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America Cramped By Defensiveness?

military-soldier-sunset

Peter Munson, a Marine major, author, and editor of Small Wars Journal, argues in the Washington Post that America’s focus on defense is weakening the country.

Over time, as I listened to the squabbling, I realized that about the only thing Americans agree on these days is gratitude bordering on reverence for our military. It troubled me that the sum total of consensus in our discourse is deference toward the defenders of our nation.

Eventually, it dawned on me that the focus on defense was the root of our problem.

After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the United States sent its military off to war and fretted about post-traumatic stress disorder — but paid little attention to the fact that America itself was traumatized. Americans became angry and withdrawn. We are fearful and paranoid because after a strike on our nation we chose to focus on defense rather than the resilience and vitality that made America great. In our defensive mind-set, we bristle at every change in a world undergoing an epochal transformation.

We have little reason to be so negative. Certainly the rest of the world is gaining on us, but this represents the success of explicit U.S. policies. After World War II, the United States sought to create a world of economic interdependence and prosperity, hoping to banish the malaise that helped precipitate a global conflict. The prospect of rapid growth in the developing world was not viewed as a threat but rather offered the promise of robust markets for American goods and ingenuity. We were confident and focused on the positive tasks of expanding our economy rather than fearing change.

Collectively, we have lost that positivity — what historian Louis Mumford called an “inner go.” Mumford was referring to the Romans, who in their decline focused only on security and stability, losing the vitality to embrace change and take risks. In our increasingly paranoiac discourse, we too have lost focus on the positive, creative tasks that continuously remake American power, resilience and vitality. We cannot agree to invest in education for our children or in infrastructure for our commerce, to rationalize the regulations that underpin our markets or to act collectively to create value. Instead, we hunker in a defensive crouch.

Munson is right about the symptoms, although I’m doubtful that he’s correctly identified the cause. While I agree with him—indeed, have written many times over the years—that the deification of military service is corrosive and that we spend far more on defense than is necessary to secure our global interests. Further, I agree that we’ve over-learned the lessons of the 9/11 attacks, seeing existential crises where mere annoyance be. And I think (I don’t know whether Munson agrees) that we’ve sacrificed too much liberty in response to this paranoia over weak enemies. And, sure, spending $800 billion a year on the military crowds out spending on other things, at least to the extent that we’re concerned about actually paying for the government we consume.

But I don’t think the security state is the main reason for—or even a significant contributor to—our divisiveness or our lack of investment in infrastructure and human capital. Rather, we have a huge cultural and ideological divide on a whole host of issues. A large swath of the country sees advanced education and scientific research as a secular plot against their way of life. Such things as high-speed rail, commonplace in much of the advanced world, are a hard sell here. Partly, it’s a function of our vast size and sparse population outside of a handful of urban centers. But many see public transit as a socialist plot to take away their freedom. Conversely, while there’s a pretty general consensus on the value of roads, there’s a significant and powerful group that sees investment in them as a subsidy to sprawl, pollution, and myriad social ills.

I’m even more skeptical of the close:

Defense is an act of negation. It brings no victory, instead making us fearful, paranoid, angry and uncooperative. Our negative, defensive outlook has colored our politics, hampered our economy and hamstrung our strategies. Individually, many Americans retain inner go — the unswerving view of our changing world as an endless fount of opportunity. Collectively, however, we must regain our lost focus on a positive vision for the future. We must exalt those who create value in our society: parents, teachers, workers, builders, entrepreneurs, innovators. We must go forth confident that we can lead a changing world by continuing to create, by working together and by living the sorts of fearless lives that our fallen lived.

A nation cannot survive on defense alone. Militaries and wars produce nothing. They only consume — time, lives, resources and hope. That day in the classroom in 2010, looking across the sea of young, diverse faces and hopeful eyes untainted by cynicism, I saw promise for a positive, creative America. When I decided to focus on that promise, the darkness lifted. It can lift for all of us. America, thank your military by building something worth defending. Banish the fear, paranoia and dissension. Lead again.

While they’re public employees, military personnel are, in essence, service providers. We’re likely over-providing that service. And it’s quite arguable that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have had a horrible return on investment compared to alternative public works programs we could theoretically have funded instead. But while our security is not nearly as imperiled as some constantly claim, the fact of the matter is that America’s ability to project power does provide a massive public good. The Navy’s contribution to maintaining freedom of the seas is taken for granted because it’s so seldom challenged; but its presence means that there are only nuisance threats to the flow of commerce. And there’s a significant benefit to the deterrent provided by our capabilities.

Moreover, there’s no evidence that our over-spending on defense has had an opportunity cost aside from added service to the debt. That is, if we had rationalized our spending over the past two decades—and even avoided the war in Iraq and kept the Afghanistan fight to a punitive expedition—we’d have saved a lot of money and lives. But we almost surely wouldn’t have invested the money saved in education, training, science, and infrastructure.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. Ben Simpson says:

    After World War II, the United States sought to create a world of economic interdependence and prosperity

    I hear this orthodoxy a lot. If you look at US policy in South America does it hold up? I don’t think so.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  2. James Joyner says:

    @Ben Simpson: The Western view of “the world” in those days mostly meant “the West.” The Marshall Plan, the United Nations, and the Bretton Woods system were very much aimed at creating an independent, prosperous West, with others willing to follow our rules mostly welcomed to join in.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  3. C. Clavin says:

    Republicans squandered a shitload of money…on tax cuts, entitlement increases, and of course Iraq and Afghanistan. Then there is the debt service on those things.
    Now the same Republicans scream about the deficit they created and want to use it as an excuse to not spend money on “…education, training, science, and infrastructure…”
    We have a choice…invest in the future and take care of the sick and poor and elderly and our vets…or we can cut the sacrosanct and wildly bloated defense budget.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 0

  4. stonetools says:

    The Republican motto: ” Trillions for defense, but not one penny for education, health and welfare”.

    As far as Republicans are concerned, defense spending isn’t “gumint” spending-its some special category of spending that can never be cut, and can only be increased, deficit be damned.
    This can be traced directly to James’ hero, Reagan, whose familiar saying” Government is the problem” should be more properly rendered ” Government is the problem, except for the military, where it is the preferred solution.”

    I disagree with James. I do think that military overspending does crowd out spending on infrastructure, health, and education. Romney’s grotesque budget plan, which called for an INCREASE in military spending and a DECREASE in social spending, demonstrates this.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 1

  5. john personna says:

    I agree with Munson on this:

    Americans became angry and withdrawn. We are fearful and paranoid because after a strike on our nation we chose to focus on defense rather than the resilience and vitality that made America great.

    As a culture we have a poor understanding of risks, broadly, and allocate resources emotionally.

    I guess I could call out the high speed rail the same way. The places where it would serve (and pay) are limited, and so we all hate on bicyclists instead. Darn them. Poor analysis clouded by emotion.

    Big picture though I think the missed element is fracking. It changed the US energy security picture greatly (at some environmental cost). The pressure is off.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  6. Ben Simpson says:

    @James Joyner: I take your point. And I think the phrase “follow our rules” is indicative of the attitude.

    US policy was squarely aimed at coercion – not empowerment and independence – even in Europe. Just look at US policy towards Italy’s 1948 election and the threat to withhold much needed aid to Greece during their US funded civil war.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  7. rudderpedals says:

    A dollar spent on the military is a dollar of misdirected capital not efficiently allocated, a dollar not spent educating our children or keeping us healthy or improving our infrastructure. There are hundreds of billions of pieces of evidence regarding the opportunity cost of military expenditures.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  8. john personna says:

    @rudderpedals:

    For what it’s worth, I think it’s a bigger win to demand more education at lower cost.

    Or put differently, in both defense and education we should never ask for spending. In both we should ask for results, at the lowest possible costs.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  9. JKB says:

    Why would anyone be hopeful about building infrastructure in the US. We’ve fought two wars and those born on 9/11/2001 will be enlisting in the Army before they complete two buildings destroyed in the 9/11 attack. It’s hard to get excited about such slow progress.

