Monday, April 05, 2010

Greens continue to oppose economics and individual freedom on transport

It's not just because transport is my area of expertise that the Greens particularly annoy me in their treatment of this sector, but it actually displays so much more of their ideology and their approach to reason, economics and individual liberty than many other sectors do.

The Green answer to everything in transport is to take a simple child-like approach to it all. It comes down to:

"People make the wrong choices (according to us), we should force them to make the right choices by taxing the wrong choices and subsidising the right ones, and banning the development of wrong choices."

One of the most liberating development in modern history has been the technology of transport. The steam engine changed the face of international trade and travel by sea, and then nationally and locally by rail. The internal combustion engine did the same for road, sea and rail, and facilitated the development of air travel. Since then, asphalt, mass production, radiocommunications, the jet engine and the continued advances of technology have opened up the planet to exploration, communication, trade, travel, commerce and social exchange.

Now there is no doubt that there have been some negatives along the way. Millions have died through accidents by faster transport. It has been inevitable that engines would explode, catch fire, or fail to function, or that people would get in the way of vehicles, or would make mistakes while driving them. Yet on a per passenger km basis it is the safest it has ever been.

Many cities suffered from chronic pollution due to high concentrations of vehicles, but few environmentalists today would think that it was the steam locomotive that first caused that concern. The now very sought after suburb of Thorndon in Wellington was once not so appreciated, as the steam locomotives in the Wellington rail yards produced smoke and noise that was less than pleasant for many local residents. However, again the pollution from vehicles on a per vehicle km basis is steadily lower, as they become more and more fuel efficient. The introduction of electric cars promises to take this further, but the Greens are willing to dismiss this.

Why? It will "take too long" to have more electric cars in the fleet (apparently not believing their religious faith that Peak Oil will price petrol powered vehicles off the road), and it wont solve congestion.

Well they are right on that front - congestion is simply due to demand exceeding supply of road space. The answer is to price usage of the road so they are in equilibrium, and surpluses might be spent on additional capacity if it makes economic sense. Nowhere has a new world city reduced traffic congestion by the Green fetish of highly subsidised public transport.

However, embracing the technology of the stone age in the form of walking (and its close cousin cycling) is also telling. Now both are perfectly viable for short trips, for many people. They are useless for freight, useless for trips of more than a few kms and of course many (elderly for example) simply can't use them for much. How can anybody looking forward get excited about walking and cycling?

Of course, the main competitors for walking and cycling are public transport - which the Greens want to heavily subsidise, so that people are more likely to ride a bus or train than to walk or cycle. However, that's about economics, which is simply ignored in the Green view.

The Greens reject reason in ignoring the overwhelming evidence that forcing others to pay huge amounts of money for public transport does not resolve traffic congestion, and still only means a small minority of trips are taken by public transport in cities. They further ignore any talk about public transport sometimes being less environmentally friendly than driving - such as the support for the trains that carried less than a busload of travellers to Napier and Invercargill.

They reject the clear economic case that the main problem with roads is that they are managed and priced as commons, not as economic commodities. They furthermore embrace the slowest modes of transport, despite the obvious evidence that they have a peripheral role in most cases, but reject the private car EVEN when it is to be electric powered, because even then it means people travel not when they are scheduled to do so, on a collective mode of transport, but because they choose.

The rational approach to transport is to let the state get out of the way, use private property rights for roads to manage environmental issues and let users of each mode pay their own way. However, for those who believe in collective brains and collective thought, it somehow seems fair for people to pay for how others move, not how they move, and to ignore that the price mechanism remains by far the fairest and most effective tool to ration scarce resources.

1 comment:

Jeremy Harris said...

Hey Liberty would you mind e-mailing me at so I can ask you something about this post..?