Note: The Antiplanner wrote the first draft of this article about the Wildness phrase before the New York Times essay mentioned below appeared. A more concise version of this article is available on The American Spectator.
Today marks the two hundredth anniversary of the birth of David Henry Thorough. At least, that’s how his family pronounced their name, though they spelled it Thoreau. While his first name was David, everyone called him Henry, and later he legally changed his name to Henry David.
To commemorate his birthday, the New York Times last week featured a lengthy essay by historian Douglas Brinkley based on a popular misinterpretation of one of Thoreau’s most famous quotes: “In Wildness is the preservation of the world.” Brinkley equates “wildness” with “wilderness,” thereby connecting Thoreau with today’s environmental movement. While that’s a mistake I once made myself, in fact that is not what Thoreau meant at all. Continue reading →
At 241 years, the United States claims to have the oldest continuously operating national government in the world. Some worry that it’s time will soon run out, probably due to some form of self-destruction.
About 25 years ago, the Antiplanner had an epiphany. In the previous two decades working for environmental groups, I had learned that government was not always the best way to protect the environment. What I realized in 1992 was that two of the biggest, if not the biggest, threats to the environmental resources I cared about were the national debt and deficit spending. Deficit spending allowed people to do harmful things to the environment that they could not afford to do without subsidies. The growth of the national debt appeared to be leading toward a crisis that was likely to put any environmental concerns on the back burner.
Since then, the national debt has quintupled (tripled after adjusting for inflation), growing from 66 percent to 106 percent of GDP. Deficits have grown from $340 billion in 1992 to well over a trillion dollars in the first four years of the Obama administration, falling to about $644 billion this year. Continue reading →
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti wants to build a monorail in the city. His reasoning is they are cheaper to build than subways but won’t face interference from traffic like light rail.
Despite futurist fantasies of the past, there are only a few monorails in the world, and most are in Japan. There are good reasons why no other American cities emulated the Seattle World’s Fair monorail: they are ugly, expensive, slow, and don’t move very many people. A monorail in India fit the Antiplanner’s definition of high-cost, low-capacity transit.
By coincidence, two days after the mayor announced the monorail idea, Disney World had to shut down its monorail when parts began to fall off of it onto the rail. With shared, driverless cars right around the corner, the last thing Los Angeles needs is a new kind of infrastructure it won’t be able to maintain, but last November the mayor persuaded that spending $120 billion on transit would relieve congestion (it won’t), so they might as well blow it on something ridiculous. Continue reading →
Congestion relief is one of the most used–and often most persuasive–arguments in favor of increased transit subsidies. Transit carries more than half of New York City workers to their jobs, and as such it prevents that city from being more congested than it already is. However, at least since 1970, almost nowhere in the United States has a subsidized expansion of transit service led to a reduction in overall congestion.
Transit’s Share of Travel in 1970 and 2015
Miami-Ft. Lauderdale-W. Palm Beach
Salt Lake City
In most urban areas, subsidies to transit began in earnest in 1970, plus or minus five years. As shown in the table above, since then transit usage in most of these areas has declined despite the subsidies. The only major exceptions are Phoenix, Salt Lake City, San Francisco-Oakland, San Jose, and Los Angeles. Portland and Seattle also saw an increase in transit’s share, though for what it’s worth, all of the increase in Portland and most of Seattle’s increase took place in the 1970s. Continue reading →
The Antiplanner wishes everyone a Happy Thanksgiving, especially the non-elites who made a big difference in the recent election. When I was doing research for my 2012 book, American Nightmare, I realized that land-use regulation and many other things I had been seeing were best understood as a form of economic warfare on the working class. So I am thankful that, this month, the working class scored a point in that war, or in fact 290 of them.
We naturally hope it doesn’t turn out that we’ve been fooled again. One positive sign is President-elect Trump’s offer of HUD secretary to Ben Carson, who understands that the same policies that oppress the white working class harm blacks and Latinos as well.
In any case, I hope everyone else reading this has something to be thankful for as well. Best wishes to you all.
Raj Rajkumar, a self-driving vehicle researcher at Carnegie Mellon, warns that self-driving cars are being over-hyped. Despite promised by Ford, Nissan, and other companies, they are actually many years away.
Ford’s promise to have fleets of self-driving cars in cities by 2021 is deceptive, the critics say. “Dig into the statements and press for details,” says the Wall Street Journal, “and a Ford spokesman says that car will only be self-driving in the portion of major cities where the company can create and regularly update extremely detailed 3-D street maps.”
However, that is exactly what the Antiplanner said a few months ago. As the Antiplanner noted at the time, a company called Here has already mapped two-thirds of all paved roads in the United States, and updates its maps every day. It seems likely that all paved roads will be mapped by 2021.
The Antiplanner’s travels through the Balkans–yesterday, Skopje, Macedonia; today, Tuzla, Bosnia; tomorrow, Sarajevo–aren’t leaving much time for detailed posts. However, I happened to come across this video of a speech given by Lyndon Johnson 51 years ago that remains relevant today. Perhaps more than any other president, Johnson inspires mixed feelings as one of the best and in other ways one of the worst presidents we’ve ever had. But this speech shows him at his finest.
A few days before the speech, American television screens showed Selma, Alabama police beating up peaceful demonstrators who were seeking voting rights for blacks. Johnson was so angered by what he saw that he asked to address Congress and told them that he would submit a bill that would require all states to remove all barriers to letting blacks vote in all elections. He didn’t ask them to pass the bill; he told them it was their obligation to pass it. Many southern members of Congress sat in the audience looking disgruntled, and he merely stared them down in disgust.
More people are taking up the call to promote buses rather than build trains. As the Antiplanner noted on February 10, the average number of people on board a transit bus has declined from 15 in 1979 to about 11 today.
Just one week later, New York Times writer Josh Barro argues that if some people won’t ride buses because they “carry a ‘shame factor,'” it makes more sense to spend a little money improving the public image of buses (as Midttrafik is doing) than to spend a lot of money building rail lines that are no faster than buses.
These are a few of my least-favorite things about America today. This list heavily overlaps eleven reasons why liberal Dave Lindorff is ashamed to be an American. On most of these issues (except, perhaps, regulatory takings), liberals and libertarians are in full agreement.