You Must Subsidize My Unrealistic Choices

I found this a fairly typical example of the thinking by the modern victim class.

Stimulus dollars for new fare boxes strikes me as very close to the extreme in Keynes's insight that stimulus from the gov't can be needed and serve well, when he said something like that a "stimulus" could be burying bottles of dollars under a field and people digging them up - his point being that ANY stimulus would help. 50+ yrs later, surely the thought that "yeah, but, a smarter-placed stimulus would have more effect." Stimulate the company (and its employees) that make fare boxes, or allow SF residents to not be yet further pressed for money? I think the latter is smarter, and am stunned that the former seems to be going to happen.

I beg you to write and publish something on this. Raising fares at Muni also has a ripple effect on local business -- I won't ride the bus on the wkend out into the neighborhoods and maybe use my little splurge money to buy something there. In addition to that, for MTA, I will be overall paying less to them (while feeling a lot more confined, riding a lot less). The fare increase will get less money from me, while imposing more hardship on me, and I will be putting less money into local business.

Thank you for noticing and writing of we "the working poor." We're increasing in number. I'm well-educated and under-employed, and right now just trying to get by each month. I am desperately trying to avoid having to move out of SF.

So here is the situation:

  • He is well-educated, presumably with portable skills, but insists on staying in San Francisco where he cannot find full employment.  My sense is he has not tried to find a job anywhere else in the country
  • He considers himself to be poor, but refuses to entertain the idea of living in the most expensive city in the country (save possibly Manhattan)
  • He wants the rest of us via stimulus money to to subsidize his rail transport to help him better live in a city that has no work for his skills and which is too expensive for him to afford

I am OK with helping out folks who have tried everything they can to make ends meet and still need help to survive.  But should I really be thrilled to rush to the aid of someone who refuses to take even the first and most obvious step to address their poverty?

I have moved 9 times in my life trying to make things work for me and my family. I loved Boulder CO the best, and would love to live there, but there is no work for me that fits my skills. I guess I could have stayed and lived their in a financial situation that is less than I desire, but if I did so, it would be hard for me to imagine that I would lash out at the rest of the world for not subsidizing my choice.

Postscript: These guys are on drugs thinking light rail is the answer for the working poor.  As I wrote in the comments:

...light rail is simply not transit for the working poor. It is transit for yuppies that happens to be used by some working poor.  They are built for white collar workers commuting to town who are too high and mighty to be caught dead in a "grubby" bus.  But since light rail is orders of magnitude more expensive than buses, two things happen in every city that ever builds light rail.

1) Light rail fares skyrocket to cover their immense operating deficits and capital costs, giving the lie to politicians that sold these systems as helping working poor.

2) Bus service, the form of transit that serves most of the working poor even today in the Bay Area, is cut back to help pay for rail.

Light rail is the worst enemy of providing transit services to the working poor ever devised in this country.


  1. Max:

    Well, they only copy what has already been tried in other countries (Europe) and even there struggles (despite the relatively small size of many european cities). Karlsruhe and Lyon alone maintain a light rail network each (10 and 3 Lines respectively). And while Lyon socializes the costs and thus keeps fare prices down, Karlsruhe has to raise prices every couple of years. Maintenance seems to be heavy in both systems if one looks at the number of repairs that have to be done over the year.

    Perhaps you haven't seen the light rail section in wikipedia, that has a comparison between road and rail construction:
    Perhaps it is not really a mistake of light rail construction, but of free high way usage?

  2. DKN:


    You wrote "Perhaps it is not really a mistake of light rail construction, but of free high way usage?"

    Actually, highway usage is not free, we pay taxes to support it, e.g., gas taxes. Don't recall the precise percent, but a sizable chunk of those taxes gets rerouted to subsidize public transportation, including light rail. Peruse the site for various articles with data links regarding light rail vs. other transportation.

    I am not knee-jerk against light rail, I used it frequently for the 17 years I lived in Atlanta, but it's not nearly the wonder-solution proponents make it out to be.

  3. silvermine:

    Indeed. But the same people think that someone being forced to rent instead of owning a house they can't afford is a tragedy. (Well, how tragic is it that I never bought a house at all. I rent and subsidize their stupidity, which prices me further out of the market. Thanks!)


