Sunday, March 8, 2009

Analyzing "Parade"

Sunday morning, there was an article about infrastructure in the major infotainment magazine Parade, which comes in the Sunday LA Times and other papers and is read by millions of people weekly. It noted that our system of roads in this country is outdated and broken, with many highly-trafficked roads being at least 50 years old. As evidence, it cited an I-95 closure due to a cracked pylon, a large sinkhole in Colorado, and testimonials from Tennessee truckers. It hinted at ways to raise revenue. However, I would like to raise two issues about the framing of this article.

• The article operates on the assumption that Americans will always be driving cars and trucks. It notes that the United States “does 96% of its traveling on land by car or light truck,” a statistic which is both unfortunate and misleading, as it fails to give a criteria for “traveling” and leaves out freight, much of which is shipped by rail. In one of the political circles I frequent, my family is often talking about a new generation of plug-in cars. In the circle I frequent at Oxy, one of the frequent topics of discussion is Los Angeles mass transit, and building a plethora of new lines to create a new network, one that resembles the transit of similar-sized cities like Paris (More about this in subsequent blogposts). The article made no mention of how mass transit could take the strain off overcrowded freeways, cut the nation’s carbon footprint (which was brought up in church by our Oxy-educated pastor Sunday), and make our aging bridges and byways last a little longer.

• The article expects that we can get something for nothing. In order to fund the trillions we need for infrastructure spending, the article proposes mostly gimmicks, including “congestion pricing”. It also cites the example of Missouri, which cut corners in its highway system wherever possible. We can’t afford to cut corners here. The U.S. needs to raise considerably more revenue, and perhaps we can use a gas tax and cap-and-trade to fund infrastructure, but that won’t be enough. We should also stick to tried-and-true ways to raise revenue, like my favorite, the capital gains tax, which is now at half of what it was when my parents where married 35 years ago.

And that’s my piece. By the way, I’m back in Whittier for Spring Break, and so the heckling begins.

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