Saturday, November 26, 2011

Let Private Industry Handle It

One of the reasons I tolerate being American and dealing with other Americans is the pure joy I get from watching Republicans suffer the consequences of being Republican.

Generally, this results from being on the short end of the selfishness, shortsightedness and greed of the underlying marginally "conservative" philosophy that is invariably not in the best interests of the groups of people who vote for them.

If you happen across this particular blog, you no doubt know of hundreds of examples of this. You're probably also aware that one of the most significant divides among the electorate is of urban versus rural and it's that divide that is the focus of this article.

Now, some of you might recall that two years ago one of the Obama Administration's pushes, later thwarted by elected governors in Ohio, Florida and Wisconsin, was to create seed money for the creation of regional rail on a state by state basis. And while I did and still fault that plan for not being ambitious enough (it needed to be handled regionally, not on a state by state basis), Governors Walker, Scott and Kasich (who are now well loved by their constituents, as we all know), essentially handed the money over to other states that did have a clue about the need for rail and had use for it in their respective states.

In essence, the article states what those of us who travel frequently already know: leaving the free market airline system to cover transportation among and across smaller markets is inadequate and essentially being eliminated in the wake of the lack of economies of scale in flying small planes to smaller markets.

Why does this matter? Well, let's start here:

Lynchburg (Va) is the home of the 2,000 workers for French nuclear services company Areva, and its largest international destination had been Paris by way of Delta's Atlanta hub, Courtney says.

Let's set aside for a second that Lynchburg, VA. is also home to Jerry Falwell's Liberty University (the private plane secondary airport is named after him) and focus on the consequences of that statement for a second. You're a multinational corporation, or even a domestic corporation headquartered in a town of small to moderate size in an otherwise rural area. At some point, the cost of travel and the lack of access to it becomes a factor in whether you choose to stay in that area or relocate to another one, taking jobs and tax revenue with it. Just stop by NCR's headquarters in Dayton, OH and ask them how that worked out. If you can find anyone.

Consider the same thing for State Farm Insurance in Bloomington, IL which loses service from airTran as a result of the SWA acquisition next spring.

Wisconsin is particularly telling. Prior to the acquisition by Frontier Airlines, Midwest Airlines had regularly scheduled service to multiple markets across Wisconsin. You could fly, for example, from Wausau, Rhinelander, LaCrosse, Green Bay or Appleton to Milwaukee and connect onward from Milwaukee to any destination in the country or other connections in Wisconsin). With the acquisition, those routes were eliminated, and you can no longer connect within Wisconsin at all.

Why? Well, the stated reason is that these flights are too expensive because of fuel costs, and that may be true.

But the correct response isn't the knee jerk one of "drive". If the cost of jet fuel is too expensive, and that expense is due to the cost of fuel, the cost of fuel doesn't magically get cheaper if people drive rather than fly. In fact, driving is not only more expensive for those people who now have to drive to a larger airport to catch a flight, it tightens the supply of fuel for the rest of us, making fuel more expensive and compounding the problem.

The correct response is to replace a mode of transportation that is now impractical (commuter flights from smaller markets) with one that will not be if we make an investment in it, namely repairing and replacing a rail infrastructure we've neglected for the last half century. But this requires planning, investment and patience, three things that are in grossly short supply here in a nation filled with Republican knee jerkers with a teenager's intellect and lizard brain emotional capacity and Democrats without the courage to think in the long term.

In essence, front and center we have an issue that cuts to the core of the shortcomings of conservative thinking. Rural conservatives put their faith in the free market, which abandons them when and because it is no longer profitable, leaving them to bear the increased costs of the burden themselves. Because they now have to, rather than pursuing a collective solution that benefits them, they instead double down on the conservative (driving more) which only perpetuates the problem (more expensive fuel costs) and allows it to spiral upward. What starts in Pierre, SD spreads upward to markets like Toledo, OH.

If you want to be a real cynic, you can tack on two items to the end of this list that complete a micro cycle in the macro:

When faced with this problem, a reactionary conservative will first employe denial (Peak Oil isn't real! Climate Change is a hoax perpetuated by the Weather Channel!) then pursue an irrational solution (a resource war like Iraq) to a problem that requires a collective one.

In fact, you can take almost any issue of this type and see the pattern form if you look closely enough:

1) Conservatives put faith in free market for a solution.
2) Free market takes the money and runs, pulling out, mismanaging or discontinuing services when they cease to be sufficiently profitable.
3) Those on the losing end of this proposition double down their support irrationally even as they deal with the clean up from and consequences of this action.
4) Some combination of rationalizing their victimization or denying the consequences of the decision occur.
5) An irrational response of some consequence takes place.
6) The new state becomes permanent or, if the suffering is sufficient, a progressive solution is put in place until the memories of those who suffered become distant enough that someone comes along to propose #1 again.

(As a special bonus, sprinkle in the farcical idea that some magic man in the sky will drop down some miracle solution if we just pray hard enough. He's a drought curer, just ask Rick Perry.)

Lather.Rinse.Repeat. Healthcare. The Environment. Social Security.

None of this is a surprise if you are paying attention. But most people don't. And they perpetuate the problem by doubling down on what causes it to begin with. On the one hand, it's sad. On the other, as some people have figured out, there's plenty of money to be made off of it. It's all in how you choose to cope, I suppose. You can start by not living in Lynchburg, VA.


  1. This reminds me of one of my favorite jokes: Naming an airport after Ronald Reagan is akin to naming a clown school after John Wayne Gacy