In Spain, bullet train a symbol of government insanity

March 3, 2013

By Chris Reed

train_wreck_num_2The Feb. 25 New Yorker magazine had a strikingly downbeat account of the economic hellhole that is Spain. Unemployment is 25 percent — and double that for young adults. One-quarter of the budget is spent to cover interest on the national debt. No politician seems to have the will to offer up tough-love solutions that will slow Spain’s decline.

All of this, of course, draws more parallels with the federal government than with California, where the state must vaguely try to balance its budget, not just have the freedom to print money for whimsical reasons, as is the norm in Washington and Madrid.

But one part of the essay has a painful resonance for Californians. It is the matter-of-fact way that the Spanish government’s pursuit of a bullet-train network is depicted, in retrospect, as crazy and foolish:

“‘What did Spain do with its European money, its cheap debt?’ [economist Cesar] Molinas said. “We made empty buildings and airports and high-speed trains.’ (As the Madrid banker told me, ‘The cost embedded in taking someone by high-speed rail to Galicia is so high that it would be cheaper just to give people in Galicia a free plane ticket.’)”

Jerry Brown, Dan Richard and their fellow rail cultists like to point to China and its enthusiastic embrace of high-speed rail as somehow vindicating what they hope to bring to California. China is a rising economic superpower with money to burn. That’s not the debt-ridden U.S. That’s not sclerotic California.

When it comes to the Golden State’s pursuit of the fabulously dishonest and ridiculous bullet train, we’re much more in Spain’s camp than China’s.



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