    Should we be positive and hopeful for the future, yes. But such a hopeful outlook is hard to maintain in the face of the overwhelming bureaucratic regulatory state that makes everything such a chore. The military accomplishes things. We even think well of the fracking because it is a success. But it is only a success because it was able to find a way around the bureaucrats.

    “When a piece of business comes up,’ writes Ed Tyng, “the first question is not likely to be ‘Should we do it?’ but ‘Can we do it, under existing rules and regulations?’ “He is writing about banking, but what he says hold good for many another business.

    BTW

    But many see public transit as a socialist plot to take away their freedom.

    Well, public transportation is not a socialist plot. However, the plans to force people to use it by enacting punitive taxes and fees on the freedom to move when and as you please by private vehicle is.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 9

  10. superdestroyer says:

    It is hard to argue that the U.S. is under invested in human capital when the media is reporting that there are many more college graduates than there are jobs requiring a college degree. http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/01/27/study-nearly-half-are-overqualified-for-jobs/1868817/

    It is hard to argue infrastructure is defined by high speed trains when the business case for the high speed trains is so bad. The idea that a high speed train from Orlando to Tampa would benefit the economy or lower congestion has never passed the laugh test.

    Would more social welfare spending, more government make work jobs, and pushing educational credentialism to the point that a person needs a graduate degree to work at Starbucks will do nothing to the U.S. Considering that STEM jobs in defense are one of the few STEM jobs still open exclusively to U.S. citizens, massive cut backs in defense spending would actually lower the human capital of the U.S.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 7

  11. superdestroyer says:

    @C. Clavin:

    Do you really think that the U.S. would benefit from more spending on education, “science” or infrastructure. The Democrats, in their push for environmental laws, have made infrastructure not only very expensive but time consuming and difficult. Education spending has doubled since 1990, after correcting for inflation, and there have been no real return on the investment. Defense is the biggest employer of STEM in the U.S. Massive cut backs in Defense will lead to less science, not more.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 8

  12. Rafer Janders says:

    But we almost surely wouldn’t have invested the money saved in education, training, science, and infrastructure.

    Yes, but we would have for damn sure enjoyed the cocaine and hookers we would have spent it on instead. Think of the lost opportunity cost of the enjoyment we passed up as a nation!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  13. rudderpedals says:

    @john personna: Agreed, I think we all want to minimize the waste fraud and abuse and maximize effectiveness. Was it Jesse James who robbed banks because that’s where the money was? Particularly because we’re no longer at war we ought to be cashing that peace dividend in on a better life for our people here at home.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  14. superdestroyer says:

    @rudderpedals:

    There is little relationship on spending and educational performance. The student per capita spending is much higher in urban school districts than in rural school districts but the performance of the urban students is worse.

    What Maj Munson fails to understand is that after 9/11, no politicians was in a position to be blamed for the next attack. How does Maj Munson think the U.S. would have reacted if there has been a second successful attack on the U.S. Have people already forgotten that the airline industry was scared for its own survival after 9/11?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 5

  15. john personna says:

    @JKB:

    As long as roads are paid for in part by government general funds, autos as “private transportation” will be one of those irrational and emotional beliefs.

    If you want to pay 100% for auto roads by gas tax, and then walkways and bikeways separately, that would be great.

    But most car-first folk want all their public funding and none for everyone else. That’s a typical pattern, these days.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 0

  16. Pharoah Narim says:

    Once again we overlook the forest for the trees. Defense spending is a problem and could easily be cut back and not effect our core missions. The real question is–with an all-volunteer force–how does the military always meet its manpower needs? People aren’t joining because they are going to get rich and they aren’t all joining because of uber patriotism. The lions share of people that provide the elbow grease for the military join for camaraderie, doing something bigger than themselves, FINANCIAL STABILITY, AND UPWARD MOBILITY (via GI Bill and FREE specialized training available in the support careers).

    Having a decent paycheck that is guaranteed every 2 weeks and the chance to parlay that into a good working or middle class job post-service is better than working at the local walmart or auto shop. So we get back to the crux of many of the things that have developed in our society the last 25 years that we don’t like but yet attempt to fix piece meal (i.e. violence/apathy). JOBS. Once heavy and light manufacturing jobs started disappearing, a very large portion of the population (especially minorities) got shut out in the cold. Construction is the only game left in town for the groups that would have went into manufacturing and there isn’t enough room for them all–especially with the influx of immigrants that came into the field willing to work for less money.

    The politicians and pundits say the jobs aren’t coming back and people accept that. Our attitude ought to be: “THEY’D BETTER COME BACK PDQ!” With a sea of people out there willing and able to join the military to escape their otherwise dreary prospects, DOD will have the manpower to undertake anything it sees fit. The money is easy to get. Its only when the manpower is scarce that DOD has to prioritize and cut wasteful undertakings. Frankly, this is also a national security issue. Much of the advanced machining and electronic manufacturing experience needed to make high tech military equipment doesn’t even reside in this country and not many Americans are around that have the knowledge to do it. As long as DOD has no competition with the private sector for human capital–they’ll continue to have a bloated budget because frankly, about 25-35 percent of it is a jobs and stimulus program.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  17. Pharoah Narim says:

    @Superdisposer:

    The idea that a high speed train from Orlando to Tampa would benefit the economy or lower congestion has never passed the laugh test. <em

    The business case for the iPod was laughable to the visionless also. Good thing Steve Jobs fell on his face and died penniless bringing that piece of crap to the market. You have to build it BEFORE they come.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  18. rudderpedals says:

    @superdestroyer: OK if you don’t like spending on schools then how about lowering the Social Security retirement age and Medicare eligibility age to 60? It’s the right thing to do.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  19. john personna says:

    @Pharoah Narim:

    You know, in places where high speed rail works they have a lot of non-auto connectivity leading right up to it. In Florida, what, people would high-speed-rail and then rent-a-car? Some win.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  20. superdestroyer says:

    @Pharoah Narim:

    A business case for a smaller digital version of a walkman is a very easy business case. The genius was not in the MP3 player but linking it to a way to deliver the product (songs) that the competitiors just did not have.

    I have no idea how that compares to having a high speed train from one large, spread out city to another large spread out city that are about 2 hours apart by car. It does not save time to drive to a train station in Orland, wait for a train, travelling to Tampa, renting a car, and driving somewhere else. It is cheaper and easier to drive between the two cities with less cost and less time (door step to door step) than a train.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  21. john personna says:

    @superdestroyer:

    What Maj Munson fails to understand is that after 9/11, no politicians was in a position to be blamed for the next attack.

    He understands that completely, and backs up to the fear voters have, driving those politicians to absurd lengths.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  22. john personna says:

    @superdestroyer:

    Picking the iPod is also a classic example of survivorship bias. He didn’t, you’ll note, pick the Newton.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  23. Janis Gore says:

    @rudderpedals: Willy Sutton is credited with that.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  24. Rafer Janders says:

    @john personna:

    In Florida, what, people would high-speed-rail and then rent-a-car? Some win.

    Which is why no one flies between cities in Florida?

    Right now if you want to go from Miami to, say, Jacksonville, you could drive six hours, which is too much for some people, or you could fly in one hour flight time (more if you factor in airport time on each end). With high speed rail, you’d have three options, and the more people took rail, the less traffic there’d be on the roads for the drivers.

    But to say that high-speed rail couldn’t work because you’d still have to rent a car when you get there is the same as claiming that flying can’t work because you’d still have to rent a car. Plenty of people fly, and the fact that they can’t bring their car with them doesn’t seem to be a factor.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  25. superdestroyer says:

    @john personna:

    He words shows that he does not understand. Major Munson wrote “we chose to focus on defense rather than the resilience and vitality that made America great.” In other words, we panic over something that was not that big a deal and worried too much about another attack. Of course, this needs to be put in context that President Bush was criticized for telling people to go shopping. Maj Munson seems to want it both ways with a somber tone from our politicians but without making any major changes.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  26. rudderpedals says:

    @Janis Gore: Thank you

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  27. john personna says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    Um. No, most people do not short-hop within Florida in jet aircraft.

