Planning: USA vs. China

Matt Yglesias notes that Shanghai has a long-term plan for expanding their subway system and laments that we’re not so forward thinking here in America.

What’s striking is the extent to which we don’t operate like that here in the United States. I think everyone believes that over the next couple of decades the Washington, DC metro area will continue to add population. And people likewise clearly envision there being additional square feet of office space in the District and they’re also envision an increase in the District’s population. On top of that, we’re also trying to envision a less carbon-intensive future. All this pretty clearly implies that there ought to be some sort of plan in place for building additional Metro capacity through the central city.

My initial reaction was that, yeah, authoritarian states run by Communist parties tend to be better than democracies at producing long-term plans. After all, it’s easier to plan if you are going to be in office for the foreseeable future and don’t have to worry about public reaction to your policies.

Amusingly, however, his commenters have already pointed out that:

  • The Census Bureau [Excel spreadsheet] actually predicts a significant decline in DC’s population over the next two decades.
  • U.S. metropolitan areas with subway systems, including DC, in fact have plans locatable in seconds via the Internet.  LANYCDC. Seattle.

As I understand it, you can also get good Chinese food in those cities.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Dave Schuler says:

    I am reminded of one of Parkinson’s Laws. IIRC, one of his laws was that you can mark the start of the decline of any organization from the opening of its grand, new headquarters.

    I wonder if the same might be true for ambitious public transport systems.

  2. Steve Verdon says:

    My initial reaction was that, yeah, uthoritarian states run by Communist parties tend to be better than democracies at producing long-term plans. After all, it’s easier to plan if you are going to be in office for the foreseeable future and don’t have to worry about public reaction to your policies.

    Yes, and all it would cost us are a couple of massacres of protestors.

    Sheesh.

  3. PD Shaw says:

    Since I’ve never lived in D.C., I cannot be sure of this, but I would be willing to bet money that I could kill a grown man with the sheer volume of paperwork, binders and books of planning that have been created in a city the size of D.C. since the dawn of Euclidean zoning.

  4. MPC says:

    @OP

    Your first counter-point is probably wrong. Your excel table refers to the District of Columbia, while Yglesias was talking about the entire DC area, which includes DC, Maryland, and Virginia. MD and especially VA are experiencing huge population growth

  5. So young Mr. Yglesias favors solutions generated by centralized planning and a one party state. Who knew?

  6. Steve Verdon says:

    Your first counter-point is probably wrong. Your excel table refers to the District of Columbia, while Yglesias was talking about the entire DC area, which includes DC, Maryland, and Virginia. MD and especially VA are experiencing huge population growth

    It isn’t clear that will result in more traffic in the downtown DC area though.

    One solution would be to build more outside of DC. In fact, IIRC there is a building height restriction in parts of DC, hence the square footage available is going to severely constrained.

    With today’s information age it is probably better to lay high speed internet cable than to build more trains. Have more people telecommute from satellite work places or even from home.

    Matt’s simply infatuated with large authoritarian governments and how easily they can implement things he finds good.

  7. MPC says:

    @ Steve

    I think it’s simpler than even that. Matt likes trains. It just so happens that authoritarians from Mussolini to the PRC for some reason really get trains done correctly.

  8. Steve Verdon says:

    I think it’s simpler than even that. Matt likes trains. It just so happens that authoritarians from Mussolini to the PRC for some reason really get trains done correctly.

    Not so sure this and my explanation are mutually exclusive.