Why can't we have nice things?
By Scott Sumner
If you travel to other countries you might occasionally notice something that you wish the US had. The one I notice most often is good subways. This article caught my eye:
Stan Paul, who begins his morning ride to UCLA in Riverside, experimented a few times with public transit, but an hour-plus ride on a commuter train ends near downtown Los Angeles, and to get from there to his office would take at least another hour by subway, bus and foot.
Eventually, a subway extension will connect the city’s Union Station to UCLA, so Paul could transfer from the train. The only catch: By the extension’s expected 2036 completion date, he’ll be retired.
In the US there is a debate over whether we should spend more on mass transit, or whether our cities are too spread out for a subway system to make sense. But what if there is a third option:
Chinese firms are building Tehran’s metro, two harbours in Egypt and a high-speed railway between Saudi Arabia’s holy cities of Mecca and Medina.
The LA subway discussed above has already been in development for several decades, and it’s still not clear if it will be finished by 2036. Meanwhile Chinese cities like Beijing and Shanghai open new subway lines about once a year. The authorities in Tehran wisely chose the Chinese to build their subway system.
The US media often likes to frame issues along a narrow ideological spectrum, without considering third options. Often the two options are aligned with the two political parties. One party may support more government, while the other wants to protect the interests of powerful special interest groups. But what if there is a third option?
1. Instead of debating whether to have the antitrust authorities crack down on the airlines, why not make it legal for foreign airlines to fly between US cities? Why not allow foreign ships to go between US ports?
2. Instead of debating whether to spend more money on fixing the FAA, why not privatize the organization, as many other countries have done?
3. Instead of debating whether to have the government or the private sector deliver extremely expensive health case, why not allow foreign health professionals to freely operate in the US, producing cheap health care.
4. Instead of debating whether or not to spend tens of billions on new subway systems, why not allow foreign firms to build them much more rapidly, and at dramatically lower cost?
5. Instead of debating whether to “allow” gays to get married, why not entirely remove the government from the issue of marriage, leaving it as a private arrangement?
6. These third options need not be libertarian. Instead of debating whether or not to raise the minimum wage, choose a third option—higher minimums but paid for with government wage subsidies.
You may or may not agree with any of my suggestions, but surely there is a need for all of us (especially the news media) to stop framing issues so narrowly and allow more “thinking outside the box.”
PS. Although LA may not be densely populated enough to support a subway system, the specific line being discussed would go from downtown toward Santa Monica, paralleling the relatively densely developed Wilshire blvd. If any line could work, it would be that one.
PPS. I sometimes have a fantasy where either the liberals or the conservatives were given 100% control of the US for 20 years, so that each side could see that its ideas don’t work, and that third options are needed.