Going around to the various news websites in Ohio, there is a high number of positive comments about the 3C commercial rail project announcement today (which, given the audience that is people who comment on the news, is remarkable.)

The central conservative criticism seems to be: “if this is so great, the private sector would have done it.”  The other is that the rail will need to be subsidized in order to stay in operation.

These are a remarkably ignorant statements about the history of transportation infrastructure in this country and State.

The private market didn’t create a single commercial airport in Ohio.  In fact, the only commercial airport the private market has ever built was conceived last year.  As the same article points out, airports that have tried to go private have not been successful in their efforts.  Not only are the airports subsidized, but so are the privately-held airlines that operate there.

The public roadways, by definition, are things that the private market didn’t create.  They don’t make a profit.  They are “subsidized” by the gasoline tax as well as other taxes.

Commercial seaports?  Ever heard of the Port Authority?

Transportation infrastructure is a public good.  Always has been.  This isn’t any different and to expect it to be is to hold passenger rail to a higher standard than any other mode of transportation is just insane.

By definition, public goods are characterized by: (1) value that has benefit to the community as a whole beyond any purchase price paid, (2) often requiring large initial investment costs that are generally too expensive for any individual or private corporation to afford and earn a reasonable return, (3) requiring a higher level of administration than any individual or company can arrange and (4) having value that accrues over time and is difficult to price properly. Public goods have ?externalities,? that is, value that accrues to people who benefit by other?s consumption of them without paying for it themselves.

In other words, the critics of the 3C Plan are making a criticism that, in essence, is nothing more than decrying the existence of the concept of a “public good.”

Apply this conservative standard elsewhere, and there’d be no airports, seaports, or highways.  How would THAT economy look?

All this to criticize a plan that will generate nearly 300 different construction projects in the next two years and create at least 11,000 jobs. The conservative criticism over 3C ignores basic economic concepts like a recognition that there is a legitimate government role as a positive economic actor in creating a transportation infrastructure in which the market can operate and utilize.

If John Kasich wants to tell the Steelworkers that he doesn’t think Ohio should be building passenger rail cars…. well, good luck with that.

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  • Anonymous

    You are wrong in your definition of a public good.

    There are two qualities that define a public good. It must be non-rivalrous and non-excludable.

    Non-rivalrous means that, all things being equal, the consumption of the good by one person does not result in a reduction in the supply of that good for another. A non-rivalrous good can be consumed simultaneously. A radio broadcast is a good example. The fact that I’m receiving the broadcast on my radio does not prevent anybody else from receiving the broadcast at the same time. On the other hand, as each additional car occupies space on a roadway, there is less space available for the next car. The simultaneous accommodation of the each additional consumer (driver) requires additional resources.

    Non-excludable means that it is not possible to keep a person from using a good. An example would be a missile defense system. You couldn’t exclude just one person’s house from the protection such a system would afford that person’s neighbors. Air is another example. Private goods are always excludable – people must pay for their use. Roadways are easily excludable. Block the entryway to the road and only admit those who pay (a toll) access to the road. The turnpike, which of course is operated by the state, is excludable. (It is rivalrous, however.) It could also be owned and operated by a private entity.

    See: http://www.auburn.edu/~johnspm/gloss/public_goods

    All the infrastructure you mention could be built and operated privately, on private land. It might not take the form of what you see now, but that doesn’t mean it would be any less functional. It would certainly be more economically justifiable, and not subject to the whims of special interests. (Say, farmers who convince politicians to push for the construction of an highway interchange near their land so they can profit from the public financing when he sells out to a developer.)

    And this: “…basic economic concepts like a recognition that there is a legitimate government role as a positive economic actor in creating a transportation infrastructure in which the market can operate and utilize…”, well, why don’t you ask the folks in Boston, Portland, and a host of other cities how they feel about getting robbed to pay for overpriced boondoggles that have a fraction of the riders and revenues projected or have gone so far over budget that they’d must keep going back and asking for more and more money to either be completed or keep operating. The proposed high speed rail line in California (San Diego to San Francisco) will need an estimated 41 million riders per year to stay solvent. Guess how many people travel on I-5 in a year. If you said 30 million, you were too high. Now, how many of this insufficient number of drivers are going to ditch their cars to take a train that will still leave them miles from their ultimate destination? Well, Ditto for Ohio. Sure, if built some people will love it because it’s new and shiny and cool. In twenty years it will be a black hole of unmaintained shit nobody will want to ride, that sucks ever more money from people who will never even see the damn thing, let alone get on it. It’s a stupid idea.

    Here’s a reality check: http://www.coyoteblog.com/coyote_blog/category/rail-and-mass-transit

    Oh, by the way. I’m not a Republican. So you can save the usual “thanks for the Republican talking points” response for someone else. Try something new and state your case outside of the usual R v. D framework, because from where I sit, you guys are just as evil as they are.

  • There is no such thing as a free market in this country. I've pointed out more than once that the very Interweb that young whipper snapper wingnut conservatives like to use to spout their nonsense was itself a government funded project. But then again they support defense government spending so I guess that is OK.

  • Adrienne

    RIGHT ON!!!
    I would rather pay (taxes) for someone who builds something that lasts then pay for someone who creates stuff that we throw away (bombs), especially considering that I don't want to fly so train travel would be very attractive to me.

    Free market what free market, someone always pays. Also, could you see sending someone to the moon via the private sector. Look at all the cool stuff that came out of that…..it took a while but cell phones and computers that are the size of a notebook would be a couple of tech items that came out of the moon landings, plus it made nerd cool for a while.

    Remember E, they don't like anything with the words “public good” in it except for the police and DOD.

  • akronboy


    using already existing rails, there will be no new construction. No new jobs created.

    How about the people that own businesses that rely on highway travel

    this is a complete waste of money

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