Sowell Crashes CA Bullet Train

Sowell Crashes CA Bullet Train

John Seiler:

I’ve been reading Thomas Sowell for about 35 years now. He’s one of the few economists who can write in clear prose. Check out his columns and “The Thomas Sowell Reader.”

Or spend a month of evenings on his trilogy on global cultures. He spent several years traveling the world, analyzing what he saw. In modern America, especially on university campuses, “diversity” is used as a way to turn us against one another, with the government taking over greater portions of our lives.

But for Sowell, diversity represents the delightful variety of humanity, and is something to be enjoyed. The keys to tolerance are freedom and limited government.

Sowell has lived in California for a couple of decades and has an office at the Hoover Institution. I was delighted  to meet him about a decade ago when he stopped by our offices at the Orange County Register, when I was an editorial writer there with my colleague Steven Greenhut, to promote a book. Sowell is a true social and economic genius. He has a cheery affinity for California.

Jerry’s Choo-Choo

Sowell writes today about California’s absurd Jerry Brown and the governor’s obsession with the equally absurd California High-Speed Rail authority: “California has a huge state debt and Washington has a huge national debt. But that does not discourage either Governor Jerry Brown or President Barack Obama from wanting to launch a very costly high-speed rail system.

“Most of us might be a little skittish about spending money if we were teetering on the brink of bankruptcy. But the beauty of politics is that it is all other people’s money, including among those other people generations yet unborn.”

He writes about how Spain’s system is supposed to be a model for California’s bullet train. But he notes the the Iberian high-speed rail is subsidized by the Spanish government, which in turn is subsidized by the European Union.

He continues: “Someone once said that government is the illusion that we can all live off somebody else. Spain’s high-speed rail system is not even covering its operating costs, never mind the enormous costs of setting up the system in the first place. One reason is that half the seats are empty in the high-speed trains in Spain.

“That is what happens when you don’t have the population density required for passengers to cover the operating costs. You would need the hordes of Genghis Khan riding the high-speed rail system to cover the additional costs of the rails and the trains.

“An economics professor at the University of Barcelona says that Spain ‘has not recovered one single euro from the infrastructure investment’.”

Japan’s Train

Sowell points out that Japan’s bullet train between Tokyo and Osaka carries 130 million passengers a year. “But Tokyo alone has more than three times the population of San Francisco and Los Angeles put together.”

I would add that Japan’s population density is 873 people per square mile. But California’s is just 242 per square mile. That’s less than a third as much. So the ridership, and the productive population to support the infrastructure, is much smaller.

He notes that the first leg of the rail network supposedly will be laid between Fresno and Bakersfield, away from the state’s major population centers. “The only reason for even thinking about building a high-speed rail line between Fresno and Bakersfield is just to get the project underway with federal money, making it politically more difficult to stop the larger project for a similar rail line between San Francisco and Los Angeles.

“In other words, they are going to start wasting money out in the valley, so that they will be able to waste more money later on, along the coast. This may not make any sense economically, but it can make sense politically for Jerry Brown and Barack Obama.

“An old song ended, ‘You’ve been running around in circles, getting nowhere – getting nowhere very fast.’ On high-speed rail.”

What a joke the whole thing is, beginning with Gov. Moonbeam.

But I dug out a YouTube of the song Sowell mentioned. It’s by the great Irving Berlin. Here’s a version by Der Bingle, Bing Crosby, another Californian:

Feb. 1, 2012

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