The New Hooverism versus High Speed Rail

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Burning the Midnight Oil for Living Energy Independence

Dan Walters in the Sacramento Bee asks:

Is this the time to launch construction of a high-speed railroad line between Northern and Southern California that will cost at least $40 billion, much of it from bonds to be repaid from a state budget that’s already gushing red ink?

Yes, say its fervent advocates, contending that a bullet train, similar to those in Europe and Japan, will reduce air and auto congestion, reduce greenhouse gases and generate many billions of dollars in economic benefits.

Dan Walters then throws all the complaints about the California HSR project he can find into a big pot, and stirs. Underneath the individual “points”, lies the main New Hooverist thesis … in hard times, we cannot afford to invest in the future.

Robert Cruickshank at the California HSR blog debunks Dan Walters exercise point by point, but starts out by taking aim at the New Hooverist thesis and landing a bulls-eye:

What do the Golden Gate Bridge, Shasta Dam, and the Central Valley Water Project have in common? They are all products of the Great Depression. At a time when both California and the federal government were strapped for cash and suffering the effects of a major economic downturn, government decided to use infrastructure projects to provide economic recovery in both the short and the long term. Each project continues to provide economic activity 70 years later. Each has paid for itself many times over.

In other words, as Robert’s blog title says, Now is the Perfect Time to Build a Railroad.

Now, I am one of those advocates of HSR … at all three levels … that Dan Walters is arguing against. But the plain fact is, you don’t have to be an advocate of a particular project to see the point that now is the time to find big infrastructure projects to build the New Energy Economy. You only have to look at the current account … the trade and income balances between the United States and the Rest of the World. The collapse of household spending and calming of oil prices has pushed the US balance of trade (and overall current account deficit) to just about its lowest level since we opted for the corporate-profit-oriented version of NAFTA.

And we still have our structural dependency on energy imports. We still remain exposed to the risk that if the rest of the world recovers before we do, the oil price spike that follows will prevent us from seeing robust recovery until we fix the problem.

Even though the “top notch” economists believe that in the “long run” the economy will automatically tend toward full employment (dKos comment) … that is only belief. Since it is built into their models rather than emerging from the empirical evidence, there is no reason to trust them as opposed to the lessons of economic history (which, it should be noted, “top notch” economists are no longer required to study), that economic downturns can indeed be followed by extended periods of high unemployment, unless government takes action to address the critical economic challenges facing the nation.

And, yes, we have to keep debunking both those dedicated to the New Hooverism and their fellow travelers, like the fervent contra-advocates of investment in the most energy efficient commercially viable form of inter-regional transport for a transport task over the distance separating the Bay from the LA Basin … electric Express HSR. Such as “Morris Brown” at the California HSR blog, who jumps in with a comment including this rhetorical gem:

Now Robert is quite willing to claim that SJ was being effectively by-passed with Altamont, but what about Sacramento being effectively being cut off from SF by the Pacheco routing.

Those are two cities that are 79 miles apart as the crow flies … even an alignment that doubles that distance leaves them a “mere” 160 route miles apart. That is, after all, why the current Capital Corridor route is successful in attracting ridership.

Now, this certainly is a distance that will benefit from trains traveling faster than 79mph … but 110mph or 125mph is fast enough to reap most of the benefit. Pretending that 220mph trains are required to prevent Sacramento from being “cut off” from San Francisco …

… well, as I replied at the California HSR blog:

How can you pretend to be writing about a HSR project while ignoring differences in distances between locations? Sacramento and San Francisco are not far enough apart to require 220mph trains to yield trips of under two hours, let alone under three hours. 110mph and 125mph is plenty fast enough for that transport task.

By contrast, effectively linking the LA Basin and the Bay by rail, which is more capital efficient than the equivalent air and ground inter-regional transport capacity under current energy costs, and less exposed to the risk of crude oil price shocks, requires 220mph Express HSR rail technology.

So “cutting off Sacramento from San Francisco” is just an empty rhetorical flourish, and using it brands the user as either ignorant or willing to deceive in pursuit of his objectives. Misled or misleading … the only third option is “or both”.

The New Hooverism is well entrenched in the vested interests of the large transnational corporations, and supported by a broad network of lackeys, paid henchmen, and those who have fallen for the frames of argument that they have invested so much time and effort in putting into place.

If we hope to bring about the Brawny Income-led Recovery, we must find ways to cooperate in uprooting the New Hooverism.


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    • BruceMcF on July 20, 2009 at 7:33 pm

    There are so many ways that the “what to do”s interlock together … and so many enticements to instead argue false priorities between the “what to do”s, as if we can have an ecologically sustainable economy while importing energy from elsewhere, or as if we can pursue the transition to an ecologically sustainable economy without engaging in the fight for political power against transnational corporate power required by the fight for justice, equity, and peace.

    So, how do we pursue the interlocking “what to do”s without falling prey to the enticement of arguing over which is the “most important” among all the necessary pieces of the puzzle?

  1. of building high speed rail lines from one carbon gulag to the next one, after all there are no real productive jobs to be had outside of being a parasitic entity on human endeavors.  Merely to go from here to there?  Why?  All of the hardgoods are made in China.

    Sounds like Boston’s Big Dig to me!

    • Inky99 on July 21, 2009 at 9:03 pm

    What they want is for us to sit there burning gasoline in our idling vehicles, which is how 1/3 of the gas turned in LA is burned.

    They want us to keep buying cars, tires, and gasoline.

    Until we’re all dead.

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