What Thomas Friedman Wants for America

When it comes to high speed rail, the Left tends to have a Santa Clause mentality.   They want the rail, but refuse to even discuss its costs vs. benefits, as if it is going to be dropped in place by Santa Clause.

I have actually had pro-high-speed rail writers call me a dinosaur for taking a cost-benefit approach.  After a reasoned article on why our rail system, with its focus on freight, makes more sense than China and Europe's focus on high speed passenger rail, Joel Epstein wrote me that I should get out of the country more, as if I am some backwoods rube that would just swoon if I saw a nifty bullet train.  For the record, my actual experience on a high-speed rail train in Europe confirmed that it was a nice experience (I knew it would be) and that it was a financial mess, as my son and I were the only passengers in my car.  I would be all for HSR if Santa Clause dropped in down from the North Pole, but it costs a lot of real money.

How much money?  Well take the system in China that Friedman and Epstein and many others have begged the US to emulate:

The rail ministry that builds and operates the trains has an incredible 2.1 million employees, more than the number of civilians employed by the entire U.S. government. Moreover, the ministry is in debt to the tune of 2.1 trillion yuan ($326 billion), about 5 percent of the country’s GDP.


  1. Tom Scott:

    actually, according to the US office of personnel management, total employment inthe executive branch in 2010 was 2,776,000. That does not include Military nor does it include legislative branch. Of course neither does it include govt contractors either

  2. Sol:

    Santa Claus does not a an 'e', for what it's worth.

  3. Roger Murdock:

    It's not even worth a rental.

  4. John Cheek:

    The "santa clause' is an obscure provision of the Constitution inserted by big spending liberals. JaC

  5. carnahan:

    I'm sure lefties are embarrassed that the U.S. doesn't have bullet trains like the 'civilized' countries they worship.

  6. ettubloge:

    Did you see this today? "China's enthusiasm for high-speed rail stalls"


    It is reported:

    "In economics, the ruling party has traded most elements of central planning for market-style reforms. But in science, it still sees direct government involvement as essential...for fields from clean energy to computers and has promised money for research and other support.

    That strategy has led to complaints that decision-making is politicized, authorities ignore environmental and other costs and public money is wasted on dubious projects..."

  7. L Nettles:

    BEIJING – A Chinese bullet train manufacturer announced a recall Friday of 54 trains in the latest embarrassment for a problem-plagued prestige project following a July crash that killed 40 people.

    Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/world/2011/08/11/chinese-bullet-train-maker-orders-recall/#ixzz1UokFugNY

  8. Chris:

    Whether it is interstate high-speed rail or intracity light rail, advocates seem to enter a rapturous dream trance when they discuss the wonderous benefits of trains. You can't reason with dreamers. In their minds, the whole world will become a quaint Austrian village if we would just adopt more rail.

  9. Dan:

    I used to be a big supporter of high-speed passenger rail, but you've converted me. It sounds more and more like a costly boondoggle. I'd rather the U.S. continue to focus on improving its freight railroad system, which is definitely worth the investment.

    I can't imagine a day when someone will want to take a train from NYC to LA rather than fly. High-speed rail makes sense in some areas, like the northeast corridor, and perhaps some routes like LA to San Diego or Chicago to Milwaukee, but I don't see the point in taking it nationwide.

  10. Doug:

    "my son and I were the only passengers in my car"

    There's the sales pitch the left is missing: "Ride the train and avoid the crowds!"

    Here in Central FL we've had two pitches to deal with, the bullet train and commuter rail. In both cases threats to the programs have been met with howls from the folks who want to build and run them, but silence from the alleged throngs so eager to ride them.

    Fortunately, Gov. Scott killed the bullet, for now, but John Mica will get to play with the commuter train set he's wanted for so long.

  11. CTD:

    It all makes sense once you realize that the purpose of state-run rail companies, virtually everywhere in the world, is not to transport anything anywhere, but to be a massive patronage system. The railways in China and India are, IIRC, the largest employers in the entire nation. I think I heard that Greece's state rail company had more employees than rail cars (!).

  12. Ted Rado:

    The bullet train is a wonderful example of why everything should be left to the competitive market economy, rather than to government.

    Inventors, engineers, scientists, and businessmen, if left alone by the USG, will respond to the needs of the public. All the USG does is muddy the water anfd divert resources to idiotic projests. Have we learned nothing from the Soviet experiment? Everything governments try to manage turns to s---.

  13. Mesa Econoguy:

    Thomas Friedman wants far more than zippy explosive train repair shops for Amerika.

