This has probably been my longest hiatus from blogging but I didn't want to have take sides in the recent midterm elections.
Or, of you don't believe that, I have just completed a month or so of a series of outside events and dead tree writing, including talks in Southern California, western Virginia and New York City. Throw that in with the ordinary course of business and some personal issues and there has been no time to blog. I am happy to report that the polity seems to have thrived without me.
Still, its time to come back. My impressions on the rise of the Tea Party and its influence on the midterms will be forthcoming in the WI Interest. What I find intriguing is that, before the celebratory hangovers had even subsided, Scott Walker made high speed rail the first issue of his nascenct administration.
I've written in the Journal Sentinel that the debate over high speed rail frustrates me. Advocates are almost never willing to address the real economic issues in proposed systems. Analyses have shown that commuter rail is almost never economically justified on a wide variety of measures. This is not the same as saying that it does not "pay for itself." Generally speaking, what it costs (from all sources) exceeds its benefits (to all beneficiaries).
This shouldn't surprise us. Rail is an outmoded technology. It is good at moving large quantities of people or things between two fixed points. It may still work well when there are large numbers who wish to travel between those two points and then, upon arrival, go nowhere other than to another fixed point served by the rail line or some extended system of transportation that it is not too inconvenient or inexpensive.
In contemporary America, this is rarely so. So advocates must accept magical numbers regarding ridership or economic benefit to justify proposed systems.
Or, as with the train proposed to run from Milwaukee to Madison, they regard federal funds as free money. We don't hear much about why it makes sense to spend over $ 800 million dollars on a train that few people can be expected to ride. It is, we hear, "free money" since it comes from the federal government.
I suppose, although there is still the almost certain cost overruns and operating expenses (which may or may not be subsidized). But there is a certain peversity in that view. I tis precisely what leads to unchecked and irresponsible spending as every one wants to get part of the money that no one would actually spend were it her own.
That Scott Walker is refusing to play this game suggests that he may be a different type of Governor.