    The come from myriad sources, in a mesh not replaceable with a small set of high speed rail routes.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  28. Rafer Janders says:

    @superdestroyer:

    It does not save time to drive to a train station in Orland, wait for a train, travelling to Tampa, renting a car, and driving somewhere else. It is cheaper and easier to drive between the two cities with less cost and less time (door step to door step) than a train.

    Then why do American, United, Jet Blue, AirTran and US Airways all run flights between Tampa and Orlando? If it doesn’t make sense to take a train, then it should make even less sense to drive to an airport in Orlando, go through security, wait for a flight, fly to Tampa, wait for your bags, rent a car, and drive somewhere else.

    And yet, somehow, several major airlines offer flights on these routes, and people seem to take them.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  29. Rafer Janders says:

    @john personna:

    Um. No, most people do not short-hop within Florida in jet aircraft.

    I don’t know what most people do, but plenty of people do — enough for the airlines to run multiple regularly scheduled flights. See my post above about flights between Tampa and Orlando.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  30. Dave Schuler says:

    We might want to restore the name of the department to its original: the Department of War. Department of Defense is pretty Orwellian.

    I’m at a loss to come up with a name for the Department of Homeland Security that really describes what it does.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  31. john personna says:

    @superdestroyer:

    You use the word “resilience” but I don’t think you know what it means in this context.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  32. john personna says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    Enough to fill a high speed rail system? Enough to justify the power plants (nukes?) to drive it?

    Bear in mind also that those flights are adaptable and change their endpoints year to year. Japan has a geography that says the routes will remain the same.

    In Florida you are talking tourist fashion.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  33. Pharoah Narim says:

    @Superdestroyer:

    An HS train customer NEEDING a rental car at their destination is not the ONLY business case. If I’m going to a 3-day conference in either city, the hotel can shuttle me to my suite and I can use a cab for light transportation in the evening. There is also the personal travel case where I’m picked up by a family member or friend on the other end and local transportation is taken care of that way. Obviously this isn’t going to meet every customer’s needs but its a start. You have to alter the landscape FIRST then secondary businesses adjust to make money. As long as everyone is looking around at everyone else to make the first move–nothing would get done. And look, there’s no rose colored glasses about this–it could fall flat on its face–but so could the interstate hwy system or internet. For all those successes there were a few failures. You have to take calculated risks and tax payers should accept that as part of the price of creating the best society we can live in. There is no 100% chance of success in anything so waiting around for what we perceive as a “sure things” is in itself a self-delusion.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  34. john personna says:

    (There is much low hanging fruit in transportation. It isn’t big and sexy though. It is small incremental change across the country – a new freight link here, a pedestrian overpass there, a bike rack over there.

    High speed rail is all about the fantasy that if we could just build trains, everything would be wonderful. First of all, we can’t build them everywhere. And second where we could build them they would NOT be the dominant transportation mode.)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 2

  35. john personna says:

    BTW, how many honestly want the US government to build high speed rail so you can take it once, and then not again, on vacation?

    Get over yourselves.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 3

  36. Pharoah Narim says:
  37. @James Joyner. Thanks for your thoughts on my article. I haven’t read through all of the many comments, but wanted to address the criticisms in the main post. First, let me say that clearly I’m a neophyte in crafting an argument in under 800 words for a national audience, so I’ve left some ambiguity in what I meant. That being said, this was hopefully more of a conversation-starter piece than a solution to all that ills us.

    Critically, I was not arguing–as some have interpreted–about the opportunity costs of defense spending nor arguing that defense spending is crowding out other sectors to make for a serious drain on our economy. While I do believe that we could spend less, more intelligently, and find greater return on investment, I don’t believe that a reduction in defense spending is the key issue.

    Instead, I’m arguing that a defensive mindset has permeated our culture and discourse. As such, instead of leading and taking advantage of change, we are afraid of it. What is more, this mindset makes us paranoid and pessimistic, impairing the sort of bold investments and initiatives that make business and society great. We complain of short term outlooks in our corporations, for example. Part of this is due to the tyranny of the investors in public corporations, but part of it also is due to pessimism and fear of change.

    Infrastructure and educational spending is not a panacea. I’m not arguing for a massive state-led focus on projects such as high-speed rail, but many of our cities and the businesses and workers therein are facing real losses due to poor and underprovided infrastructure. Likewise, while we are pumping out college graduates as someone noted above I think, these graduates are not necessarily suited to the jobs that are available. Same for high school grads, etc. Businesses again are facing real losses due to the mismatch of educational programs to skills required and the dearth of specifically skilled workers.

    A pessimistic and defensive outlook prohibits the consensus and cooperation needed to provide the public goods that underpin our economy. You need to believe in a better future to invest in it, whether in public goods or in specific corporate projects. I am arguing that our last decade of war, coupled with the economic crisis which I couldn’t discuss in a short op-ed, has made us incredibly defensive and pessimistic and that we absolutely have to change that mindset if we are to lead again. I argue this at much greater length and nuance in my new book, War, Welfare & Democracy: Rethinking America’s Quest for the End of History.

    I hope this helped to flesh out my argument a bit and I hope people can find something to build on in it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  38. john personna says:

    The fact that you think your survivorship story in electronics tells you anything about a transportation pick is astonishing.

    VCs in electronics place thousands of bets every year. Of those a few will win.

    And so let’s just place one big national bet on high speed rail?

    Good God, man.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  39. Rafer Janders says:

    @Pharoah Narim:

    You have to take calculated risks and tax payers should accept that as part of the price of creating the best society we can live in. There is no 100% chance of success in anything so waiting around for what we perceive as a “sure things” is in itself a self-delusion.

    What complete nonsense. America didn’t become a great nation by taking calculated risks or by daring to achieve great things, by reaching for the stars. America became a great and powerful country by only doing the simple and easy things and by never trying anything new. Remember the lesson we all learned at our parents’ knee: “If at first you don’t succeed, better to never have tried at all”….

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  40. john personna says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    You know, interestingly this here Internet was invented and built out by government, along rail lines. Railway right-of-ways made a natural fit, even with electronic communications for train monitoring in place.

    Why “OMG we must do high speed rail” and not “OMG we must do GHz internet?”

    High speed rail is just weirdly emotionally seductive, I guess.

    (Sorry Peter, that your thread became a high speed rail thing. Such are the internets.)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  41. C. Clavin says:

    When I was a kid my parents would pack us up in the car and head to FLA. in the south large parts of 95 weren’t complete. Infrastructure like that doesn’t get done all at once.
    A HSR link from Tampa might not make perfect sense. But when it connects to Atlanta, Richmond, DC, NYC, and Boston then you have something.
    You know…it works in a lot of other places. But then a lot of small minds think we have the best health care system in the world too.
    You can’t fix stupid.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  42. Rafer Janders says:

    @john personna:

    High speed rail is all about the fantasy that if we could just build trains, everything would be wonderful.

    Well, no. That’s a bit of a strawman, don’t you think?

    First of all, we can’t build them everywhere.

    Nor does anyone want to.

    And second where we could build them they would NOT be the dominant transportation mode.)

    So? They wouldn’t have to be. But they’d add a third or fourth leg to existing transportation modes, taking the strain off existing systems and offering added flexibility. And of course, in some cases they already have become the dominant mode; 75% of DC-NY travel, for example, is now via Amtrak rather than airlines, a complete reversal of the situation only 10 years ago.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  43. Rafer Janders says:

    @john personna:

    Enough to fill a high speed rail system? Enough to justify the power plants (nukes?) to drive it?

    I don’t know enough about Florida at this point to go into a detailed analysis of its train future, and, frankly, if the people who live there were dumb enough to elect Rick Scott, they deserve whatever gridlock they want to sit in.

