Sunday, July 05, 2009

PJ O'Rourke: Why Politicians Love Trains, Hate Cars

There's something romantic about trains, but try getting the tracks to come to your house. When it comes time to unload the groceries, the romance of the train ends immediately.


Politicians love trains. Why? Because they can tell where the tracks go. They know where everybody's going. For policiticians it's all about control and power. Politicians hate cars because cars make people free. Not only free in the sense that they can go anywhere they want, which bugs politicians, but they can move out of the political districts that the politicians represent.

Politics itself is nothing more than an attempt to achieve power and prestige without merit. That's the definition of politics.

~P.J. O'Rourke on Reason.tv "Where Was The Government With Studebaker

18 Comments:

At 7/05/2009 1:00 AM, Blogger PeakTrader said...

There are good, bad, and roughly neutral policies:

al-Qaida's 9/11 attack was more diabolical than most people realize. al-Qaida not only turned our own people and technology into missles against symbols of American power, it also attempted to provoke a war between the largest oil consumer and the largest oil producer by using Saudi hijackers.

So, the invasion of Iraq, to free-up cheap oil, was no less important than the invasion of Afghanistan, to destroy enemy bases, in fighting al-Qaida.

I stated before: It seems, Bush foresaw "Peak Oil" and freed-up Iraq, which has the second largest oil reserves after Saudi Arabia, from a madman and his two sons, rather than shift into alternative energy, which was too expensive and unreliable [Iraqi oil is very cheap to extract, and bickering among factions is why Iraq hasn't produced much oil, and collected much oil revenue].

From Wikipedia: "The Iraq sanctions were a near-total financial and trade embargo imposed by the United Nations Security Council against the nation of Iraq. They began August 6, 1990, four days after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait,[1] and continued until May 22, 2003, after the fall of the Saddam Hussein government in the US-led invasion earlier that year."

How Much Oil Does Iraq Have?
Brookings:

The respected Petroleum Economist Magazine estimates that there may be as many as 200 bbl of oil in Iraq; the Federation of American Scientists estimates 215 bbl; a study by the Council on Foreign Relations and the James A. Baker III Institute at Rice University claimed that Iraq has 220 bbl of undiscovered oil; and another study by the Center for Global Energy Studies and Petrolog & Associates offered an even more optimistic estimate of 300 bbl—a number that would give Iraq reserves greater even than those of Saudi Arabia. In a Guardian interview before the war, Taha Hmud Moussa, Saddam's deputy oil minister, said that all of Iraq's oil reserves "will exceed 300bbl when all Iraq's regions are explored. If true, this would mean that Iraq has roughly a quarter of all of the world's oil.

 
At 7/05/2009 1:23 AM, Blogger fboness said...

Politicians love trains because they think a light rail to downtown (for example) will get people to go downtown again. It's the "If you build it they will come" strategy.

It doesn't work all that well but, if your bestest friends are downtown real estate developers and property owners then it's worth a chance, right?

 
At 7/05/2009 6:56 AM, Blogger 1 said...

Hmmm, I wonder about the following: Peak Oil Scam Controlling Oil Prices

There is the following from yet another federal government agency:

Figure 2. America’s Endowment of Solid and Liquid Fuels Resources (page 13 pie chart) Total endowment 9,033 billion bbls oil equivalent*)


There of course arguments both pro and con regarding abiotic oil...

 
At 7/05/2009 10:32 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bush foresaw "Peak Oil" and freed-up Iraq, which has the second largest oil reserves after Saudi Arabia ...


This is a post about trains, on a blog about economics, so I do not want to engage in a discussion about the merits of the Iraq War. However, it seems that if a lie is repeated frequently enough and long enough people will start to believe it.

Bush did not "invade" Iraq for oil. Here is a story from 2004 which the American press buried:

Russian President Vladimir Putin says that after the 9/11 attacks Moscow warned Washington that Saddam Hussein was planning attacks on the US.

He said Russia's secret service had information on more than one occasion that Iraq was preparing acts of terror in the US and its facilities worldwide.

BBC

When asked about Putin's statement, Bush said that, "No responsible, post 9/11, American president could have ignored these warnings."

The Russians had a long, close and on going relationship with Saddam Hussein, ignoring this warning from a country with inside knowledge of Iraq's intentions would have been irresponsible in the extreme. Had Bush done nothing, and an Iraqi sponsored terrorist attack occurred, you can be sure that the same media that buried this story would have been holding it up as evidence of his incompetence and indifference.

The only reason that the U.S. is dependent on imported oil is because the American left has worked tirelessly to insure that we cannot exploit our own resources. If there was ever a "war for oil", they were the authors of it.

 
At 7/05/2009 2:46 PM, Blogger Robert Miller said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 7/05/2009 3:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

How ironic:

Train Crash at Magic Kingdon

DC Train Crash

 
At 7/05/2009 4:50 PM, Blogger PeakTrader said...

