When it comes down to it, die-hard Keynesians really don’t give a rip how government spends money to juice the economy, as long as it gets spent. Recall the famous thought experiment offered by The Master himself: “If the Treasury were to fill old bottles with banknotes, bury them at suitable depths in disused coalmines which are then filled up to the surface with town rubbish, and leave it to private enterprise on well-tried principles of laissez-faire to dig the notes up again?” Money in bottles, defending against alien invasions, Solyndra — what difference, at this point, does it make?
Oh, forgot one: High-speed rail. Liberal infatuation with this 1970s-era technological marvel married with the Obamacrat desire for Keynesian steroids to help give us the unfolding financial nightmare that is the California bullet train. But as advances in driverless car technology become ever more obvious to politicians and the public, we will hopefully keep the wasted billions to a minimum. President Obama or future Democrat successors are unlikely ever to see the national high-speed rail network depicted above. My pal Felix Salmon of Reuters:
While I’ve generally been a fan of just about any alternative to the automobile, now I’m not so sure: I think that smart car technology is improving impressively, to the point at which it could be the most promising solution, especially in developed parts of the world like California.
One reason is simply fiscal. Projects like the self-driving car, and the Sartre platooning project in Europe, move the costs of new technology onto companies (Google) and individuals (people buying smart cars). As such, while the total amount of money spent might well be enormous, the money doesn’t need to be spent up-front by any state or national government. That stands in stark contrast, of course, to rail projects, which cost billions of dollars up front; if they ever do pay for themselves, they do so only very slowly.
So while I’m convinced that now is an excellent time for the US to embark on a substantial round of infrastructure investment, I’m less convinced that we should be investing in rail in particular. A smart electricity grid, definitely. Improvements on existing bridges and tunnels, absolutely, including that new tunnel to New Jersey. But I’m less convinced about things like a high-speed rail link between San Francisco and LA. Especially so long as there aren’t any self-driving cars to pick up passengers when they arrive.