    However, there are many other parts of the US that are as dense or denser than Europe and offer viable futures for high speed rail, as for example a Pacific Coast system (Vancouver-Seattle-Portland-SF-LA-San Diego, with a spur from LA out to Las Vegas); the Northeast Corridor; a Chicago-centered Detroit-Toronto–Cleveland-Columbus-Cincinnati-Indianapolis-Milwaukee-Minneapolis-St. Louis etc. Midwestern hub and spoke system, etc.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  44. john personna says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    However, there are many other parts of the US that are as dense or denser than Europe …

    If they were equivalent to Europe they’d already have the equivalent auto ownership rates, and equivalent percentage use of public transport.

    High speed rail would supplant slow speed rail in such a system.

    It is completely different, a liberal fantasy, to drive the whole transformation to “another Europe” by dropping high speed rail into the mix.

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  45. john personna says:

    (Start with sidewalks, bike-lanes, and buses, darn it.)

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  46. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Pharoah Narim:

    Absent truly punitive tariffs and a sea-change in corporate tax law (both of which would be handed to the consumer in the end analysis), there will be no repatriation of these jobs beyond the anecdotal.

    We’re not the first economy in history to undergo post-industrialism. We won’t be the last either, but for reasons passing understanding, we do seem to believe that we can be the first one to ever reverse it.

    That is an erroneous belief.

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  47. anjin-san says:

    Speaking for myself, I would love high speed trains on the west coast. I would go to LA/SD several times a year, and my wife would probably take a few trips to Portland or Seattle. I would love to be able to take a train to Vegas or Reno. You could probably run special trains just for Giants fans going to away games.

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  48. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Peter J. Munson:

    I am arguing that our last decade of war, coupled with the economic crisis which I couldn’t discuss in a short op-ed, has made us incredibly defensive and pessimistic and that we absolutely have to change that mindset if we are to lead again.

    I’m not so sure that this is accurate, because it presumes that the average voterperson is both intelligent enough and knowledgeable enough to accurately assess the facts and make informed, cogent decisions based on them.

    I don’t buy that presumption. I’d instead argue that the average voterperson is neither, and as a result as the world becomes increasingly complex and the scenarios to be considered become more arcane, our average voterperson retreats into a cocoon of simple answers which he can fit into his limited grasp.

    For example, he looks at the consequences of post-industrialism and believes that a simple policy change can make it be 1955 again. Anybody with even a limited grasp of macro knows that this is impossible, but rather than explain to average voterperson why he’s holding onto a pipe dream, we (on BOTH sides of the political aisle) find ways to sell him the fantasy that it’s possible.

    Because we want his vote.

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  49. JKB says:

    @john personna: If you want to pay 100% for auto roads by gas tax

    I tell you what, return the money siphoned out fuel taxes to pay for public transportation schemes and we’ll see where the numbers fall out.

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  50. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @JKB:

    Frankly, outside of limited instances, we have not achieved the level of population density (yet) which makes things like high-speed rail palatable.

    Now, that said, transportation infrastructure has never been equitably financed at the micro level. For example, the taxes paid by New Yorkers do a great deal to make it possible for places like West Jesus, Idaho to have roads and bridges that they wouldn’t be able to pay for on their own (absent truly draconian levels of local taxation).

    So, in simple, we need to argue less about how we pay for transportation infrastructure, and more about which forms of it we as a society want to underwrite. There is no one size fits all answer. Roads make sense in bumpkinville. Rail makes sense in the NYC/Philly/Baltimore/DC corridor (among others) – which is why we have it.

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  51. Pharoah Narim says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    I don’t believe we can bring those manpower intensive jobs back–although I wish we could. No politician is going to vote for punitive taxes on business to repatriate labor and no corporation is going to tell their investors they are going to take one for the team and make less profit for the sake of keeping people working. Since these aren’t going to change—the only game left in town is Gov’t programs to keep people working and gov’t research to invent products we can produce and sell to other countries for 20-30 years until that function is sent overseas in search of higher profit margin. Of course, no one (making any serious money anyway) wants to pay higher taxes so we are left with what we have. Frankly, the root of this is an 19th Century centralized money system where capital formation happens galaxies away from production. When local banks were more of a player they served as a buffer so productivity could continue with relevence with most citizens. With local banks irrelevant and productivity number through the roof according to stat collectors, who the heck things things are actually happening? Yet the numbers say this country is highly productive. My question is doing what? We built a lot of houses and made the internet faster by orders of magnitude of the past 20 years–what a great footnote next to Americas name’s in the annals of history after an unprecedented start.

    So we are left with what we are left with–apathetic children, wandering young adults, jaded middle age and senior citizens. Perhaps things like crowd-funding can mature and get large enough so that big ideas get funding–perhaps not. Until something comes along however, the America we have now is what were going to have. If you aren’t making stuff and servicing things–you have no foundation to an economy. Everything else is a paper game where the music will eventually stop playing.

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  52. steve says:

    @Peter Munson- I took your piece as a starter, not a comprehensive approach to our problems. I think you are correct that we have become too defensive/paranoid/cynical and nihilistic about our big issues. I happen to think that a lot of this is driven by the pundits and ideologues of both parties. They make a lot of money off of stirring up faux outrage. Unfortunately, it goes beyond that. We have real, and deep, cultural divides over how to address difficult issues. our media and think tanks have just made things a lot worse. I am not really sure if we can adequately bridge those differences as long as our economy remains weakened.

    BTW, thx for your great blog. Long time reader and contributor. Like James, the lionization of our troops has worried me. Having served in the early 70s, it was kind of nice to be greeted by camera crews and bands when I returned from Desert Storm. I thought that was sincere. What we have now is way over done and often strikes me as having a secondary purpose.

    Steve

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  53. wr says:

    @john personna: “If they were equivalent to Europe they’d already have the equivalent auto ownership rates, and equivalent percentage use of public transport.”

    Right, because different government policies can’t possibly affect people’s behaviors. The fact that the US government has always heavily subsidized driving, building and maintaining an expensive and extensive highway system while keeping gas taxes to a fraction of their European counterparts, has nothing to do with it. Clearly, if gas had traditionally cost twice what it does here, with the extra money taken in taxes and put into other forms of transportation, our system of transportation would still be exactly what it is today, because long car trips are innate to the American personality.

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  54. stonetools says:

    @Peter J. Munson:

    Infrastructure and educational spending is not a panacea. I’m not arguing for a massive state-led focus on projects such as high-speed rail, but many of our cities and the businesses and workers therein are facing real losses due to poor and underprovided infrastructure. Likewise, while we are pumping out college graduates as someone noted above I think, these graduates are not necessarily suited to the jobs that are available. Same for high school grads, etc. Businesses again are facing real losses due to the mismatch of educational programs to skills required and the dearth of specifically skilled workers

    I think there’s a lot to be said for a big program aimed at rebuilding old infastructure ( or building new ) infrastructure. We can make big bets on green energy , or a next generation Internet, or nanotech, or solar power satellites/space elevators, to really think big sky. JP has a bee in his bonnet about high speed rail, but there are lots of other choices.
    Maybe this can be combined wityh some kind of a CCC/WPA/Americorps. Yeah, I know such programs were viewed as “inefficient” by the classical economists, but it could be way of inspiring a generation of youth to think of doing something big for America.
    Maybe a big country needs a big challenge , at least once in a while.

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  55. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Pharoah Narim:

    When local banks were more of a player they served as a buffer so productivity could continue with relevence with most citizens. With local banks irrelevant and productivity number through the roof according to stat collectors, who the heck things things are actually happening?

    I’m not sure that I buy that. Production was localized in the past for two simple reasons – proximity to necessary resources and proximity to markets. Unless we are harkening back to the early 1800s, and even then to an extent, finance has always come from large banks operating from a centralized location – in the history of this country initially Europe and then New York.

