Is High-Speed Rail A Good “Investment”?
In an earlier post (“Hunt The Big Gorillas: Climate Change, Birthers, and Chocolate“), the Engineering Thinking concept of the Big Gorilla was described. As stated in the prior post, if you are weighing several factors while trying to make a decision, and happen to spot one that is so large that all the other factors become negligible by comparison, you have found a Big Gorilla. Then, by focusing only on the Big Gorilla factor, you can quickly make a good decision.
The Big Gorilla is helpful when evaluating claims by politicians who want to spend our money on “investments” such as high-speed rail. In my state of Florida, our governor recently decided not to accept federal funds for development of a high-speed rail system, part of the Obama administration’s national rail plan.
The reaction of many ranged from dismay to anger. “How can the governor give up federal money?” was one common lament. One could argue that federal money is not free, since it comes out of the pockets of taxpayers, and the federal government is already so much in debt that it doesn’t make sense to borrow yet more money. The politicians and special interests, however, find clever ways to counter such arguments, saying in essence that the spending will pay for itself and be a net benefit. This is generally the argument that governments always use to extract money from taxpayers: we (the government) know best how to spend your money wisely for the common good.
So here’s where a Big Gorilla can brashly step in and clear away the brambles of confusion: If high speed rail (or any project) is going to pay for itself, then it’s highly likely a private business will already be there, implementing the project.
One of the major benefits of a capitalist system is, if there is a need that justifies an investment, then it will be automatically provided by a private business.
Naturally, private firms would love to have public funding for “community” projects such as high-speed rail (sports stadiums are another good example). Having you — the taxpayer — providing funds and eliminating financial risk is a no-lose deal for the private firm. It is also a prime example of capitalism being corrupted by an inappropriate deal between politicians and private businesses. Invariably, such firms will provide donations and other forms of support to assist in the reelection of those politicians who helped secure the public financing.
Bottom line: always look for a financial connection between the politicians who promote a project, and those who implement the project. Corruption is its name.