    I can't see how anyone can stand riding the light rail. I live near a station and it's so incredibly slow, I can't imagine how people can ride it if they do anything but work. I'm sorry, but I also have a *life* and my time is important to me.

    (Though I did ride the bus in college -- 30 to 60 minutes each way. But I did my homework and took naps on it, so the time wasn't wasted. It was an okay trade off for me.)

  4. hedberg:

    Not being an economist and not being very interested in the writings of Keynes, I had not heard or read about this bottles of money stuff before. A quick search found this seemingly approving reference to Keynes and the "Bottles of Money" theory of economic stimulus by none other than our Nobelist Paul Krugman. This sounds a lot to me like what I have heard called the "fallacy of broken windows" (which has nothing to do with Microsoft). The theory goes that in order to spur economic activity we should pay vandals to break windows for the stimulative affect it will have on the economy. Likewise, I suppose we should pay the Corps of Engineers more money to create substandard dikes because of the stimulative effect of enhanced storm damage and we should pay Islamic terrorists to fly airplanes into our buildings for a similar reason. There is probably a 911 conspiracy theory about the latter.

    So, is there anyone goofy enough to advocate economic policies which seem to be the dismal science's answer to the perpetual motion machine? Well, there is that rich Texan guy who thinks that converting all the diesel trucks to run on natural gas would be economically beneficial. Sort of like paying vandals to go out and put damaging chemicals in the fuel tank of every diesel truck so that all the engines will have to be replaced. It may be good policy to encourage a switch from diesel fuel to CNG in order to reduce pollutants and to reduce oil imports, but it would be tremendously expensive and would require a massive diversion of productive capacity -- exactly as would burying all those bottles of money and paying people to dig them up. But the advocates of such policies tout only the benefits (less pollution and oil imports) while ignoring the costs, both direct and in terms of diverted economic capacity.

  5. Fay:

    Maybe it's something as simple as that he has a family and a community in SF that he doesn't want to leave. Maybe numbers aren't everything. Maybe libertarians really ARE cold-hearted. Jesus.

  6. hedberg:

    Fay, I don't think that anyone wants to criticize the writer just for making choices for other than economic reasons. The criticism is for wanting to be subsidized for making choices when, but for those choices, the subsidization might not be necessary.

    Besides, there is a limited amount of subsidization/welfare/transfer payment money available. The economy can't afford to provide every slacker (and I'm not suggesting that the writer is a slacker) with every economic benefit that the slackers desire. When someone with economically viable alternatives maintains a lifestyle which depends upon the charity of strangers, it unnecessarily limits the amount of resources which may be made available for those with unmet needs not within their power to ameliorate. To one extent or another, that's immoral. Perhaps not much more immoral than overtime parking, but at least as immoral as waterboarding mass murderers.

  7. K:

    There are two big problems with US light rail. The first is easily solved, make the localities pay for it. Right now the feds, state, counties, and cities chip in varying amounts. Sometimes special levies are imposed on people who will receive no benefit whatever. This type of financing brings multiple levels of control, corruption, and divided responsibility - which is to say, no responsibility at all.

    The second problem has several facets. They stem from the ego. One delusion leads to twenty years of designing and redesigning. And funding numerous social studies about how the community will be affected. Another always leads to the conclusion that endless minute adjustments will produce a flawless product.

    i.e. the outcome must be flawless because the politicians and planners in charge are so smart.

    And the commonly heard and obviously false assertions: The estimates are accurate, the ridership will be enormous, it will gradually pay off capital costs, and "we will all someday be proud to live in such a place."

  8. DKN:

    Another problem with light rail, which gets too little attention IMO, is that it can only go where the rails go (duh), and on a fixed schedule. It can't take you from door to door, to work, then the post office, and then to the store, and then to run an errand or three, and go to a dinner and movie, and do it as quickly and conveniently as cars or even busses can. In that sense rail is, and always will be, a horrible way to move stuff in the most geographically and time efficient way, not to mention the loss of lifestyle freedom.

    Take it from an ex-railroad guy, trains are a great way to move a kabillion tons of inanimate objects from one coast to another, but you don't want to depend on 'em for your daily running around.

