The Agenda

Stray Links for 26 August 2010

* Yonah Freemark on the politics of mode choice:


The fundamental question for proponents of better transit stuck asking themselves what transportation technology to support is this: Is it more important to argue for a mode that is more technically efficient or one that is emotionally appealing? Could Mayor Villaraigosa have found enough support for his plan had it promoted a series of busways? Is Mayor Iorio’s argument in favor of light rail a response to her recognition that only it will be exciting enough to appeal to voters?

More directly: If it is necessary to intrigue both politicians and the public about a new transit system in order to get it funded, the necessary corollary must sometimes be choosing the wrong transportation mode from a technical perspective in order to satisfy political demands.

I can’t stand this idea. I hate the thought of embracing transit systems that aren’t cost-effective and technically efficient simply because they don’t resonate with politicians. The public is another matter. My sense is that the public will tend to favor lower-cost options, if they have skin in the game, and that this is generally a good thing. Transit advocates thus find themselves overpromising to persuade voters to break with the transportation status quo. And this, in turn, reinforces public cynicism.

* Will Wilkinson has written an outstanding post for The Economist’s Democracy in America blog on inequality as a driving force behind the financial crisis:


If we insist on seeing the problem as poorer people having too little money, then the problem is that poorer people have too little money, not that they have too little money compared to extremely rich people. As it happens, the forces that pushed, and continue to “push people at the bottom of the ladder toward choices that put the financial system at risk” are policies intended to reduce wealth inequality by making it easier for lower-income Americans to buy large depreciating assets with two and a half baths.

I look forward to reading more of Will’s work at DiA. Will is one of the best, most trenchant libertarian critics of U.S. conservatives and conservatism. He’s the kind of thinker who keeps you on your toes by identifying and dismantling muddled thinking. I happen to think there’s something to be said for incompletely theorized agreements and muddling through, which is why we don’t always see eye to eye. But I know that engaging with Will’s work has made me sharper. With enemies like Will, who needs friends? 

* The NYT has a Room for Debate on housing and the recover. I found Sherle Schwenninger’s take particularly interesting:

The best way to create jobs and support economic growth would not be another stimulus program heavy on tax cuts but a multi-year infrastructure investment program that gives businesses the confidence they need to expand their work forces and to make long-term new investments in plant and equipment.

I’m all for it if we make offsetting cuts in entitlement spending and, if prudent, military expenditures. 

* Casey Mulligan is making sense on the costs of war:

Part of the deal for volunteer military personnel is that they and their family will receive retirement benefits and help with medical expenses for the rest of their lives. In this regard, expenditures on the Iraq war could continue for more than 100 years, although presumably at a reduced rate (the last Civil War veteran’s widow died in 2004!).

* Ross DeVol’s case for economic optimism seems perfectly reasonable:


So why is our economic outlook more sanguine than the current consensus? For one, robust (albeit moderating) economic growth in developing countries, particularly in Asia, will provide support for U.S. exports. Look no further than Caterpillar, which reported a doubling of its earnings in the second quarter of 2010 and whose product line is sold out for the rest of the year.

Improved business confidence is already spurring strong investment in equipment and software. Record-low U.S. long-term interest rates are supporting the recovery. And the benign inflationary environment allows the Fed to keep short-term interest rates near zero until late this year, or even into 2011 if it desires.

I guess we’ll see. DeVol suggests at the end of the piece that the markets will demand a credible plan to reduce the deficit. I’m pessimistic about the prospects of Democrats and Republicans working together to create such a plan. Republicans are accused of irrational opposition to tax increases, yet a quasi-religious aversion to spending cuts among Democrats, and many Republicans, is at least as big a problem, though it’s rarely characterized as such. 


The Latest