    I lay much of the blame on the unwillingness of the American consumer to pay higher prices for domestically produced goods. It is the epitome of irony that said consumer will wail about the loss of jobs while loading himself up with cheap Chinese goods at Wal-Mart. Markets respond by giving him what he wants as cheaply as possible. We have largely wrung the potential efficiencies out of production and materials, which left us with one place to go to seek lower costs of production – labor. Manufacturing wasn’t driven out of the US – manufacturers trampled one another trying to be the first ones out the door of outsourcing in pursuit of cheap labor – in response to Mister Consumer griping at Wal-Mart.

    I’d argue that we have essentially become Britain, post WW2. We are now where they were – they are now where we are headed. They have faced post-industrialism by converting to a services based economy, and with a great deal of success, but the caveat to that success is that it leaves a great deal of the population essentially unemployable. This segment must then be carried on the public dime.

    So it’s not so much a case of what is going to happen – history gives us numerous examples of post-industrial economies and they all go to the same place eventually – but instead one of how (and when) we begin to deal with that change in a productive way.

    Because it will happen regardless of what we choose to do about it.

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  56. stonetools says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    I’d argue that we have essentially become Britain, post WW2. We are now where they were – they are now where we are headed. They have faced post-industrialism by converting to a services based economy, and with a great deal of success, but the caveat to that success is that it leaves a great deal of the population essentially unemployable. This segment must then be carried on the public dime

    Dunno about all that. There’s a lot of a good, non-outsourceable jobs that are going begging. You can’t outsource repairing a bridge, laying fiber optic cable for the next Internet, or lead removal for schools. The only question is, Why aren’t we paying for those kinds of jobs to be done?

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  57. Al says:

    One thing to keep in mind is that while Europe has a great passenger rail system their freight system is about as bad as our passenger rail system. The freight rail system in the US, on the other hand, is widely considered to be second to none and fixing our passenger rail system without ruining the freight system is a tricky problem.

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  58. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @stonetools:

    Dunno about all that. There’s a lot of a good, non-outsourceable jobs that are going begging. You can’t outsource repairing a bridge, laying fiber optic cable for the next Internet, or lead removal for schools. The only question is, Why aren’t we paying for those kinds of jobs to be done?

    Because those activities almost always involve higher taxes in order to finance them, and for reasons passing understanding, we in this country seem to think that we can have everything we want without having to suffer the inconvenience of having to pay for it.

    Which brings us to the glaring, obvious difference between Britain and the US …

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  59. Spartacus says:

    @john personna:

    And second where we could build [trains] they would NOT be the dominant transportation mode.

    I'm not sure where it is that you believe we could build them, and why do you say they would not become the dominant transportation mode?

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  60. anjin-san says:

    public transportation schemes

    I shudder to think what the traffic in the bay area would be like without our public transportation “schemes” – and it turned out having trains running under the bay was a pretty good thing to have when the bay bridge was damaged in the ’89 quake. Of course complex concepts like “redundancy” and “single failure point” may be too much for minds shaped by Fox News to handle.

    I take a train to SF on a fairly regular basis. It actually works pretty well.

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  61. Rafer Janders says:

    @anjin-san:

    Of course complex concepts like “redundancy” and “single failure point” may be too much for minds shaped by Fox News to handle.

    When I was in Paris in 2011 and the airports were shut down for two days by the giant Christmas snowstorm I just took a train to Geneva instead. Whereas in much of this country, if the planes can’t fly you really have no other option. You’re stuck.

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  62. Rafer Janders says:

    @john personna:

    If they were equivalent to Europe they’d already have the equivalent auto ownership rates, and equivalent percentage use of public transport.

    I have no idea what this is supposed to mean. It’s simple fact that many US states and/or regions have population densities on par with their European counterparts, and the fact that the current transportation networks aren’t equivalent is due to the political choices we’ve made as much as anything.

    Ohio and Florida, for example, are about as dense as France. Virginia and North Carolina sit one density level down, but are on par with Austria and Spain; California, at 90 people per square kilometer, is also on par with Spain’s 88 people per square kilometer. And yet somehow France, Austria and Spain are considered dense enough to support high-speed rail, while Ohio, Florida, Virginia, North Carolina and California aren’t.

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  63. Dave Schuler says:

    @Peter J. Munson:

    Thank you for entering the scrum here, Maj. Munson. I have a question about this:

    Infrastructure and educational spending is not a panacea. I’m not arguing for a massive state-led focus on projects such as high-speed rail, but many of our cities and the businesses and workers therein are facing real losses due to poor and underprovided infrastructure. Likewise, while we are pumping out college graduates as someone noted above I think, these graduates are not necessarily suited to the jobs that are available. Same for high school grads, etc. Businesses again are facing real losses due to the mismatch of educational programs to skills required and the dearth of specifically skilled workers.

    While I agree that believing in a better future is necessary to make the investments that will help that future to be realized, I also think that a reasonable expectation that prudent investments will be made is even more necessary. Let me give a few examples.

    There are already 221 bridges across the Mississippi, on average one every 10 miles. Will adding a 222nd contribute materially to our effectiveness? Every town over 100,000 in population already has an Interstate within easy reach. Even the remotest areas in the lower 48 have Interstates within 100 miles or so. Will more Interstates make us more effective?

    We do have infrastructure needs. We should improve our energy and telecommunications infrastructures. But experience suggests that’s not where the bulk of any new spending will go.

    In real terms we spend many multiples on education what we did 20 years ago. Much of that money is being spent on more administrators. If more spending is spent along present lines, how much more actual education will result? I suggest not very much.

    We don’t just need a less pessimistic, defense attitude. We need a shift in mindset about where we spend money. More bridges to nowhere or tens of thousands of journalism majors won’t do much for our international competitiveness but they will delegitimize the idea of investment in infrastructure or education.

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  64. john personna says:

    I keep proposing broad and small scale transportation changes, and no one has convinced me that starting at the other end, with one or two showcase megaprojects, would be more effective.

    It certainly would not benefit working classes as well as pedestrian, cycling, and local public transport.

    Compared to those it is certainly about fantasy vision and not immediate impact.

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  65. al-Ameda says:

    Moreover, there’s no evidence that our over-spending on defense has had an opportunity cost aside from added service to the debt. That is, if we had rationalized our spending over the past two decades—and even avoided the war in Iraq and kept the Afghanistan fight to a punitive expedition—we’d have saved a lot of money and lives. But we almost surely wouldn’t have invested the money saved in education, training, science, and infrastructure.

    James, since 1983 we in America have experienced three period of protracted economic prosperity and we failed in each case to invest in ourselves – e.g. human capital, education and infratructure. We have descended into a long period of dumbing down and diminishing our public sector. We have nobody to blame but ourselves.

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  66. john personna says:

    And again, if you have an investment choice between high speed data and high speed passenger travel between US cities in the 21st century, data wins hands down.

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  67. Ben Wolf says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    Because those activities almost always involve higher taxes in order to finance them, and for reasons passing understanding, we in this country seem to think that we can have everything we want without having to suffer the inconvenience of having to pay for it.

    A bizzare statement. Everything government does “gets paid for” because it buys goods and services from the private sector. Nor do our activities “almost always” involve higher taxes.

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  68. stonetools says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    Ohio and Florida, for example, are about as dense as France. Virginia and North Carolina sit one density level down, but are on par with Austria and Spain; California, at 90 people per square kilometer, is also on par with Spain’s 88 people per square kilometer. And yet somehow France, Austria and Spain are considered dense enough to support high-speed rail, while Ohio, Florida, Virginia, North Carolina and California aren’t

    That’s because those Europeans are sheeple, and we’re ‘Muricans, and we’re exceptional. We don’t need no steeenking trains! We’re car people-and one person per car at that.

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  69. stonetools says:

    @john personna:

    And again, if you have an investment choice between high speed data and high speed passenger travel between US cities in the 21st century, data wins hands down.

    Why not both, though? Japan has both. Europe has both.

    Why is it either/or?
    Im OK with more investment in local public transportation, but how’s that working out?
    Maybe you need the big federal project to jump start improved state and local.

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  70. john personna says:

    @stonetools:

    The easy answer to that is what do you mean “both?”

    Pervasive high speed rail for all Americans?

