9.04.2009

The Role of Government


I remain skeptical about the mass adoption of high-speed rail outside of the Northeast Corridor (PS Megan McArdle is also skeptical), but I want to go on record as saying I’m not holding it to nearly as rigorous a cost-benefit screen as others in the blogosphere. As this interesting little report points out, a lot of the stuff we take for granted and laud independent entrepreneurs for today were made possible by massive initial government involvement: think of transportation infrastructure like rail lines or technology innovations like microchips and the Internet.

So if regions want to tax themselves to raise money for transit, and the feds want to ante up early dollars to get things going, that’s fine. My cynicism does not reflect scorn for such public investments as boondoggles, but rather a hunch that low-density places will have to make massive infrastructural enhancements as well as fundamental attitudinal shifts in order to reap the promised environmental and mobility benefits of transit.

Hard-core libertarians want government out of everything; hard-core liberals want government in everything. Barack Obama was right in this regard: it’s not about how big or small government is, but whether it’s being effective in what it’s doing. Easier said than done: we all have our complaints about government being involved where it shouldn’t be, or not involved where it should, or ineffective or downright counter-productive when it tries to do something. But, with apologies to the Voluntaryist movement, government has a role in our lives; the challenge, which all we citizens should fuss about and hold them accountable to, is to figure out where it should be involved and where it shouldn’t, and within the spheres they should be involved, how they should be involved.
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