Why Leftists (Like Len Brown) Love Trains

I know why leftists love trains. Its just that I’ve never been quite sure how to put it into words. Today I came upon an excellent piece by George Will in Newsweek. (Newsweek??? Yeah I agree, it is indeed strange, but that is where it is.) George is actually rattling on about Obama’s crazy scheme to give “80 percent of Americans access to high-speed rail.” “Access” and “high-speed” to be defined later.

If your interested in the economics of rail then its a good read, but also, in the closing paragraphs he has so succinctly put the view on ‘why leftists love trains’ in words I wish I had thought of myself.

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.

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!”

Ain’t that so good? Full article here.

6 thoughts on “Why Leftists (Like Len Brown) Love Trains

  1. This is one of the things on which I disagree with you RB… I find the right’s hatred of trains as frustrating as I find the left’s love of them…

    There is also a bit of a difference between a nationwide HSR network in a country with the most competitive domestic airmarket and developed road network in the world and the Auckland rail tunnel…

    Around the world there is no free market in transport and this government and semi-government monopoly is further distorted by endless zoning laws and parking minimums, protections from prosecution for vehicle related noise, damage, etc and subsidies… Ultimately the transport form that would be in use if the free market was operating is undeterminable and all forms of transport have their place if a truly free market brings them into existence…

    I personally have little doubt trains would make up a larger part of our transport network in Auckland if a free market was operating…


  2. “I personally have little doubt trains would make up a larger part of our transport network in Auckland if a free market was operating…”

    Well, true or not I have no problem with the idea behind that statement Jeremy. Of course if investors want to build railways then they should just go right ahead. No subsidies though. Not ever.

    Of course to support the idea, one also has to support the idea of centralised work areas. City centers and the likes. I consider that could be a concept that is beginning to look more and more outmoded. With the communications facilities we have these days, small regional centers spread over a city would seem to make more sense.


  3. It seems we don’t disagree at all…

    You make an excellent point, railways were of course the result of the most free market period in Western history the 19th century, railways, subways and trams (including Auckland’s system) were the product of free enterprise…

    Would they return and/or grow if the shackles of the state were thrown off..? No way of knowing and that I think really stifles the debate, because the market is so distorted and so government controlled there really no way of knowing which is the options we should be approving/supporting – in my humble opinion…


  4. Pingback: The Fairfacts Media Show » Blog Archive » Train-ing the public to only go where the state allows

  5. The reason Auckland, for example, has never had a “workable” rail system is probably because the market place has never seen it as viable, and therefore has never seen fit to invest in such an uneconomic venture. One also gets the sense that even local and national government has not historically viewed it as feasible either.

    To push through such a venture now will just result in a white elephant which will cost the rate/tax payer hugely; and will continue to do so if under utilised and therefore unable to pay its way.

    One can only come to the conclusion that George Will’s observation above is spot on. The Socialist Left really do like the image of herding all the sheep into stock cars and transporting them en masse to prescribed destinations (Lambs to the slaughter?). Once more the sheep are/become totally reliant on the Socialist state for all their needs. Individual expression/thought and freedom of movement MUST be eliminated!


  6. From government’s massive entrenchment of road based travel I’d argue that our freedom of movement has been limited – largely to one mode and the free market supressed…

    As I pointed out above Auckland’s tram system was built by private enterprise, and it rail, ferry, bus, etc and have been stifled by government intervention… To say the market hasn’t invested in it is, in my opinion, incorrect when there is no market…


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