Traffic Socialism

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Getting
around New York City is rarely fun. It seems that however one chooses
to navigate the Big Apple, one inevitably slams directly into the
evil forces of ignorance or disdain. When riding a subway or bus,
manned by the labor cartel know as the Transit Workers Union which
blessed us with a brief strike last month, one frequently experiences
glaring disdain from the cartel's representatives masquerading as
productive workers. Asking for directions of a subway token clerk
or just saying "good morning" to a bus driver elicits
the same reaction one might expect if one of Angelina Jolie's groupies
were to yell "I want to marry you" to her as she entered
a red carpet movie premiere — little more than a glaring sneer and
a derisive giggle. On the other hand, telling a cab driver your
desired destination invariably brings one face to face with unmitigated
ignorance when said destination is not a numbered street. While
neither experience is pleasant or efficient, luckily they are usually
mutually exclusive. If only we could be so lucky as to suffer merely
one such inconvenience with the writers at The New York Times.

In The
New York Times Magazine of January 8, 2006, Ann Hulbert breaks
new ground in her article "Speed Bump" by being either
disdainfully ignorant or ignorantly disdainful. I suggest you read
the article to decide which. On second thought, don't bother reading
the article as it will only enrage anyone with any knowledge of
economics, basic fairness, or the current state of the American
landscape. However for historians of the French Revolution, the
article is prima facie evidence that Rousseau's thoughts
on egalité are still thriving, to our utter detriment.

In her
thankfully brief article, Hulbert points out that "the time
that the average commuter spent stuck in traffic tripled between
1982 and 2002," clearly a problem, then annoyingly dismisses
any sort of market solution while reminding us that she "sometimes
succumbed to liberal indignation" about it. Most of us, when
confronted with a problem try to solve it. New York Times
writers prefer to kvetch since it is easier than thinking
through all aspects of a problem and any possible solutions.

Hulbert
has problems with simple economic solutions to ameliorate traffic
tie-ups such as increased use of tolls and peak pricing. She is
even more upset that "Americans are used to the idea that people
can buy their way out of the crumbling public sphere and into gated
communities, private schools, etc." How dare certain citizens
try to better their lot in life when Jacobins like Hulbert are trying
to drag us all down to the lowest common denominator where we can
each suffer equally in the collective misery! Of course she makes
no mention of the fact that these same individuals will still be
paying taxes to fund her public boondoggles while at the same time
using them less. Unless these elitists are sitting motionless in
their land yachts on some completely clogged government "owned"
road listening to NPR just like Hulbert, then she will remain irate.

Hulbert
reminds us several times in her piece that while an "enlightened
cure" is necessary, "influential specialists" have
been unable to help Washington, D.C.'s "hoi polloi poke along."
Here we get several fine examples of her "liberal indignation"
but she forgot to add the part about limousines. Solving the nation's
traffic problem hardly requires an "enlightened cure."
While I don't doubt for a second that he was enlightened, Murray
Rothbard dealt with the problem unequivocally in For
a New Liberty
which has been in print since 1973. Someone
should FedEx Hulbert a copy as soon as possible, assuming that she
understands the rudiments of supply and demand and has even heard
of property rights. Her use of the phrase "influential specialists"
without naming a single one belies her statist mentality that only
someone who "specializes" in such intractable problems
as traffic could possibly be technically qualified to solve them.
Clearly a lowly economist and a silly idea like allocating a scarce
resource (road space) to those most willing to pay for it will never
work. Hulbert's entire article informs us that she knows better
than to entertain the idea. And if any city's "hoi polloi"
had to be stuck in traffic, well, it might as well be Washington
D.C.'s since a higher proportion of them are the government functionaries
who have a hand, however tangential, in bringing us the nationwide
traffic mess in the first place.

By the
end of the article, Hulbert tells us that Anthony Downs of the Brookings
Institution believes that traffic is a sign of economic health and
something we should be happy about. She mentions that "where
traffic is at a standstill, it generally means business is humming."
I am not sure which business she is referring to but if she means
the business of selling newspapers to frustrated motorists at busy
intersections or vagrants washing windshields of gridlocked cars
then, yes, business must be booming. However, eventually Yogi Berra's
quip that a favorite place of his was "So crowded that no one
goes there anymore" will eventually come to pass.

Economic
actors respond to their environments; if traffic is impassable,
drivers look for alternate routes. If one route requires a fee,
some drivers will opt for it while others will prefer to keep their
money and sit in traffic. Ann Hulbert, with her cries of egalité,
would prefer that Americans not be given a choice that would eventually
help all parties involved. Instead we must all enjoy the benefits
of socialism equally.

January
11, 2006

Mark
G. Brennan [send him email]
writes from New York City.

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