Monday, September 15, 2008

Don't Use THE Force

Recently, New York

Governor David Paterson "made a bold statement" in support of the construction of Moynihan Station when he announced conditions related to the future of Moynihan Station at New York Building Congress forum. He emphasized the critical importance for the project to emphasize infrastructure improvements and to that end announced that the Port Authority of New York would be taking over the project.

Scare quotes mine; apparently, everything politicians say is bold.

"By any measure the 20th century was the New York Century. We entered it as a burgeoning metropolis and we left it as the greatest and most powerful city in the world. We can make the 21st century the New York Century as well, but only if we invest wisely in our infrastructure."

Paterson said the Federal government must put together a plan for the nation's infrastructure so we may reduce our dependency on fossil fuels and avoid catastrophic disasters like last year's bridge collapse in Minneapolis. He also decried the Federal government's "starving" of Amtrak and reduction of slots at the city's airports. The Governor said that we must bolster the rail options between Washington DC, Boston and other cities within 300 miles of New York City. Rail is the most fuel-efficient way to move people, and it is critical that we lighten the loads of our airlines and on our highways.

"If we are to realize our full potential for growth in the 21st century, then we must look to increase our rail capacity."

(Thanks to Dave for forwarding.)

I agree wholeheartedly that rail is the most efficient means of transportation and that the Tri-State Area's infrastructure needs investment badly for New York to remain competitive. But why should the state be doing it?

Originally, building railroads was principally funded by private investors. As for Amtrak, privatize the Northeast Corridor and ax the unprofitable rest.

But is that the end of the line? Far from it.

In the first place, passenger rail was destroyed by government subsidies for highways and airports. If all highways and airports are privatized, and distorting subsidies removed, establishing many more intercity passenger services between cities outside the Northeast Corridor will become profitable once more, thanks to the unrivaled economy of railroads.

Railroads will dominate commuter markets and mid-haul intercity travel. Airliners will dominate long-haul travel, where a train would take days. Automobiles will dominate rural markets that cannot support railroads or airports.

Besides, making passengers pay the full price of their actions will result in less commuting and less traveling. Once people realize how much it costs to drag their asses from place to place, much more business will be done via the internet.

Now, socialists will say that the government has the duty to provide "socially desirable" services the market fails to provide because they're unprofitable. Never mind that even if 299,999,999 people deem a service "socially desirable," that doesn't make stealing from even only one man right.

But let's for the sake of the argument ignore the fact that taxes are theft. What "socially desirable" benefits do commuters get out of indiscriminately subsidized plane, train, and automobile mileage?

Families can afford to move out to suburbia, where their dollars buy more square footage. But what kind of square footage do they get? They trade an admittedly cramped apartment in a reinforced concrete high rise or a brownstone walkup in Manhattan or a similarly pricey downtown for, say, a wooden house in a brush-choked canyon or a single-story house on a floodplain in hurricane alley.

They may want their kids to attend suburban schools perceived as better than inner-city schools. (In my experience, there's no such thing as a better government school. If you have to have children, home schooling is the only option.) They may hope to be safer from crime in the middle of nowhere, and be glad to pay the price of cultural anemia.

Of course, people who really want to pave over a swamp or move their families into a wildfire or a hurricane should by all means be free to do so, but they should not be subsidized with tax money. Why should suburban sprawl be subsidized with money taken from taxpayers by force?

Privatize all means of transportation, and if the Trans-Hudson Express (THE) Tunnel project is profitable, let the free market fund it. Incidentally, fewer people moving out to suburbia would not only increase demand for apartments in Manhattan, but also bolster New York City's tax base, which for so long had been suffering from white flight to suburbia (assuming you believe in taxation).

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