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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