  9. Brandybuck:

    Fay, he can live for half the cost a mere twelve miles away by BART or Caltrain.

  10. Max:

    @DKN: Yes, you pay for highways, but let just assume, there are people who ride by bike everyday or live in Manhattan, they pay taxes on highway, too and they will probably never use them. Highways can get pretty expensive, just take a look at France, where a ride from the alpes to Lyon costs about 20 euros (approximately 30-35 dollar) one-way!
    I mean it is one hour and a half ride, but costs about 35 dollar. I don't say that light rail is better, but I think we shouldn't neglect that, when we think about it.

    My biggest problem with light rail is, that it is not very comfortable. Even outside of the inner city, light rails usually travel around 60-90 km/h (about 50-65 miles per hour)which is ridiculously slow for a rail-based transportation unit. Plus, because they are designed for inner-city usage, they have only very limited space for climate units, leaving them to be a packed space in hell during summer time.
    The third problem is riding with strangers and noise which can be hilarious or a stink ride through dante's inferno....

  11. DrTorch:


    In what ways does your Manhattan bicyclist pay for highways that he doesn't use?

    I pay gas taxes and tolls, and know for a fact that in DC/MD/VA that all the money I put toward highways doesn't go to highways, it's a coffer for other gov't projects. Including the DC Metro.

    Your costs for the French taking a trip are not impressive, as I'd bet that rail would be as much or more. Furthermore, if the trip had 4-5 riders in the car, it would cost less/person. That's not true w/ rail.

    The DC Metro BTW, does not make money, even with some parking locations charging high daily rates. When ridership soared last year, one might expect that the system would come close to break even, since fixed costs remained nearly constant. That wasn't the case, the heavier loads meant the rail cars wore out more quickly, so the system was always guaranteed to lose money.

    Furthermore, the DC metro wants to expand, and it's taking $900M from the rest of the country to pay for part of that (that's assuming no overruns). So what does the guy from Lima, Ohio get for his money? His traffic isn't bad, in fact, he'd be glad for a few offices to spring up, and to have MORE traffic as people go to work.

    In other words, these subsidies perpetuate the very problems hey claim to solve!

    Here's a better idea. Let the costs and frustration of driving in cities be borne by the people who live/work there. Then it will be a driving force to find a different location for companies: lower taxes, better commute times, less frustration...and the Lima Ohios of the country will benefit too.

  12. DrTorch:

    So, is there anyone goofy enough to advocate economic policies which seem to be the dismal science’s answer to the perpetual motion machine?

    Your analogy is 100% spot on correct! Why is it that gov't officials and journalists don't recognize the absurdity of all of this? Heck, I think there are plenty of MBAs in the commercial sector who don't even understand this.

  13. hedberg:

    In what ways does your Manhattan bicyclist pay for highways that he doesn’t use?

    I pay gas taxes and tolls, and know for a fact that in DC/MD/VA that all the money I put toward highways doesn’t go to highways, it’s a coffer for other gov’t projects. Including the DC Metro.

    Money collected through taxes is fungible; once it gets into the government's bank account, you can't tell one dollar from any other dollar nor can you tell where any particular dollar came from. A dollar sent to the federal government to pay self employment taxes is indistinguishable from a dollar collected at the gas pump to pay federal gas taxes. User fees, such as tolls, seem to me to be different, but I'm not sure whether that's just my prejudice.

  14. tomw:

    The dollar collected as fuel tax would not be collected if the fuel was not purchased. They may fall into the same pot (they are not supposed to, but Congrefs has its own methods of peter/paul...), but they would not be in the pot save for fuel being purchased and used. So, it is an extra tax for those that use the fuel, and may use the roads. We should all petition the Feds for a rebate on fuel used in lawnmowers. It causes no road wear.
    My 2 cents.


  15. epobirs:

    Tax dollars do not necessarily go into the general fund. In California we have had several occasions where ballot initiatives defines specifically what monies went where, including one that defined taxes collected from fuel sales being solely for the purpose on improving and maintaining the state's roads and highways.

    Unfortunately, there was a loophole left in that allowed the legislature to declare an emergency and seize the funds for whatever new entitlement scheme they thought would keep them in power. And wouldn't you just know it? We've had an emergency every year since that ballot initiative passed.