    Care to cost that out?

    (What we call high speed rail is a political device, the use of some very small number of showcase projects to attract voters and contributions. There is only the vague implication that these would roll out in the next … what 50 years? 100?)

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  71. john personna says:

    “Bicycles and Broadband” is something that can be incrementally built, everywhere, with incremental returns everywhere.

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  72. john personna says:

    (You don’t have to spend billions before seeing “first benefit” with small scale transportation projects. A million dollar project can work, and benefit someone. It might even, as in the case of a pedestrian overpass, save lives.)

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  73. stonetools says:

    @john personna:

    I’m going to have to run, but I note that Europe and Japan have managed both-and bycycle paths and walkable neighborhoods , too.

    Those infernal furriners must just be smarter than us ‘Muricans.

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  74. wr says:

    @john personna: Ok, let’s build bike lanes AND trains.

    That wasn’t very hard, was it?

    Why you insist on arguing against the one by bringing up the other is a a mystery.

    Yes, we need small projects.

    Yes, we need big projects.

    Let’s do it.

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  75. john personna says:

    @wr:

    Federal spending on pedestrian and bicycle projects is less that $1B per year (previous to the stimulus era it ran at $200M per year).

    The cost of one single high speed rail system in California is projected north of $60B.

    I suspect you are having me on, when you say “just do both.” You can’t be serious, understanding the costs and choices, in practice.

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  76. @Dave Schuler: Totally agree with your comments about more rational investments and expenditures. In the book from which my argument is drawn, I go into some detail about this very problem and how our short term outlook and collective action problems lead us to make these sorts of irrational, suboptimal investments. We go for me-first investments because–among many things–we don’t see our future getting better and thus see ourselves reaping a profit from these long-term investments. You’re absolutely right. It isn’t just investing, it is investing in a measured way with a long-term view of how to best support our economy.

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  77. john personna says:

    Jeebus, note that that was $200M-$700M nationally for pedestrian and bicycle projects per year, and $65B to build one single high speed rail system (with hanging questions of success and ridership).

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  78. Ben Wolf says:

    @stonetools:

    Why not both, though? Japan has both. Europe has both.

    It comes down to questions of utility and effectiveness (which are not the same as efficiency). We can easily “afford” to do both; government can afford to purchase anything for sale in its own currency. The constraint is always availability of real resources.

    1) Do we have the necessary labor, materials, land and knowledge to build both bicycle lanes and high-speed rail?

    2) Can we transfer them to public purpose without creating scarcity of those resources and driving inflation?

    3) Can we tranfer them to public purpose without monopolizing those resources and crowding out private investment?

    If the answer to all three questions is “yes”, then we can have bike lanes and fast trains. Whether those things are the most economical use of real resources is another question.

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  79. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Ben Wolf:

    A bizzare statement. Everything government does “gets paid for” because it buys goods and services from the private sector. Nor do our activities “almost always” involve higher taxes.

    Sure it does, but it has to have funding to buy those goods and services. This leaves with the choice of borrowing that funding or obtaining it through taxation. Consider the flow:

    government obtains funding from you via taxation
    government uses that funding to obtain goods & services from you

    You have effectively gotten your money back, but you have lost the work product / productive time that you expended to facilitate it. In effect, you’ve given government work product essentially for free. It’s still a net tax / loss of wealth.

    Do you obtain a benefit from that loss? Sure. You have a nice, new bridge to drive over, but let’s not pretend that this is a zero-sum game. You have to be willing to give up the wealth to obtain it, and America largely isn’t.

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  80. john personna says:

    @Ben Wolf:

    I’ll broadly agree with that, before I …

    @HarvardLaw92:

    Ben hews pretty strongly to Modern Monetary Theory (Chartalism), and tends to view it as the accepted reality.

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  81. Ben Wolf says:

    @HarvardLaw92: You are confusing money with wealth. Money is “virtual” wealth; it has no intrinsic value and is only a claim against real wealth.

    If I choose to sell my good/services to government I am choosing to exchange my real resources (labor, materials, capital goods, time etc.) for government IOUs which I can use to obtain real wealth I desire more. And my dollars then go into someone else’s pockets and enable them to acquire the goods and services they desire. The increased demand for those goods and services stimulates productive investment and increases the future wealth of society as a whole.

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  82. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @john personna:

    Ben hews pretty strongly to Modern Monetary Theory (Chartalism), and tends to view it as the accepted reality.

    And that’s fine if it gets him through the day, but the caveat in that thinking is that the government does indeed have the ability to create money through fiat, but in doing so it devalues the money, so people are able to purchase less with the same amount of it as policy introduces more and more valueless money into the system. It’s still an effective tax.

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  83. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Ben Wolf:

    You are confusing money with wealth. Money is “virtual” wealth; it has no intrinsic value and is only a claim against real wealth.

    No, actually I’m not. You have exchanged real wealth (work product) for real benefit. Money has simply served as a medium of enabling the transaction. In the end analysis, you have still given up something of worth in order to obtain a benefit.

    The limiting factor then becomes the degree to which government can supply the exchange medium, and it does that through borrowing, through taxation or through creation of money out of thin air.

    Borrowing simply pushes your end transfer of wealth into the future. Taxation, well we covered that above. Fiat injection? As noted, that devalues the exchange medium throughout the system, so you are still losing buying power in terms of exchange for actual wealth.

    There is no way, again, to achieve the desired outcome without the contribution of wealth, and I’ll note again, America largely isn’t willing to play ball.

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  84. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Ben Wolf:

    If I choose to sell my good/services to government I am choosing to exchange my real resources (labor, materials, capital goods, time etc.) for government IOUs which I can use to obtain real wealth I desire more. And my dollars then go into someone else’s pockets and enable them to acquire the goods and services they desire. The increased demand for those goods and services stimulates productive investment and increases the future wealth of society as a whole.

    Again, where does government obtain the IOUs that it provides to you in exchange for the goods and services that you provided to it?

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  85. anjin-san says:

    The bottom line on public transportation is pretty clear. The oil companies don’t want it. They destroyed the excellent public transportation we had in this country after WW2, and they don’t want it rebuilt. Their will be done…

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  86. Spartacus says:

    @john personna:

    I suspect you are having me on, when you say “just do both.” You can’t be serious, understanding the costs and choices, in practice.

    You’re judging HSR only on the immediate impact it will have on congestion in densely populated areas and comparing it to other actions that may have a more significant impact sooner. However, many of us who favor HSR do so not because it will reduce congestion right away, but because of the way we believe it will shape our living patterns over the long-term.

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  87. john personna says:

    @Spartacus:

    Yeah sure, spend $1T nationally, wait 20 years, and you MIGHT have something.

    Definitely a gamble, including a gamble that the kids with their reddit want to run around on trains.

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  88. stonetools says:

    @john personna:

    I’m back

    Definitely a gamble, including a gamble that the kids with their reddit want to run around on trains.

    You mean like building an interstate highway system? Or a Hoover Dam? Or a transcontinental railroad? Or putting a man on the Moon?

    All of those were gambles too. And there were plenty of detractors each time telling us that we should think smaller too.
    Are we a smaller, less capable country than when we did those? I’m beginning to think we are.

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  89. Ben Wolf says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    No, actually I’m not. You have exchanged real wealth (work product) for real benefit. Money has simply served as a medium of enabling the transaction. In the end analysis, you have still given up something of worth in order to obtain a benefit.

    Dollars are not a “benefit” unless dollars are desired. They are not a commodity. If one exchanges their labor for dollars, they are obtaining something they desire more (dollars) in exchange for something they desire less (real resources).

    The limiting factor then becomes the degree to which government can supply the exchange medium . . .

    There is never a limit on government’s capacity to supply dollars. It is the monopoly issuer.

    . . . and it does that through borrowing, through taxation or through creation of money out of thin air.

    Have you ever paid taxes? Government doesn’t “collect” anything from you. It debits your account for the quantity owed. Those dollars cease to exist. They are not and cannot be stored in any sense; you don’t send the government anything. Attempt to pay your taxes in cash and the IRS employee will take the cash, hand you a receipt and through your dollars into a shredder.