Anonymous, Bush invading Iraq to free-up cheap oil and Saddam planning to attack the U.S. are not mutually exclusive.

There may have been many good reasons to invade Iraq.

 
At 7/05/2009 4:59 PM, Blogger Robert Miller said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 7/06/2009 6:31 AM, Anonymous Γερώνυμος Αμάτι Nώνυμος said...

"
Russia's secret service had information on more than one occasion that Iraq was preparing acts of terror in the US and its facilities worldwide.

BBC

When asked about Putin's statement, Bush said that, "No responsible, post 9/11, American president could have ignored these warnings."

The Russians had a long, close and on going relationship with Saddam
"


There are no more kings, merely countries.
There are no more countries, merely companies.
There are no more companies, merely integrated oils.

How crude
!

 
At 7/06/2009 8:58 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The connection between the attack on 9/11 by followers of the maruauder, Mohammed, was obvious the next day. When you looked in the sky over the U.S. on 9/12 there were no airplanes. Amtrak was the default national transportation system available.

 
At 7/06/2009 9:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As an engineer (but the electronic kind), I love trains because they are so much more efficient.

Cars seem at times such a unnecessary waste.

I do own a car though.

 
At 7/06/2009 9:03 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

@Robert Miller

Roads can be as much an artificial barrier as train tracks.

And the question on Amtrak's worth is not how much is spent on it, but whether the money spent results in good value.

There are numerous ways to calculate this, and you won't ever get people to agree on one method unless you point a gun at them.

 
At 7/06/2009 10:05 AM, Blogger 1 said...

anon @ 7-6-09 9:03 AM says: "And the question on Amtrak's worth is not how much is spent on it, but whether the money spent results in good value"...

No, I don't think that's the real question...

The real question is, 'Can Amtrak stand on its own with out extorted tax dollars supporting it?'...

Personally I like Amtrak, I like the idea of rail travel but I really dislike the idea that my neighbor has to pay for part of my fare to ride the train...

 
At 7/06/2009 10:24 AM, Blogger 1 said...

From today's Washington Times: GM, Chrysler's sales suffer after bailouts

"Government Motors" is driving Americans away.

There is a groundswell of disdain for the federal bailouts of General Motors and Chrysler, even as polls show that a growing "Buy American" sentiment is boosting sales for the only Detroit automaker that avoided bankruptcy and federal rescue - Ford.

GM and Chrysler say some buyers are coming back to support them, even trading in their Mercedes for Chevrolets.

But it is bailout opponents who are the most visible - and audible.
(there is more)

 
At 7/06/2009 4:37 PM, Blogger Robert Miller said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 7/06/2009 4:38 PM, Blogger Troy said...

For some reason free-market believers hate train subsidies but don't say anything about how so much (more) of our tax dollars are used for building and maintaining roads...

 
At 7/06/2009 6:05 PM, Blogger ExtremeHobo said...

@Troy

It depends on the "free-market" thinker you refer to.

There are some pure libertarians that believe that all roads should be privately made. Here in Richmond we have the road 895 that is owned by a guy in France.

Others believe that roads are more of a monopoly like power companies and should thus be government controlled and regulated. You cant easily have two or three different companies building roads to your house.

It is a blatant fallacy to stereotype all "free-market" thinkers to being anarchists. 100% of your actual free-market friends will agree that a government is necessary and that even some regulations are necessary on certain economic activities.

Also the argument between roads and trains is not a 1 to 1 comparison. You should be comparing train-tracks to roads. The government doesnt subsidize driving yet by paying for half of your total gas and insurance costs.

 
At 7/06/2009 11:43 PM, Blogger Cheech said...

Brilliantly stated, ExtremeHobo, and what an appropriate name!

The Golden Gate Bridge just south of my house is quasi-governmental which means it's operated like a regulated profit maximizing private monopoly. The Golden Gate Transportation District also operates a ferry service and cross-bridge bus system. They pretty much hold a monopoly on all transportation heading into San Francisco from the Northern coast.

Roads, bridges and railroads have characteristics of two types of market failure: natural monopoly and public goods. That's why government often gets involved.

As you say, it's difficult to imagine free market competitors laying tracks, bridges, and roads side-by-side.

Rail lines are a natural monopoly, but the trains operating on them can be competitive.

You can have private roads, but as natural monopolies they would have to be regulated to be economically efficient. An auction could extract much of the monopoly rents, but then wrenching those rents away from government would be tough. Government couldn't give the rents back to drivers because that would increase their demand for the road and drive up the price. They would have to be spent on something which would not affect the demand for roads.

If toll roads had too many toll booths, it would be inefficient. If there weren't any competing parallel roads, they would be monopolies. Even in that event they could fix prices through tacit collusion.

So we can't really get government completely out of these things.

 

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