Today is the 175th anniversary of the birth of James J. Hill, builder of the Great Northern Railway and one of the great entrepreneurs of the late 19th century. As a railfan, the Antiplanner likes Hill because the Great Northern has always been my favorite railroad. It is only a coincidence that Hill’s politics were pretty similar to mine.
Hill in 1915.
Wikipedia describes Hill as a Bourbon Democrat, meaning a classical liberal who supported free trade and opposed government subsidies and legislative efforts to protect corporations from competition. As I detail in an article that should soon be published by the Great Northern Railway Historical Society, Hill also believed that the federal government should stay out of conservation issues as it would likely do more harm than good.
Robert Lang, a professor of urban affairs at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, thinks Las Vegas needs a low-capacity rail line (aka light rail). As the director of something called the Lincy Institute, Lang’s job is to “draw state and federal money to the greater Las Vegas” area, and low-capacity rail is one way to do that.
An ACE Gold bus-rapid transit vehicle in Las Vegas. With fancy vehicles like these, why does Vegas need low-capacity rail? Click this Flickr photo by HerrVebah for a larger view.
Of course, that’s not the way he puts it. He claims low-capacity rail has “transformed urban development patterns in the West” by changing “housing development from water-consuming single family homes to multifamily, mixed-use projects.” I guess he thinks people in multifamily, mixed-use projects don’t drink as much water as people in single-family homes. It’s also pretty clear he hasn’t read research by the Antiplanner and faithful Antiplanner allies such as John Charles showing that low-capacity rail attracts no new development unless it is accompanied by large subsidies to developers.
The Antiplanner comments on another ridiculous streetcar plan, this one for Oklahoma City. Minneapolis reporter Marlys Harris responds, however, that streetcars “are adorable. Who wouldn’t want to ride a one-car choo-choo rather than a big, smelly bus?”
Harris is supposed to be an “an investigative reporter and editor with specialties in consumer protection and finance.” Perhaps someone should introduce her to the reality of government finance, which is that the more wasteful a project is, the more people who benefit from that waste will lobby to promote it. It might not hurt to let her know that streetcars don’t now and never did go “choo choo.”
The Southeast Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) is one of those transit agencies that depends on annual appropriations for its operations, maintenance, and improvements. The agency bitterly complains that it doesn’t have a “dedicated fund” meaning a tax on something else that it can count on whether it serves its customers or not. It tried to get permission to have the state impose a toll on Interstate 80 and give SEPTA the money, but the federal government rejected the idea.
In 2011, fares covered less than 29 percent of SEPTA’s costs, including both operating and capital costs. Local governments provided only 7 percent, the feds 20 percent (mostly capital funds), leaving the state to cover 42 percent of the agency’s budget. Without more money, says SEPTA, it will have to cut service.
Here is the second of my statements of principles for the New Year.
1. The Property-Rights Principle: Government should not regulate land uses except to prevent trespasses or nuisances.
People should be allowed to use their land in any way they see fit provided their use does not harm others (such as through air, water, or noise pollution) or violate contracts they have voluntarily agreed to. Any regulation beyond this “for the greater good” puts someone’s subjective notion of social values above individual rights.
Even if it could be proven that such regulations would benefit society more than they would harm individual property owners, government should not have this power because it invites abuse. If the social benefits are truly greater than the individual costs, then society should be willing to compensate the property owners.
The New Year seems an appropriate time to state, or restate, the main goals of this blog. Today the Antiplanner will focus on transportation. Future manifestos will focus on land-use regulation and public land management. Any suggestions for improving these principles and corollaries are welcome.
1. The Transportation Agency Principle: The sole goal of government transportation agencies should be to efficiently enhance mobility.
Mobility is so important socially and economically that it deserves the same protection under the Constitution as freedom of speech and freedom of religion. (In fact, freedom of movement is nominally protected under the privileges and immunities clause of the Constitution.) Enhancements in mobility over the past century have been a major factor in increasing wealth, reducing poverty, increasing lifespans, and increasing leisure time. No other goal should be allowed to divert attention from the efficient enhancement of mobility.
At a recent meeting about Oregon’s land-use planning system, someone asked how much Agenda 21 has influenced Oregon’s laws and rules. The answer the Antiplanner gave was a big, fat zero. Agenda 21, after all, was written in 1992, while Oregon’s legislature passed the state’s land-use law in 1973. The most radical conception of that law was first conceived in 1989 by 1000 Friends of Oregon.
This point is made by a recent article from the Antiplanner’s faithful allies at the Heritage Foundation. All of the ideas known as smart growth, compact development, new urbanism, or whatever were developed in the United States decades before Agenda 21 was written in 1992. If anything, American planners influenced Agenda 21 far more than they were influenced by it.
The American dream of families owning their own homes has become a victim of class warfare, with the middle class attempting to suppress homeownership among the working class and other people they view as undesirable neighbors. That, at least, is one of the major themes of American Nightmare: How Government Undermines the Dream of Home Ownership, which the Cato Institute will publish next May.
The Antiplanner’s work on this book is the major reason why I haven’t posted as regularly this year as in previous years. I began research for the book in January, started writing in July, and submitted the final manuscript to Cato on November 4. Though this was my third book since starting this blog, it was the most time-consuming because it required so much new research and analyses.
Today we are supposed to remember the people who sacrificed themselves for our freedom. We also need to remember freedom itself, including freedom of mobility, freedom to use your own property as you like so long as you don’t harm your neighbors, and freedom to dance in a memorial to Thomas Jefferson, himself a support of freedom of expression.
Unfortunately, our noble Park Service police have forgotten that last one. Many people love the Park Service because they love the lands and resources it manages. But sometimes it seems that the Park Service itself is run by a bunch of thugs who have nothing better to do than ruin other people’s reputations, attempt to steal other people’s land, or put them out of business.
This isn’t a specific problem with the Park Service; it is a general problem of giving government too much power. And that is what we should remember this Memorial Day.