The Corner

Re: Shovel Readiness

Shovel ready” was always a canard. It was more like “camera-ready” — and it was a cynical strategy that has gravely harmed the prospects for investment in critical physical assets.

Take high-speed rail. The president has used scarce stimulus funds not actually to complete a project, but to get the credit for starting a whole bunch of ‘em.

The 2009 ”recovery act” provided $8 billion for rail. But the White House (with help from Congress) split it across thirteen regional projects.

Realistically, finishing any one high-speed rail link would cost $20 billion, probably more. If the president really wanted to showcase this technology, then, he would have devoted all of the rail funds and more to one demonstration project — maybe a showcase link between New York and Chicago, or between San Francisco and Los Angeles.

And then, do it. Quietly build the darn thing and see if people use it and like it. If they do, they’ll quickly forget about cost overruns, delays, and whatever scandals inevitably accompanied it along the way — and other cities would demand their own links soon enough, too.

But the president chose to maximize photo ops, not public-investment utility. So in five years’ time, nobody will be enjoying high-speed rail; they’ll be wondering where their money went. And the next time a president comes along promising rail, they’ll sensibly demur, because they’ll be thinking, “Where is that rail that we already paid for?”

— Nicole Gelinas is a contributing editor to the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal.

Most Popular

Politics & Policy

Students’ Anti-Gun Views

Are children innocents or are they leaders? Are teenagers fully autonomous decision-makers, or are they lumps of mental clay, still being molded by unfolding brain development? The Left seems to have a particularly hard time deciding these days. Take, for example, the high-school students from Parkland, ... Read More
Elections

Romney Is a Misfit for America

Mitt’s back. The former governor of Massachusetts and occasional native son of Michigan has a new persona: Mr. Utah. He’s going to bring Utah conservatism to the whole Republican party and to the country at large. Wholesome, efficient, industrious, faithful. “Utah has a lot to teach the politicians in ... Read More
Law & the Courts

What the Second Amendment Means Today

The horrifying school massacre in Parkland, Fla., has prompted another national debate about guns. Unfortunately, it seems that these conversations are never terribly constructive — they are too often dominated by screeching extremists on both sides of the aisle and armchair pundits who offer sweeping opinions ... Read More
U.S.

Fire the FBI Chief

American government is supposed to look and sound like George Washington. What it actually looks and sounds like is Henry Hill from Goodfellas: bad suit, hand out, intoning the eternal mantra: “F*** you, pay me.” American government mostly works by interposition, standing between us, the free people at ... Read More
Film & TV

Black Panther’s Circle of Hype

The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) first infantilizes its audience, then banalizes it, and, finally, controls it through marketing. This commercial strategy, geared toward adolescents of all ages, resembles the Democratic party’s political manipulation of black Americans, targeting that audience through its ... Read More