Never Let a Crisis Go to Waste

by Jonah Goldberg

A few minutes ago on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, the show was interrupted by a press conference from the hospital where many of the injured passengers from last night’s hellacious Amtrak crash were taken. Once that was over, former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell came on to goose everyone into a spirited discussion of how America’s meager spending on infrastructure is to blame. I was disappointed to see Joe Scarborough, who’s increasingly a useful brake on this kind of groupthink, jump in with both feet. China spends so much more than us on infrastucture! So does Barbados! (I assume that was in percentage terms.)

To his credit, Scarborough did ask Rendell about the stimulus bill. Didn’t we drop a bundle on infrastructure in that? Rendell’s response was classic: “Not enough.” Of course it wasn’t enough. It never is. Remember: Second only to Obama himself, Rendell was the guy who led the fight for the stimulus at the time. He crisscrossed the country talking about “shovel ready jobs” and all the glorious things the stimulus would do. Later, when it turned out he — and the president — were either ignorant or lying about the existence of shovel-ready jobs, Rendell told the New York Times, “When we said ‘shovel ready’ we meant ‘shovel ready’ in the way we do things.” He hilariously added, “I don’t think we meant to be deceptive.”

I always loved how he couldn’t be sure they meant to lie.

More specifically, instead of asking about the insufficiency of the stimulus, I wish Scarborough had asked Rendell, “Do you feel responsible for this crash, given that you misrepresented a stimulus as an infrastructure bill when in fact it was slush fund for Democratic constituencies?”

There was too much wrong with that Morning Joe conversation to catalog here, not least because I’ve barely had my morning joe. Still a few quick observations.

Disgusting. They just learned there was a sixth fatality from the crash and they used that to promote hackish arguments about the need for high-speed rail (Rendell went on about how in Europe the rails are straight for high speed not like our shabby curved rails here).

Silly. There’s this obsession, particularly on the East Coast, with moving lots of Americans around by train. The sophisticated Europeans do that, we should too. There’s so much know-nothingism at work here. In America we move stuff (i.e., freight) by rail and people by road (and plane). In Europe they do it the other way around. America’s freight rail system is the best in the world (which is why Warren Buffett keeps investing in it). The reasons for this arrangement have to do with population density, geography, etc. I’m not saying our passenger-rail system couldn’t be better, particularly in the Northeast. But this idea that we’re falling behind China on infrastructure is ridiculous. Just because the Morning Joe crowd doesn’t care about, or see, the freight rail system, doesn’t mean we should obviously blow it up to turn it into a passenger rail system.

More to the point, we have twice as much track in the U.S. as they do in China. China has four times our population, give or take, and hundreds of millions of people in abject poverty. They are awash in cash. They subscribe to a philosophy of massive state planning of the economy. Why are we surprised, never mind jealous, of them? We already have a lot of infrastructure. They don’t. Last I checked, we have eleven times more airports.

The stimulus was hawked on the argument that a “crisis is a terrible thing to waste.” That was pretty much the only thing the hawkers didn’t lie about. They really believe it. They also seem to believe that a tragedy is a terrible thing to waste as well.

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