The Corner

Politics & Policy

Chris Murphy Wants to Beat China by Being More Like China

Senator Chris Murphy speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., December 13, 2018. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Find someone who looks at you like Democrats look at antiquated, expensive, inflexible, and impractical trains.

It should be mentioned that the Chinese now rank 68th in per capita income according to the World Bank. The average Chinese worker is not nipping at your heels. They are nipping at the heels of the Romanians and Albanians. Some Chinese are gaining on us, mostly because the nation has adopted quasi-capitalistic institutions and created wealth. Which would be a positive development for the world if it weren’t for the slavery, ethnic cleansing, bellicosity, mass arrests, and generally tyranny.

Certainly, there is no evidence that China is “gaining” on us — by any increment — because of their reliance on faster trains. Perhaps Murphy is unaware that the average worker doesn’t need to take the Acela from Boston to D.C. very often — or ever. And if they do, a shuttle plane from Boston to D.C. takes only an hour and a half, as I’m sure Murphy is aware. A plane ride from Beijing to Shanghai takes two hours and 20 minutes. China is now the second-largest aviation market in the world, but it will soon be first. No one wants to be cooped up in a train 4.3 hours.

Then again, as a practical matter, cars beat every other form of transportation. The motor-vehicle-per-capita list and wealthiest-countries-per-capita list, in fact, are virtually identical. Cars are flexible, comfortable, and safer than ever. Prosperous people drive cars — unless they are in dense urban areas. China is behind Iran in the motor-vehicle-per-capita category, though perhaps not for long. In 2005, China sold under 6 million cars. By 2018, they were selling over 27 million (with a slight dip the past two years). China wants to be more like us. Murphy wants to be more like China.

In communist nations, where the state chooses how you travel, trains can be built with complete disregard for economic reality or property rights. This is why Tom Friedman types have authoritarian daydreams about “being China for a day.” Democrats are selling their proposed giant state-run technocracies as a way to “out-compete” China. Forget that China has erected a network of ghost towns and empty airports. Its trains are also often empty. Only one in six of China’s high-speed rail lines are able to cover their operating and debt costs. Which, come to think of it, is kind of like Amtrak, which has lost money every year since 1971. The cost of California’s high-speed rail project has likely gone over a trillion dollars. As Murphy recently admitted, the Northeast Corridor is the only one in the entire country “that has any chance of making money.” And yet, he wants taxpayers to foot the massive bill for rail lines that few would ever use.

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