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.
PowerPoint shows from the 2010 Preserving the American Dream conference are posted on the American Dream Coalition web site. Here are a few interesting comments made at the conference.
“The U.S. Department of Transportation was created on April Fools Day, 1967. Today, it produces a product (mobility) that it doesn’t understand and doesn’t care much about it.” — Alan Pisarski
“Why don’t people live closer to work? Less than 20 percent of travel is work-related, and 30 percent of households do not have any commuters. So people don’t base where they live on where they work.” — Steve Polzin
“The real issue [during reauthorization] is whether we are going to fund the cities directly or through the states. It really is about big-city mayors and their access to funding in Washington.” — Alan Pisarski
“The air coming out of a 2009 or 2010 motorcoach engine is cleaner than the air that is going in.” — Clyde Hart, American Motorcoach Association.
“Historically, higher-density housing housed lower income families. Now we are building high-density housing for high-income households. But we canâ€™t assume that the travel habits of of people who lived in historic higher densities will apply to new higher densities.” — Steve Polzin
As the Antiplanner recently noted, rail and smart-growth advocates are fond of using touchy-feely arguments for their costly policies, and when presented with evidence that a preponderance of their projects are unquestionable failures, they simply respond that critics “lie with statistics.” The Antiplanner’s response is that you have to rely on data to figure out of policies are working or not, and if you are afraid someone is lying with statistics, you had best learn enough about data to watch for the signs of such lying.
Of course, an entire book was written on this subject way back in 1954. But here are a few ways of lying with statistics that Antiplanner readers should watch out for.
Two decades ago, the Antiplanner predicted that the big battle for world supremacy in the twenty-first century would be between authoritarian capitalism — as then represented by Singapore but being emulated on an experimental basis by China — and democratic capitalism. Someone said to me, “No, it is going to be between radical Islams and the West.” But I never worried about radical Islamic countries because they had no ability to create wealth. “A society that cannot accept interest rates cannot grow and compete,” I answered.
The attacks on September 11, 2001, seemed to cast my hypothesis into doubt. But the real loss of 9/11 was not the World Trade Center, but our own good sense. Instead of saying, “This was the act of a few radical nuts,” we decided to start two costly wars against two countries, at least one of which had nothing to do with 9/11. If the terrorists’ agenda was to get us to waste resources and weaken our economy on an overreaction against them, they succeeded brilliantly.
I was reminded of this when Robert Reich made a similar statement about authoritarian vs. democratic capitalism on Sunday’s This Week with David Stephanopoulos — and George Will more-or-less agreed. This came out of President Obama’s recent trip to China, which has focused attention on the real competition we face. China is not necessarily our enemy, but those who want to preserve what they regard as the benefits of democracy — such as free speech, individual rights, and protection for minorities — need to understand that we are likely to lose all of those benefits if we cannot compete against China.