Sunday, February 20, 2011

The high-speed rail fetish

By Donald Sensing

High Speed Rail is not about transportation. It's about government.

Despite VP Biden's assertion that the United States can lead the 21st century only if it imitates China, I have always suspected that something else was in play with the Left's fascination with high-speed rail (HSR). What could it be?

Joel Kotkin pretty much demolishes the notion that the HSR system that President Obama has proposed at a going-in cost of $53 billion will ever be practical or profitable. For example,

Arguably the biggest problem with high-speed rail is its extraordinary costs, which would require massive subsidies to keep operating. Unlike the Federal Highway Program, largely financed by the gas tax, high-speed rail lacks any credible source of funding besides taxpayer dollars.

Part of the pitch for high-speed rail is nationalistic. To be a 21st century super power, we must emulate current No. 2 China. But this is a poor reason to indulge in a hugely expensive program when the U.S. already has the world’s most evolved highway, freight rail and airline system. ...

Spending billions on a conveyance that will benefit a relative handful of people and places is not just illogical. It’s obscene.
Not so, that last. Well, it is obscene, but the Left's fetish with high-speed rail is entirely logical when one realizes that HSR is not about transportation. It's about government.

Obama et. al. and his long line of Democrat predecessors who have also promoted HSR surely know the financial realities, yes? One would hope so, but I am far from convinced. One of the most prominent dysfunctions of the Left is its self-conviction that we proles really do want to be controlled and managed by our betters.
Obama, like all "progressives," thinks that the masses are actually eager to be embrace statist control of their lives. The progressive world view is that ordinary people are basically incapable of living rightly. Therefore, they must be managed for their own good, and the more closely the better. Furthermore, they think that the masses agree. But we don't and we won't.
So they really may think that so many riders will flock to HSR that it will be self supporting. But that is simply fantasy, the triumph of runaway imagination over empirical data of other government-funded rails in the country.

Second, the fact that HSR is a perpetual black hole of taxpayer money is likely, to Obama and Co., a feature, not a bug. As Will Rogers said long ago, the closest thing we have in this life to immortality is a government program. If HSR guarantees a government agency in perpetuity and a suitably large budget to keep it running, so much the better!

Finally, riders on a train need not be considered as individuals. They are collectively the masses. There few things that give the Left more salivating joy than the prospect of the masses moving together as one under government control, according to government schedules, to and from government-selected terminals, at government-set speeds, with their on-board activities strictly controlled (no smoking, etc.). While aboard the train, the rider-masses are more completely, physically under the government thumb than they'll ever be the rest of the day. And that is a true dream of the Left.

So HSR is a threefer in the minds of the Left:

A. The masses want it to begin with, so we will "serve" them by controlling them,

B. It permanently enlarges the size, scope and expense of government,

C. It incrementally gives us greater control over the actual bodies and activities of the rider-masses at least for a significant part of the day.

Personally, I think that C is the main attraction. As the Denver Post's David Harsanyi put it, "Progressivism is the belief that we have too much freedom with which to make too many stupid choices."

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