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Saturday, March 05, 2005

Bush, Competition and Privatization

Once again the Bush administration seeks to eliminate Amtrak. We have such a schizophrenic attitude toward the role of government, mixing myth and greed, and leading to a mish-mash of muddle-headed proposals. Aside from the fact that the amount of money Amtrak has asked for ($1.8 billion) is trivial compared to the daily cost of fueling the war in Iraq, Bush, who I suspect has never had to take public transportation in his life) has no plan other than to throw it away. I start with the following assumptions:

1. The role of government is to support infrastructure.
2. Competition is good, and the more competition the better.
3. Big does not equal more efficient.
4. Companies that cannot compete should be allowed to fold.

The British rail system is often cited as an example of how privatization of rail works well, but the supporters of the idea fail to recognize that the government owns and maintains the rail system. Much like that great monument to Republican government intervention, the interstate highway system, a piece of infrastructure, no one would suggest privatizing, the British government maintains the rights of way, signal system, and rails. Companies are then permitted to use the infrastructure to compete. I think that makes a lot of sense. Then the Union Pacific, a company that has become so large and inefficient while wallowing in hubris, could have some true competition and wouldn't be turning away business. (see Trains)

While I enjoy flying and riding Amtrak (forget Greyhound) a little competition would do them good., but there is no way they can compete without a level playing field and antagonism from the freight lines who mostly fail to understand that Amtrak is a customer, too.
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