    It is impossible for taxes to fund government spending.

    Borrowing simply pushes your end transfer of wealth into the future.

    I assume you mean government borrowing.

    Q: Who can buy Treasurys?

    A: Banks can buy Treasurys.

    Q: What do banks buy Treasurys with?

    A: Reserves

    Q: Where do reserves come from?

    A: From the Treasury and the Federal Reserve.

    The reserves used to buy government bonds are supplied to the bond market by the government. It is borrowing from itself.

    Fiat injection?

    Every penny government spends it creates.

    As noted, that devalues the exchange medium throughout the system, so you are still losing buying power in terms of exchange for actual wealth.

    There is no empirical evidence for this assertion. Whether you realize it or not you are appealing to the Quantity Theory of Money.

    The QTM rest on the equation MV= PQ, where M is the monetary aggregate, V is the turnover rate (or velocity of spending before it exits the money supply due to financial leakages), P is the general price level and Q is total output.

    The only way in which your assertion that the monetary aggregate drives inflaton can be true is if all other variables are neutralized or ignored.

    The evidence is that V, velocity, moves all over the place. Velocity is affected by savings rate, taxation and current account balance, all of which frequently or continually change so your assertion fails here. If you wish to eliminate Q, or output, as a variable then you must assume that output is always at full (and thereby deny the existence of unemployment and underemployment of all available resources) so your assertion fails here as well.

    There is no way, again, to achieve the desired outcome without the contribution of wealth, and I’ll note again, America largely isn’t willing to play ball.

    Money is not wealth. It is a claim against wealth using the government’s unit of account.

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  90. Ben Wolf says:

    @john personna: There is no reason we cannot engage limited deployment of HSR, then study the results. Unless you’re going to argue we lack the real resources to do so.

    Your position is as extreme as that of “build everything”.

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  91. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Ben Wolf:

    In your zeal to pontificate on what seems to be your pet topic, you drove right by this:

    There is no way, again, to achieve the desired outcome without the contribution of wealth, and I’ll note again, America largely isn’t willing to play ball.

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  92. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Ben Wolf:

    There is no empirical evidence for this assertion.

    Really? Then why has the value of the dollar in terms of purchasing power consistently eroded since the early 1970s, despite a huge expansion of the economy over that same time period?

    For that matter, how do you explain Weimar Germany?

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  93. Ben Wolf says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    In your zeal to pontificate on what seems to be your pet topic, you drove right by this.

    Sir: read my last post again. It’s right there at the end. And yes, to those of us who study economics it’s just a “pet topic”. We’re way less cool than you are.

    Really? Then why has the value of the dollar in terms of purchasing power consistently eroded since the early 1970s, despite a huge expansion of the economy over that same time period?

    1). An expanding economy does not occur “despite” inflation. You are presuming a direct correlation which does not exist.

    2). Inflation occurs when demand exceeds productive capacity, which spurs investment and is why productive capacity has expanded in tandem with GDP. Demand exceeds the producers ability to supply, prices rise and she increases investment so as to meet demand.

    Or:

    3). Supply costs increase, notably the oil shocks of the 70’s and 2008. Energy costs increase the costs of everything else.

    4). That you bring up the Weimar Republic in this context is proof positive you are lacking in knowledge about it. Hyperinflation is not “really bad inflation”.

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  94. Spartacus says:

    @john personna:

    Yeah sure, spend $1T nationally, wait 20 years, and you MIGHT have something.

    Unless you can point to a serious proposal by anyone to spend $1T to create national HSR, you’ve done nothing more than argue against a straw man.

    Definitely a gamble, including a gamble that the kids with their reddit want to run around on trains.

    I have no reason to think that people who use reddit would prefer to take a plane between LA and SF (and all the inconveniences that carries) than a high-speed train. I also have no reason to think people’s willingness to endure the ever-increasing inconveniences of plane travel will diminish over the next 20 years. Do you have reason to believe either of these is not true?

    The issue is whether HSR is a substantial improvement over planes, buses and cars for certain population corridors. I think the answer is undoubtedly “yes” for some areas. This issue is completely unrelated to determining the best way to relieve local traffic congestion within the next 2-3 years. I don’t understand why you approach these issues as if they are the same.

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  95. wr says:

    @john personna: “Jeebus, note that that was $200M-$700M nationally for pedestrian and bicycle projects per year, and $65B to build one single high speed rail system (with hanging questions of success and ridership). ”

    So clearly we need to be spending a lot more on pedestrian and bicycle projects. And build high speed rail.

    Or we could piss away the nation’s wealth on useless weapons systems that even the military doesn’t want, or invading countries that aren’t a threat, or slashing taxes on billionaires and corporations.

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  96. wr says:

    @john personna: “Yeah sure, spend $1T nationally, wait 20 years, and you MIGHT have something.

    Definitely a gamble, including a gamble that the kids with their reddit want to run around on trains.”

    So now your complaint is we can’t build high speed rail because it takes a long time? I guess we never should have built the Golden Gate Bridge — that took years. God forbid we invest in something that will benefit the country for decades — it we can’t have it now, forget it.

    Here’s my bet — any HSR built is going to last a lot longer than Reddit… and by the time it’s done, those “kids” will be adults who will need transportation as much as the current crop of adults.

    Or are you seeing a future in which social media is so pervasive no one goes anywhere anymore?

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  97. Stonetools says:

    Hey, mabe we could invest in a more modern power grid?
    Just sayin’.

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  98. anjin-san says:

    Hey, mabe we could invest in a more modern power grid?

    Are you some kind of socialist taker?

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  99. Rafer Janders says:

    @john personna:

    Yeah sure, spend $1T nationally, wait 20 years, and you MIGHT have something.
    Definitely a gamble, including a gamble that the kids with their reddit want to run around on trains.

    This is why, back in the 1890s, we never built the New York City subway system. Wait 20 years and we might have something? Definitely a gamble, including a gamble that the kids with their new-fashioned Victrolas and moving pictures want to run around on underground trains. No, safer to just stay with the above-ground horse and buggy system.

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  100. anjin-san says:

    @john personna:

    Atlantic City exists because someone with a vision built a train to nowhere.

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  101. superdestroyer says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    HOw many people fly Tampa to Orland with those cities as their destinations. Orlando is one of the few major airport that every airline flies do and every airline has flights from Orlando to other hubs all over the U.S. If you are in Tampa, it makes sense to fly to Otland and change planes to fly to the rest of the world.

    Also, the infrastructure already exists. The government did not have to spend billions to build two airports so that people can fly between those two cities.

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  102. superdestroyer says:

    @Pharoah Narim:

    There is no scenario that jusifies spending billions to build a high speed train. The same could be said for building a high speed train from Houston to San Antonio or a high speed train from Chicago to St Louis.

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  103. superdestroyer says:

    @C. Clavin:

    There is absolutely no business case for taking the train between Atlanta and Boston. Commercial airlines will always be faster and cheaper. In addition, the path between Richmond and Boston is too crowded to build on anymore. Digging massive tunnels under DC, Baltimore, Philly, NYC, etc will never get through the environment approval system, let alone be affordable.

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  104. superdestroyer says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    The business case for a train from Los Angeles to Las Vegas is just as bad as the case for Florida. It will save very little time and be more expensive than driving.

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  105. superdestroyer says:

    @Peter J. Munson:

    The myth that there is a skills mismatch between workers and jobs has been disproved many times. The mismatch is between what employers are willing to pay and employees are willing to take. There is no reason to believe that any government policy can change that.

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  106. superdestroyer says:

    @wr:

    In the Washington, DC metro area, the Washington Post studied what were the fastest and slowest says to get from the suburbs to work downtown. The absolute fastest way was to be the driver in a car pool. It was door step to door step and allowed the driver to use HOV lanes. The two slowest ways to get to work were trains ans buses. Once a person has to wait for some form of transportation to arrive, the times get much lower. The idea that car trips are slower than commuter trains is a myth.

