The Antiplanner rarely listens to speeches, preferring to rely on written documents. I’ve never listened to a speech by Obama, but I decided to listen to his acceptance speech last night. What I heard did not give me much hope.
P.J. O’Rourke once said, “Democrats believe government can work. Republicans believe it can’t, and then they get elected and prove it.” Certainly George Bush fulfilled O’Rourke’s expectations. But it nonetheless remains true that the fundamental political debate in America remains the role of government.
Obama admitted that “Government cannot solve all our problems.” But the only thing he suggested that government can’t do is turn off the television at night and make children do their homework. He did make a lot of promises that government under President Obama will do a lot of things that most experts believe it really can’t do.
Today is the 45th anniversary of the march on Washington and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s I have a dream speech. I was 10 years old at the time.
I remember the Selma to Montgomery marches. I remember feeling outraged that anyone would discriminate against someone else because of the color of their skin. I remember going to the Unitarian church school (where I learned to be an atheist), and my mother coming out of the church service one day saying that Reverend Steiner had fired people up about civil rights so much that if he had said, “Go get on a bus to Alabama,” half the congregation would have done it. I remember feeling disappointed that he didn’t say it.
The Arizona Supreme Court ruled yesterday that a transportation measure could not be placed on the ballot this November. The measure would have increased sales taxes by a penny to raise billions of dollars for roads and transit.
Contrary to what some people might think, the Antiplanner would have opposed this measure even if all of the funds were dedicated to roads. Transportation facilities should be built using user fees, not taxes.
Last week, in a comment on this blog, the highwayman stated, “road users only cover about 20% their costs directly and the rest of the funding comes mostly from income & property taxes.” I don’t know where he gets this information, but it is not credible.
The National Association of Railway Passengers (NARP) claims that “41% of the $133 billion spent on highways came from payments other than the gas tax, tolls, and vehicle taxes and fees.” In particular, NARP counts the proceeds of bond sales and interest on savings as money that comes from sources other than user fees. But how do the bonds get paid back? Mostly out of user fees. Where does the interest come from? Mostly from savings of unspent user fees.
What is the truth about highway subsidies? And what ought to be done about them? The Antiplanner has addressed this topic before, but (judging from the comments) it may have escaped the attention of some readers and I confess that I may not have rigorously covered this subject.
Whenever we get something for free, especially if it is from the government, we quickly feel we are entitled to it. Case in point: Last Wednesday, the Antiplanner and some friends took some kayaks to a lake. Despite being the middle of August, we arrived in the middle of a rain storm with a fierce south wind.
The nice thing about kayaking is that you can put on a spray skirt and raincoat and be almost completely shielded from the elements. So we happily paddled around the lake for a couple of hours.
On Saturday, after dinner, the Antiplanner invited Ms. Antiplanner to go on a short cruise on the same lake. The weather was much nicer, but when we arrived we were greeted by a gruff gatekeeper who demanded $5 to launch our boats. My immediate thought was: I went for free three days ago, so why should I have to pay now?
The Antiplanner’s curmudgeonly complaints about the media’s treatment of wildfire last week were a little unfair. Somehow I failed to notice that the L.A. Times had an excellent five-part series on fire a few weeks ago.
Part one looked at the high cost of fire. While fuels were mentioned, they weren’t the most important reason. Instead, the article said, “Drought is parching vegetation. Rising temperatures associated with climate change are shrinking mountain snowpacks, giving fire seasons a jump-start by drying out forests earlier in the summer. The spread of invasive grasses that burn more readily than native plants is making parts of the West ever more flammable.”
No matter how disastrous rail transit plans turn out, their advocates can always count on public innumeracy to overlook the problems. Take the case of FasTracks, the plan to build 119 miles of new rail transit in Denver.
When approved by voters in 2004, RTD, the region’s transit agency, estimated it would cost $4.7 billion. Last May, that estimate went up to $6.2 billion, which RTD reluctantly admitted (two months later) it could not afford.
Now, the latest report indicates that the cost will be $7.9 billion. That’s 68 percent above the voter-approved $4.7 billion cost.
The Chicago Transit Authority offers elevated train service from both O’Hare and Midway airports to downtown. But that wasn’t enough for Mayor Daley. After all, other world-class cities like Amsterdam, London, Paris, Hong Kong, and Moscow offer express — i.e., non-stop — train service from their airports to downtown.
Because Chicago’s El has no passing sidings, all trains must stop at all stops — horrors! Express service would supposedly save travelers between O’Hare and downtown 9 minutes (21 vs. 30) over existing train service.
As previously noted, the Antiplanner recently moved to Central Oregon. In fact, I moved into what the Forest Service calls the WUI (pronounced woo-eee) for wildland-urban interface. In other words, I live within a few hundred feet of public forest land that is likely to burn any year now.
So I naturally take note when a big lightning storm two nights ago was followed yesterday by helicopters carrying giant buckets of water to local wildfires. And since it is fire season, we are now inundated with the inevitable myths about wildfire.
First, National Geographic presents a video promoting bigger Forest Service budgets. “Fires today are hotter than ever,” says the video, because past decades of fire suppression have led to more fuels in the forest. Second, on a related topic, Reuters reports that climate change is threatening Alaska’s forests.
Click to see a larger chart.
The U.S. went through a couple of gas crises in the 1970s, and now we are in the midst of another one. High prices at the pump have got politicians debating about drilling for oil in ANWR, off shore, and other places.
Recently, the Antiplanner’s esteemed colleagues and faithful allies, Indur Goklany and Jerry Taylor, pointed out that gas is actually less expensive today, when measured proportionate to personal incomes, than it was in 1960. Jerry (who has also been debating whether or not to drill for oil in the L.A. Times) expands on this point, with charts, on the Cato blog.
The point they were making is that we aren’t really in a serious crisis, and politicians should not rush to adopt ill-considered policies that are “exactly the wrong thing” — policies like ethanol subsidies that end up costing a lot and producing few benefits. I completely agree with this point, and to underscore it I’d like to scrutinize the data a little more.