Monthly Archives: August 2011

Another Bad Idea

Someone named Marc Fasteau urges the United States to adopt an industrial policy. Because, after all, it worked so well in Japan (two lost decades of nearly zero economic growth), China (rapid growth but rampant corruption), and Germany (which has fined one of its biggest manufacturers more than $1.5 billion for bribing local officials to sell its products).

Fasteau’s column is accompanied by the above mindbogglingly complex (and almost unreadable) chart showing how five federal departments or agencies would work with banks and corporations to create a US Tech Strategy Board that would engage in a “technology based planning system.” This system would be sure to bring the rapid pace of technological advancement in computing, biotech, and other fields to a near standstill. The board would no doubt endorse high-speed rail, minicomputers, composting toilets, and other “modern” technologies.

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Honolulu Showdown

The Antiplanner is at a conference this week so postings will be light. In the meantime, readers might want to discuss this editorial against the Honolulu rail project, which it says “would change the landscape in ways many are unwilling to accept.” Only subscribers can read more than the first couple of paragraphs, but Honolulu is one of the best examples of how our transit system is broken.

Honolulu has about the highest rate of per capita transit ridership after New York City and one of the highest rates of transit commuting in the country, so you wouldn’t think a big project like this would be needed to “fix” Honolulu’s transit. It is purely a matter of elected officials chasing after “free” federal money to distribute to contractors who will make appropriate campaign contributions. (Significantly, the mayor who rammed the project through Honolulu’s city council then ran for governor but lost in the primary.)

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Pipeline Brings Attention to Tar Sands

The New York Times editorialized against a pipeline aimed at bringing petroleum from Alberta into the United States, saying the pipeline “would traverse highly sensitive terrain” and the oil involved would generate too much carbon emissions. As far as “highly sensitive terrain” goes, the federal government’s environmental review found “no significant impact” from the pipeline.

The real issue is the future of our economy. Climate alarmists and peak-oil prophets want to minimize the production and consumption of oil. As the Antiplanner has noted before, When proponents of peak oil make their predictions of the future, they only consider what is known as “conventional oil” and ignore tar sands and oil shales. By opposing this pipeline and taking similar actions against producers of tar sand oil and other unconventional sources, they seek to make their prophecies self fulfilling.

The Antiplanner remains a climate agnostic with the caveat that it makes more sense to be ready to adapt to climate change, if it happens, than to try to prevent it. The climate models indicate that even if we met the Kyoto protocols the climate would still change. Rather than hobble ourselves by crippling our economy, it makes more sense to be as productive as possible so that, if the climate does change, we can more easily adapt to it. If climate change is really happening, actions needed to truly stop it would do more harm to humanity than the change itself.

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The Myth That Will Not Die

Transportation planning today suffers from several common fallacies, including the myth of the great streetcar conspiracy and the notion that we should spend billions of dollars on obsolete forms of transportation to give people “choices.” But the most troublesome myth is the notion of induced-demand, that is, that new roads will automatically become fully congested so there is no point in building any. That myth most recently came up in a recent op ed piece in the LA Times.

This idea makes no sense at all, yet it is widely believed by public officials and transportation planners. Saying that relieving congestion “induces” driving is like saying that building new maternity wards induces people to have more babies. If it were true that roads automatically become congested, then Interstate 80 would be as congested in Rawlins, Wyoming as it is in Chicago, and Interstate 90 would be as congested in Mitchell, South Dakota as it is in Seattle.

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Why Conservatives Hate Trains

Debates over high-speed rail and federal transit funding have inspired a number of writers asking why conservatives hate passenger trains. Most of them get it wrong.

The real answer is: they don’t. They just hate subsidies, at least if they are fiscal conservatives (as opposed to social conservatives like the late Paul Weyrich).

Case in point: San Francisco’s Central Subway, which, as the Wall Street Journal points out, is going to cost at least $1.6 billion for 1.7 miles of rail that (as the Antiplanner’s faithful ally, Tom Rubin, points out) will actually be slower than the buses it replaces (because it will require people to make more transfers). If you don’t have a Wall Street Journal subscription, which I don’t, you can read about it here, here, and here, among other places.

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Debate Over Future of BLM Lands

Andy Stahl debates the DeFazio forest trust proposal with Douglas County (Roseburg) Commissioner Doug Robertson. Robertson also chairs the association of counties that collect revenues from the lands in question.

Instead of dividing the lands in two, Robertson proposes to give all the lands to a single board of trustees set up something like the collaborative stewardship groups that have sprung up around the country. “Tens of thousands of acres” would be available for wilderness (instead of the roughly 1.2 million acres of land preserved under the DeFazio plan) and timber could be rationed out more slowly, providing counties with a more even flow of revenues.

