In fact, when I went up to NYC in January, I took the Amtrak from Cumberland to DC, and DC to Newark (where I stayed with friends). For the most part, I enjoyed my trip.
However, as George Will notes in this column, the collectivist mentality that always dominates Krugman's writings seems to manifest itself in the demand that everyone ride trains because it is good for them. Writes Will:
Generations hence, when the river of time has worn this presidency’s importance to a small, smooth pebble in the stream of history, people will still marvel that its defining trait was a mania for high-speed rail projects. This disorder illuminates the progressive mind.The latest high-speed-rail caper reminds me of the silly fit that Krugman and his employer threw when Gov. Chris Christie closed the curtain on the mega-billion rail tunnel from New Jersey to Manhattan. Now, Krugman justifies all this by saying that trains are nicer than a drive, trains allow you to avoid traffic, etc.
Remarkably widespread derision has greeted the Obama administration’s damn-the-arithmetic-full-speed-ahead proposal to spend $53 billion more (after the $8 billion in stimulus money and $2.4 billion in enticements to 23 states) in the next six years pursuant to the president’s loopy goal of giving “80 percent of Americans access to high-speed rail.” “Access” and “high-speed” to be defined later.
Criticism of this optional and irrational spending—meaning: borrowing —during a deficit crisis has been withering. Only an administration blinkered by ideology would persist.
Florida’s new Republican governor, Rick Scott, has joined Ohio’s (John Kasich) and Wisconsin’s (Scott Walker) in rejecting federal incentives—more than $2 billion in Florida’s case—to begin a high-speed rail project. Florida’s 84-mile line, which would have run parallel to Interstate 4, would have connected Tampa and Orlando. One preposterous projection was that it would attract 3 million passengers a year—almost as many as ride Amtrak’s Acela in the densely populated Boston–New York–Washington corridor.
And, to a point, I agree. I like riding the New York Subway, the New Jersey Transit, and will use the PATH trains when I go to a conference in NYC in two weeks. However, I am not naive about what these things cost, and how heavily each passenger mile is subsidized.
Yes, riding a train is more pleasant than driving, but building and operating them mean a huge opportunity cost that must be paid somewhere by someone. And it does not help to see the Obama administration claiming delusional ridership numbers, as Will notes.
But there is more. Will concludes:
So why is America’s “win the future” administration so fixated on railroads, a technology that was the future two centuries ago? Because progressivism’s aim is the modification of (other people’s) behavior.So, what does Krugman say? First, the guy who has praised the TSA and claimed that its very existence is proof of it legitimacy, now complains about the "war on liquids" and the stressful airport security.
Forever seeking Archimedean levers for prying the world in directions they prefer, progressives say they embrace high-speed rail for many reasons—to improve the climate, increase competitiveness, enhance national security, reduce congestion, and rationalize land use. The length of the list of reasons, and the flimsiness of each, points to this conclusion: the real reason for progressives’ passion for trains is their goal of diminishing Americans’ individualism in order to make them more amenable to collectivism.
To progressives, the best thing about railroads is that people riding them are not in automobiles, which are subversive of the deference on which progressivism depends. Automobiles go hither and yon, wherever and whenever the driver desires, without timetables. Automobiles encourage people to think they—unsupervised, untutored, and unscripted—are masters of their fates. The automobile encourages people in delusions of adequacy, which make them resistant to government by experts who know what choices people should make.
Time was, the progressive cry was “Workers of the world unite!” or “Power to the people!” Now it is less resonant: “All aboard!”
Second, while train travel is nice, he forgets the part about taxpayers having to pony up the big bucks to pay for it. True, Keynesians don't believe in opportunity cost, but that does not mean it doesn't exist.
So, when I am riding the rails into NYC in a couple of weeks, I will thank all of you for paying for my trip.