And sink giggling beneath the waves

America has borrowed too much; her government has grown too large.

The only hope of an extended economic recovery is to reduce not only the size, intrusiveness, and cost of government, but also to stop the way government borrowing is eating up all available credit, leaving too little for the growth of private, non-subsidized business and the jobs its creates.

The solution, obviously, is to limit the central government to doing on those things which are absolutely necessary and authorized by the Constitution: maintaining a defensive Navy; operating the State Department, the immigration service, the patent office, the federal courts, and the post office; raising taxes and borrowing billions to construct $53 billion worth of high-speed rail between cities already linked by thriving airlines and bustling interstate highways …

Um … what was that last item, again?

In his state of the Union address last month, President Obama spoke of the vital need to reduce the federal debt and deficit. Yet Monday, the president called for a six-year, $53 billion spending plan for high-speed rail, which he envisions as make-work projects that will “jump-start job creation.”

An initial $8 billion in spending was part of the current budget plan Mr. Obama released Monday. If Congress approves the plan, the money would go toward developing or improving trains that travel up to 250 miles per hour, and connecting existing rail lines to new projects. The White House wouldn’t say where the money for the rest of the program would come from.

During last month’s State of the Union address, Obama said he wanted to give 80 percent of Americans access to high-speed rail within 25 years.

Even America’s densest commuter rail corridor, between Washington and Boston, has proved incapable of sustaining rail service without vast federal subsidies — $35 billion to date, and increasing by more than $1 billion annually — which tend to be “subsidies for the rich,” since the kind of folk who commute between New York and Washington and their affluent suburbs do not tend to be minimum wage workers.

(Randal O’Toole of the Cato Institute reports recently pricing a trip from Washington to New York — $139 one-way on Amtrak’s high-speed Acela, which is still subsidized at a rate of $118 per thousand passenger miles. He ended up taking a non-subsidized round-trip private bus for $21.50.)

But now the president proposes to raise federal taxes and borrowing to provide make-work jobs building high speed rail lines from Alabama to Minnesota to Arizona — rail lines for which no financier in the private sector has detected the slightest consumer demand or willingness of riders to “pay the freight”?

Not only is this shameless make-work pork, designed to enrich no one but the Washington insiders who know how to land such contracts; not only is it vastly far removed from the nation’s real needs, but it simply won’t work.

For whom will this “jump-start job creation”? Out of work pizza chefs, dry cleaners, car dealers, insurance salesmen? Of course not. Only for those who already know their way through the Byzantine maze of federal grant applications, and a surprisingly small number of highly paid, union construction workers. Even the rolling stock is likely to be milled and assembled in Canada.

Previous “stimulus” spending has been an abysmal bust, with even Mr. Obama himself admitting — after he earlier claimed the boondoggles would pay off promptly by creating jobs for “shovel-ready projects” — that there “were no shovel-ready projects.”

Americans love their cars, and the freedom their cars represent. To travel longer distances, America has a thriving system of private airlines (though they would thrive even better if they were FULLY deregulated, allowing me to launch Air Ganja — “Bring your sidearms, bring your spliffs.”).

If private entrepreneurs can raise “risk capital” in the private sector to attempt such projects, more power to them. But passenger rail projects built with federal funding on a “cost-plus” basis can be relied upon to cost many times initial estimates, to drag on for years beyond their due dates, and in the end to attract only a small portion of their projected ridership, unless to save face the government decides to subsequently borrow more billions to heavily subsidize fares, forever.

As an example on a smaller scale, simply review the history of Washington’s own “Metro” subway system.

At this economic juncture, proposing tens of billions for high-speed rail that no one really needs constitutes a bizarre flight of fancy. One is hard pressed to decide whether anyone offering such a plan — mere weeks after lecturing the Congress and nation on the desperate need to get debt and deficit spending under control — is infantile, schizophrenic, or demonstrably insane.

2 Comments to “And sink giggling beneath the waves”

  1. Jerry A. Pipes Says:

    Let me know when you start collecting investors for Air Ganja. 🙂

  2. ChipC Says:

    For what it is worth, I vote for demonstrably insane.


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