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World Boondoggle Center

The World Trade Center that was destroyed almost ten years ago was a frequently photographed symbol of New York City, but it was also a huge boondoggle of the New York & New Jersey Port Authority that was heavily subsidized by motorists paying bridge tolls. So of course, it is completely appropriate that the building that will replace it will be an even bigger boondoggle, costing $3.3 billion. As New York Times columnist Joe Nocera says, this is “an example of just about everything wrong with modern government.”

Still under construction.
Flickr photo by Sergey Shpakovsky.

This price tag will make it “by far, the most expensive office building ever constructed in America,” yet it “will add 2.6 million square feet of office space in a city that doesn’t need it.” At the time the original, 13.4 million-square-foot World Trade Center was destroyed on 9/11/01, Manhattan already had more than enough vacant office space to make up for it. At the most recent report I can find, downtown Manhattan alone currently has more than 10 million square feet of vacant space.

The building will be just one part of “a staggering $11 billion worth of government-sponsored construction,” says Nocera, including a subway station that is already $1 billion over budget. How fitting that we celebrate the attack that led to the most expensive war we’ve ever fought with the most expensive war memorial ever built. Of course, somewhere with 72 virgins, Osama Bin Laden is laughing away, because what better way to defeat the Americans than to get them to spend themselves into oblivion.

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Build Trains = Raise Fares + Cut Bus Service

Denver’s Regional Transit District (RTD) says it will have to raise fares and cut service due to higher-than-expected operating costs and lower-than-expected revenues. I am sure this has nothing to do with cost overruns for RTD’s rail lines that are under construction, right? Because operating and construction funds come from two entirely different sources, right?

Well, no, RTD sales tax collections can be spent on either operations or construction. And it is only a coincidence that RTD is thinking of proposing to raise those sales taxes in order to fund those cost overruns.

RTD has plenty of company, as the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) says that transit agencies across the country are raising fares and cutting service. Interesting how every example in this story, from New York to Salt Lake City, is of a transit agency that is struggling to build or maintain an expensive rail system. If they didn’t have to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on trains, they would have plenty of money to operate their buses and wouldn’t have to raise fares and cut service. APTA sort of admits to the connection when it reports that 20 percent of transit agencies say they have not only cut service but delayed new construction due to revenue shortfalls.

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DeFazio: Turn BLM Lands into Trusts

Oregon Representative Peter DeFazio is floating a proposal to turn the Bureau of Land Management’s “Oregon and California” lands into two trusts, one focusing on timber production and one focusing on environmental protection. This plan was partly developed by frequent Antiplanner commenter Andy Stahl.

The Oregon & California (O&C) Railroad land grant lands now managed by the BLM are shown in orange; green is national forests; click for a larger view.

The Antiplanner has long supported the idea of turning public lands into fiduciary trusts. My most-recent proposal would also create two trusts: one driven by markets and the other to protect non-market-resources. Some of the revenue from the first trust would go to fund the second.

The DeFazio-Stahl proposal is slightly different, more like the New Zealand solution, which is to divide the lands into two. One chunk of land would include mainly old-growth forests that have not been logged; the other would mainly be partly or fully logged forests. The latter forests would be the base for the timber trust; the former would be in the care of the environmental trust.

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One More Reason to Shrink Government

The Antiplanner used to think that a sure sign of a centrally planned economy is when the capital is the wealthiest city in the country. So what does it say about the United States when Washington DC has the highest median income of any metropolitan area in the country?

I learned this little tidbit from a rather disturbing story about Great Falls, Virginia, where owning a “$2.8 million home with its own elevator, wine cellar and Swarovski crystal chandeliers” is a sure sign of being a government contractor. A few other interesting points:

  • More than half the residents of Great Falls earn more than a quarter million dollars a year (what do you suppose they think of Obama’s soak-the-rich tax proposals?).
  • The District of Columbia has the second-highest disparity between the pay of high- and low-wage workers–while New Jersey is number 1, Virginia is number 3 and Maryland number 7.
  • Federal contracting dollars to the DC area have increased from $4 billion in 1980 to more than $80 billion in 2011.
  • “When asked if her neighbors had felt the impact of the recession, [the owner of the $2.8 million home] smiled quietly and said she didn’t think so.”

When government gets big, a few people get rich, and the gap between the rich and the poor widens. Do you suppose that’ll convince some Democrats to support federal budget cuts? Not too likely.

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