

Government does not provide it.

Therefore, it is not provided.

Natural Language Examples:

The roads we drive on are provided by the government.

If the government does not provide roads

Then we won’t have any roads.

The government funded the electrification of rural America.

If the government did not fund the electrification of rural America, American farmers would not have electricity.

The government provides law.

If the government did not provide law, there would be no law.

Maybe I should have called it the denying the government fallacy to keep with the syntax of the denying the antecedent fallacy, because the government is the antecedent in this form but “denying the market fallacy” sounds better.

The denying the market fallacy is similar to the joke that I heard Hans-Hermann Hoppe tell in one of his recorded lectures.

It went something like this:

Just because monkeys ride bicycles, doesn’t mean only monkeys can ride bicycles.

A good response to the denial of the market fallacy is this quote of Frederic Bastiat from The Law:

Socialism, like the ancient ideas from which it springs, confuses the distinction between government and society. As a result of this, every time we object to a thing being done by government, the socialists conclude that we object to its being done at all.

We disapprove of state education. Then the socialists say that we are opposed to any education. We object to a state religion. Then the socialists say that we want no religion at all. We object to a state-enforced equality. Then they say that we are against equality. And so on, and so on. It is as if the socialists were to accuse us of not wanting persons to eat because we do not want the state to raise grain.

 

The denying the antecedent fallacy has a sibling fallacy, affirming the consequent.

 Formal example of affirming the consequent fallacy:

If it’s raining,  (antecedent)

then the streets are wet.  (consequent)

The streets are wet. (affirming the consequent)

Therefore, it’s raining.  (potentially false conclusion)

This is the same mistake of assuming that the antecedent is necessary. The streets could be wet for some other reason.

The denying the market fallacy has a similar sibling fallacy called the affirming the state fallacy.

Formal example of affirming the state fallacy:

If government provides parks,

parks are available.

This park is available to me.

Therefore, the government provided it.

Many people enjoy private parks and drive on private roads and are protected by private security, and assume it was all provided by the state.
Now, we do need to be careful.  Just because it is fallacious to claim that services cannot be provided if the government doesn’t provide them, we can’t claim they absolutely will be provided by the market if the government does not provide them.  Pointing out the fallacy does not prove traditionally government provided services can be provided without government.   Further, there are sophisticated arguments like market failure that go beyond the kindergarten argument of just claiming that without the government we would not have X.  It is impossible for us to predict exactly how markets would provide X, when we don’t have examples of markets providing X.  So we still do have a challenge in convincing people X will be provided by the market. We who advocate for alternatives to government do owe explanations on how services might be provided without the government, even if we can’t know exactly how.  However, the simple cliches like, “Who will build the roads!” that are often intended to terminate thought are not the end of the discussion but the beginning.