Friday, November 21, 2008

Make "Make Work" Work

Let's build a high-speed rail system in this country.

It seems we're going to be dropping some coin on our infrastructure at the Federal level no matter what. Infrastructure isn't an inherently bad use of public funds, but we need to make sure we're not creating "make-work" jobs that don't produce much of value once the projects are complete. The proverbial broken windows (or in this case roads and bridges) do need to be fixed, but merely fixing them doesn't get us far.

If we're going to "invest" -a word that is used way too loosely- in infrastructure, let's build something of significant value.

A high speed rail system, perhaps? We've found out in the last year or two just how efficient the trains are, but we're way behind other developed nations in the modernity of our rail system. Perhaps a mag-lev corridor is too much to ask, but at least it bears a cost-benefit analysis.

Whatever we do, since we're definitely going to do something rather than nothing, we should make sure that we're laying the cornerstone for future growth, not just filling potholes to keep busy.

(cross posted at RedState)


Anonymous said...

For once - I totally agree with you. The per pound efficiency is significantly better than cars in terms of fuel efficiency - and way better than planes.

Sockless Joe said...

Interestingly, the first (and only, so far) comment on RedState accused me of being defeatist.

But I've thought for a long time that infra is one of the few relatively uncontroversial roles that government should play. The Constitution specifically authorizes the Congress "to establish post offices and post roads." The Transcontinental Railroad was authorized in 1862. Long history.

As far as "defeatism", I think it's damn near certain that the incoming administration and Congress will be shelling out for infra, so I'd call that "realism". I say make something worthwhile.

It does scare me a little that you agree with me tho.

Larry said...

I love trains. With that being said, if there was any money to be made on them Norfolk Southern, or CSX, or BNSF, or Union Pacific would be making it.
Flying cars, now, that's a whole other thing. Weren't we supposed to have flying cars by now?
Or monkeys. Flying monkeys.
Anything to distract them from doing any real lasting damage.

Samay said...

There have been baby steps here and there - Acela and the California High Speed plan are the most prominent, but here in the Midwest, Illinois and Michigan worked out a plan that doubled the speed of the Chicago-Detroit trains, and increased the number of trains as well. Work's also being done on the Chicago-St. Louis line, but people don't seem to know about it.

That said, a piecemeal approach isn't really the most effective - if the Feds established some kind of national program, things could get done much more quickly.

Micha Elyi said...

Sammy mentioned "the California High Speed plan," something that is still vaporware. Yeah, in the election just past a whole bunch of Californians who didn't get a Lionel model railroad train set under their Christmas tree when they were 8 years old voted for a bunch of bonds (read: tax futures) to be used to build a full-size train set.

Sheesh, people, when this boondoggle is complete the amount of money wasted on this train-to-the-middle-of-nowhere running out of stations in LA and SF (who really wants to go to Fresno? Bakersfield? Merced?) you'll find that giving away free airplane tickets would have been a smaller waste of money. (The San Jose trolley ended up going to the wrong places and cost more than simply giving each rider a new car every couple of years. Yep, that's California government kleptocratic thinking: provide Silicon Valley a 19th century solution to its 21st century transportation and telecommuntication needs. Oh well, brains are elitist, stupidity is Democratic...)

Anonymous said...

Hey Joe - what are your thoughts on energy infrastructure? It seems like that's a place we could use significant efficiency improvements, waste reduction, etc.

Anonymous said...

by that I mean transmission lines etc...leaving "green" energy as a somewhat separate isuse


Sockless Joe said...

Yeah, that's not unreasonable. From what I understand there's quite a bit of energy to be saved in such an upgrade, which is good no matter one's perspective on carbon.

And as much as I resist the implementation of "green" energy sources before they are ready, there is some infrastructure savings when decentralized production is introduced. So I'm not opposed to selective use of wind or solar installations where it makes sense. My understanding is that not all states have grid tie-in production credits, and that should change.