Our text for today — please open your books to the issue of June 8, 2010 — is an article by Michael Lind titled "Goodbye, bullet trains and windmills."
Are you ready for this?
The center-left consensus favors massive government investment in an uneconomical form of transportation -- fixed-rail, in the form of light rail or high-speed intercity passenger rail -- and in uneconomical renewable energy sources: solar, wind and biomass. Why these particular infrastructures, rather than others? The answer is the fusion, in the last decade, of two previously distinct post-'60s activist movements on the left: urbanists, who despise suburbs, and Greens, who despise automobiles and airplanes. …It is questionable whether any "center-left consensus" favors "massive government investment" in rail transportation; at most, it's an idée-fixe of little Green men and women. But Lind's argument strikes a rare note of common sense in Salon.com's ideological neighborhood.
High-speed rail in America is perpetually discussed and never built. There are two explanations. … The less dramatic but real reason is that federal and state officials repeatedly have concluded that the costs of high-speed rail proposals outweigh the benefits.
A train is a kind of expensive, pre-modern bus or truck caravan that can never change its route because it is fastened to the road. As nations grow more affluent, their people prefer the convenience of personal automobile transportation to the inflexibility of mass transit. … People in rich countries like Germany and Japan are much less likely than people in poor countries to use mass transit. Mass transit is used least by the inhabitants of the U.S., Canada and Australia, where low population densities make long-distance air and car travel more practical than passenger rail at any speed.To put it more bluntly, no one in his right mind uses ground-based mass transit unless he has to. It is likely to be uncomfortable, tedious, behind schedule, and — as Lind says — inflexible.
Flirting even more dangerously (for someone in his position) with pragmatism, he adds:
There is no public support in the U.S. or any other industrial democracy for the combination of self-imposed austerity and massive subsidies that would be necessary to create an economy based on renewable energy. What about global warming? Natural gas and nuclear energy, not wind and solar, should be central to the shift toward clean energy. Natural gas emits less than half the greenhouse gases that coal does and no particulate pollution. Nuclear energy emits no greenhouse gases at all.Right again. No nukes is bad nukes. Those are fighting words in Left World, and I congratulate Lind on his courage. But he'd probably do himself a favor by going to ground for a year or two till the lynching fever subsides.
For one blinding moment I thought he was seriously going to speak truth about power.
Unless the U.S. shuts down immigration, the U.S. population is likely to grow to 400-600 million by 2050. If anti-sprawl campaigners try to prevent the construction of new roads to accommodate a few hundred million more Americans, they will fail.Good night! — is Lind actually going to get to the root of the problem, uncontrolled population growth, which in turn is down to uncontrolled immigration? Forget it. Windmills may not be sacred to someone of his persuasion, but immigration is. "Unless the U.S. shuts down immigration" is just his little rhetorical joke. He means, "Of course we're not going to stop immigration, so there is no question that the U.S. population will grow to 400–600 million."
He's back on comfortable leftist ground after his death-defying windmill bashing: We must keep the immigration door wide open, it's our sacred duty. We are the world.
His big picture is also standard liberal orthodoxy:
All of this strengthens the case for more government spending for years to come. After bailing out the states, the best use of federal dollars would be massive public investment in infrastructure that increases long-term U.S. economic growth. Like other capital improvements, infrastructure investment should be financed not by current taxes but rather by federal, state and local government or agency bonds. In the case of infrastructure assets that deliver benefits for generations, it makes sense to borrow in order to build them and to pay down the debt over decades.This is so flipping crazy that it's hard to know where to begin responding.
"More government spending for years to come" — does the figure $13 trillion (our current national debt, climbing like a rocket) mean anything to Lind? Another federal bailout (the states) — well, after the big banks and two automobile mega-companies, why not the states? Why not the whole world while we're at it? Let's just write a check to cover every country's national debt!
" … Infrastructure investment should be financed not by current taxes but rather by federal, state and local government or agency bonds." Does this financial wizard from the other side of the looking-glass not comprehend that someone has to be willing to buy bonds? That no individual, institution, or sovereign state is going to buy bonds from governments sinking in a tar pit of debt unless the interest is raised to Mafia-like rates? Which in turn means that government debt will soar to yet greater heights, and the only solution other than declaring the nation bankrupt will be a flood of money supply, causing Weimar-style inflation?
"In the case of infrastructure assets that deliver benefits for generations, it makes sense to borrow in order to build them and to pay down the debt over decades." And we're going to pay down the debt when? Once the U.S. population has grown to 600 million? Of which the vast majority will be suckled by government welfare, if present immigration is anything to go by?
Mr. Lind, I salute you on your two moments of sanity. As for the rest, get a grip.