    His vision includes youth indoctrination skools, political brainwashing, and state-run media.

    Oh, wait, we already have that. Just not enough for Tommy.

  14. Dan:


    State-run media? We have it already? What world are you living in? Our media are run by corporations, with Rupert Murdoch probably the best-represented.

  15. Mesa Econoguy:

    Lol, Rupert Murdoch, boogie man.

    Sorry, his footprint is 1/16th the size of overall msm.

  16. Ol' Remus:

    Like you, I was impressed by high-speed rail, in my case the TGV with its long "eminent domain" tangents, its 300 Kph cruising speed and the rock-steady ride. Passenger loading was moderate to medium. But recreating the passenger service even of, say, 1950 would be unrealistic much less a China-style high-speed system. I'm inclined to believe private enterprise passenger trains didn't turn an overall profit for the first seven decades of the twentieth century in which they existed.

  17. IgotBupkis, President, United Anarchist Society:

    >>> In their minds, the whole world will become a quaint Austrian village if we would just adopt more rail.

    Naw, that's just the starting point.

    Their real goal is to turn the world into a quaint land of mud huts and grass skirts

    (NO BEARSKINS!!! How dare you demean an entire species by wearing its skin? You bastard!!)

  18. IgotBupkis, President, United Anarchist Society:

    >> I’m inclined to believe private enterprise passenger trains didn’t turn an overall profit for the first seven decades of the twentieth century in which they existed.

    Without investigation, I'd suspect you're wrong, though, after 1960 their capacity to draw the needed "justification level" of passengers, with the expansion of good, long-distance roads** and airplanes to compete with them, probably disappeared.

    So for not less than 20 years they were certainly operating at a huge loss on most routes.

    As the Interstates started to kick in, in particular.

  19. IgotBupkis, President, United Anarchist Society:


    **As the Interstates started to kick in, in particular.

  20. IgotBupkis, President, United Anarchist Society:

    >> Have we learned nothing from the Soviet experiment?

    LOL, you're asking if liberals learn anything?

    Do coconuts migrate?

    I put it to you -- to anyone here -- that one of the primary defining characteristics of "liberal" is an absolute and utterly complete inability to learn from experience.

    As Noam Chomsky will suffice to show -- they can be intellectual giants (the capacity to learn from books), but where wisdom (the capacity to learn from experience), is concerned, they are the world's largest collection of unmitigated dunces.

  21. IgotBupkis, President, United Anarchist Society:

    >> State-run media? We have it already? What world are you living in?

    The real one, Dan, the real one.

    When the three big networks plus CNN and MSNBC plus the "Big 12 city" newspapers (NYT. LAT, The WaPo, etc.) all manage to actually publish a story which tears down/at some goal of the liberals, Greens, and Democrats without being forced to do it by Fox and other conservatives pointing out EXCESSIVELY egregiously stupid aspects of the goal for months on end, THEN the media will actually be "independent".

    When you have to pound "HEY, THIS IS BLATANTLY STUPID!" down their throats for months, before a single one of them breaks ranks and acks that to the public, they're part of a "state-run media" for the benefit of the Democratic Party, and postmodern liberalism in general.

    Until then, it's all part of a giant politico-social "industrial complex" designed to advance the liberal agenda.

  22. ErisGuy:

    "joel Epstein wrote me that I should get out of the country more,"

    I have never met or ready books by anyone whom travel 'broadened.' Instead, it seems to make them stupider (e.g., Sydney & Beatrice Webb).

  23. Dan:

    It's interesting the level of Europe hate on this site. I've traveled all over Europe and found it a beautiful place, with towns and cities that are far more liveable than here. I understand you can be against some of Europe's all-encompassing social programs, but a "quaint Austrian village" is far from a terrible place to live in. And the people there tend to have decent health care, too, by the way.

  24. brotio:

    If there is a market for high-speed rail, then private investors would put their money at risk. The feds should repeal railroad speed limits, and eliminate funding for AmTrak and see what happens.

  25. Chris:


    I did not imply that living in a "quaint Austrian village" is a bad thing. Simply that you cannot convert Los Angeles, Atlanta or any other city designed around the automobile into something it is not. Nevertheless, politicians and train advocates always seem to significantly overestimate the transformative impact of these pet projects.

  26. Dan:

    I agree you can't transform those places, but I do feel sorry for people who have to live in them. Unlike the quaint Austrian village, they were designed for cars, not people. Aesthetically, they're a disaster. And for young or old people who can't drive, they're horrible places to live.