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  107. superdestroyer says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    Repairing bridges employees almost no one. Laying fiber optic is only justified if there are users willing to pay for fiber optics. See Verizon’s Fios business to see that the business case is just not there. Lead has already been removed from most schools and many schools districts would be better off closing down their oldest schools since their student base in the large urban areas is shrinking.

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  108. Rafer Janders says:

    @superdestroyer:

    If you are in Tampa, it makes sense to fly to Otland and change planes to fly to the rest of the world.

    Yes it does. And yet you claimed that the only reasonable travel between the two cities was by car, and done by people intending to stay and drive around in either Tampa or Orlando, so now you admit you are wrong.

    If you are in Tampa, and need to change flights out of Orlando, it could be pretty wasteful to have to drive to Orlando and leave your car in long-term parking, forcing you to pay for the parking and depriving the rest of your household of the use of the car for as long as you were gone. So that’s one reason why so many people fly between the cities.

    But if, as you admit, it makes sense to fly, it can also make sense to take a train. Instead of flying, you can instead leave your car at home, and instead take a train from Tampa to Orlando and then start your flight from there. Train to plane transfers can be ridiculously easy; I’ve done them scores of times in Europe and Asia. You could board your train in Tampa, and the train would then take you directly to Orlando airport, which, as you admit, has hubs all over the US. If Orlando is such a hub, it makes sense to add one more way to get there.

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  109. Rafer Janders says:

    @superdestroyer:

    The business case for a train from Los Angeles to Las Vegas is just as bad as the case for Florida. It will save very little time and be more expensive than driving.

    You offer no proof for this and have no facts to back you up. Do you imagine a future in which gas will always be cheap and plentiful? In which gas taxes will never rise? In 30, 50, 100 years into the future, we may not all be able to afford to drive long distances in one person cars, and will be glad to have other options. In Europe it’s certainly cheaper for me to take the train from Frankfurt to Zurich, say, than it is so drive the same distance, because the train ticket is cheaper than the cost of gas I’d have to buy.

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  110. Rafer Janders says:

    @superdestroyer:

    In the Washington, DC metro area, the Washington Post studied what were the fastest and slowest says to get from the suburbs to work downtown. The absolute fastest way was to be the driver in a car pool. It was door step to door step and allowed the driver to use HOV lanes.

    If all the people now taking trains and buses were driving instead, what do you think that would do to travel times by car? Short commute times by car are only possible to a large extent because so many people are taken off the roads by trains and buses.

    What do you imagine in New York City, for example, if the two million people entering Manhattan by bus, train and subway each day were all instead trying to drive in? If the roadways had to support at least a million extra cars, what would that do to traffic times?

    This is such simple logic that it astounds me that you are unable to grasp it.

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  111. wr says:

    @superdestroyer: “Also, the infrastructure already exists. The government did not have to spend billions to build two airports so that people can fly between those two cities. ”

    What, you think those two airports just naturally grew out of the swamps?

    Or was it okay for America to build critical infrastructure back then, but now we’re done?

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  112. wr says:

    @superdestroyer: “The idea that car trips are slower than commuter trains is a myth. ”

    You’ve never actually lived in a city, have you? I don’t mean the Sunny Acres Trailer Heaven out in Hog Wallow, Arkansas, but a real metropolitan area: New York, San Francisco, London, Boston.

    You should really check them out one day. And maybe you can try it for yourself. Try driving from the East Bay into San Francisco at 8am… and then try BART.

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  113. wr says:

    @wr: Although they do let scary dark people onto public transportation, so maybe that won’t work for you.

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  114. Gromitt Gunn says:

    @Rafer Janders: Additionally, I am certain that the vacation centers in Orlando and Tampa would consider it worthwhile to offer shuttles between their parks and the local high speed rail stations, much like the current shuttles between the airport and Disney World.

    I’m all for rail where the population to support it (or future demographic trends suggest it will be supported). Taking the train almost everywhere was one of my favorite parts about living in Boston.

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  115. Rafer Janders says:

    @john personna:

    Pervasive high speed rail for all Americans? Care to cost that out?

    Absolutely no one is calling for pervasive high speed rail for all Americans. No one, it seems, but you, in order to set up a strawman so you can knock it down. You seem to be deliberately misrepresenting our positions.

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  116. Pharoah Narim says:

    @superSimple: I dunno. When I was a young lad living in San Antonio. I would have loved to have taken the train to Houston, Austin, or Dallas to get wasted and chase skirts. I (and a lot of my co-workers) would have done it OFTEN.

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  117. superdestroyer says:

    @Pharoah Narim:

    So you are doing to drive down to a train station, pay to park, speed two to three hours on a train, arrive who knows where in Houston and pay a taxi to drive you to some other place. Trains only take sense in walk-able cities and even though Houston and San Antonio are many things, walk able is not one of them.

    There is no reality-base case that can be made to spend billions of dollars to build a high speed train so that boys with train fetishes can ride one once in a blue moon.

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  118. superdestroyer says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    I suggest you read someone like Matthew Yglesias. He is constantly calling for more trains. OF course, there are building trains unions all over the U.S. who would love to get union scale contracts on construction projects that will take decades.

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  119. superdestroyer says:

    @wr:

    There is a theory that upscale progressive whites like trains because minorities generally do not ride the train. It is also why progressives generally do not like the bus because hipster whites do not want to stand at the bus stop waiting for municiple bus but love taking the Chinatown bus along the east coast.

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  120. Rafer Janders says:

    @superdestroyer:

    So you are doing to drive down to a train station, pay to park, speed two to three hours on a train, arrive who knows where in Houston and pay a taxi to drive you to some other place. Trains only take sense in walk-able cities and even though Houston and San Antonio are many things, walk able is not one of them.

    No, I agree, it makes much more sense to drive to Houston, spend two to three hours in a car, where unlike a train you can’t read, watch a movie or walk around, pay to park, pay for gas, spend the night drinking there, and then spend another two to three hours in a car driving home drunk.

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  121. Rafer Janders says:

    @superdestroyer:

    I suggest you read someone like Matthew Yglesias. He is constantly calling for more trains.

    I read Yglesias, and he is not at all calling for PERVASIVE high-speed rail for ALL Americans, only for high-speed rail in certain selected corridors and regions with sufficient density to support it. No one is calling for high-speed rail throughout Alaska, Hawaii, or the Great Plains, for example.

    OF course, there are building trains unions all over the U.S. who would love to get union scale contracts on construction projects that will take decades.

    My god, you mean people who work in construction support projects that provide construction jobs??? Next you’ll be telling me that the steel, concrete, plastics, mechanical engineering, train and similar industries support such projects as well!

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  122. Rafer Janders says:

    @superdestroyer:

    So you are doing to drive down to a train station, pay to park, speed two to three hours on a train, arrive who knows where in Houston and pay a taxi to drive you to some other place. Trains only take sense in walk-able cities and even though Houston and San Antonio are many things, walk able is not one of them.

    I ask again, then why do they have airports? Why do people fly there? All the factors that you say mitigate against trains apply even more to airplanes. But I’ve flown to Houston, taken a cab to my hotel, taken a cab to my meetings, and then taken another cab to dinner. So if that was possible for me to do from NY via plane, why isn’t it possible for someone else to do from Dallas via train?

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  123. superdestroyer says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    Do you really think that a high speed train will ever make a trip between midnight and 6 AM so that people can party in one city and get back home at the crack of dawn. Do you really think there would ever be enough riders to justify middle of the night trains? Once again, progressives refuse to be reality-based community.

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  124. superdestroyer says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    Because you can fly from Los Angeles to Houston or New York to Houston and use the same air port as the Dallas to Houston flyer. Yet, only an idiot would ever think about train between Houston and Los Angeles. Airports are not the same as train stations. Also, people to do fly from Dallas to Houston to eat out or party. Besides, the airports are generally closed between midnight and 6 AM.

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