Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Republican Friends Part 2

What I meant to write about when I started in on my Republican friends was a conversation that I had with some of them about passenger rail. They were adamant that it should be totally private because any government involvement would result in inefficiency and bad service. Even subsidies would be a bad idea, according to them. Motoring, they argued, was ingrained in our culture as Americans and that is why Americans prefer motoring to riding by rail. Clearly, Americans have freely chosen motor carriage to rail carriage in the free market.

It did not occur to them that the system of roads on which Americans enjoy the motoring experience is owned by the government and maintained by the government and that motoring is, therefore, heavily subsidized. It never occurred to them that Americans' choices about transportation might be influenced by these subsidies. The "Government Turns Everything It Touches to Shit" mantra did not seem to apply to the road system and the infrastructure underlying motoring. That was entirely satisfactory and apparently such a part of the existential substrate that they were incapable of appreciating the inconsistency in criticizing subsidies to railways as a matter of principle while accepting massive subsidies for travel by personal motor vehicle. By the way, when you dig down below the surface even a little bit, the GTEITTS mantra does not seem to pertain to the military, either, or the police and fire departments or, indeed, to 90% of what the government does. It only applies to programs of which they disapprove.

I don't buy into the GTEITTS mantra. I'm against government involvement in things as a matter of principle because I prefer that things be organized in a manner that isn't predicated on coercion and the threat of violence. There is no reason in principle that government can't do things quite well and efficiently if capable people are in charge and resources are properly allocated. There's no reason to believe that governments can't run railroads. They do it all over the world. There's no reason to believe that large corporations will necessarily run them any better or in the public interest. If you accept the legitimacy of subsidies and partial public ownership of the motor carriage system, then you should also accept the legitimacy of subsidies and a degree of public ownership of railways. Then it comes down to arguing the basis for preferring motor carriage over rail or vice versa or the proper mix of motor carriage and rail or whatever informs priorities in transportation policy.

My Republican friends believe that they differ profoundly from my Democratic friends on the issue of the proper role of government. But they don't really. They pull out the GTEITTS mantra now and then, but they clearly don't mean it especially since they seem to support increasing the size and scope of government every chance that they get in connection with programs that they like. GTEITTS seems to me simply to be a way of avoiding coming up with a meaningful argument for or against a particular policy. It is not indicative of an underlying suspicion of authority or of a libertarian streak. It's just a gimmick. Unfortunately, my Republican friends don't seem to have the time to think about it enough to realize it, (that is, unless they are far more cynical than they appear).

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