Monday, August 03, 2009

High-Speed Rail and Backbiting Progressives

Apologies for the lack of updates. I'll point you to this excellent takedown, by BruceMcF, of a disingenuous "Freakonomics" article in the NYTimes on high-speed rail. Here's the first bit:

Eric Morris's "Freakonomics" blog labels itself as the "hidden side of everything", this particular piece involves taking two information sources and arriving at the final conclusion:
But given the very severe budget constraints we are currently facing, a program as costly as HSR should be evaluated very thoroughly despite its considerable allure.

His first piece of information is David Levinson's estimate that the California HSR will cost $80b. And what is the basis of David Levinson's estimate? As he described it on the California HSR blog:

(5) The cost estimates in question when I was quoted in the newspaper article which was requoted by Eric Morris do in fact come from Reason Foundation (you get interviewed by a newspaper and see how many of your comments actually make it through the back end). I do think they are ballpark, and expect the official estimates are quite low, as they usually are in MegaProjects.

In other words, the cost estimate is from the anti-government-project "Reason Foundation", and David finds them reasonable based on an expectation that there will be a budget blow-out on a Mega-Project.

This is not Eric Morris citing the work of a "transport expert", but citing the reaction of a "transport export" to the work of an ideological propaganda mill. However, citing the "Reason Foundation" as the source of the $80b estimate would undermine the credibility of the blog post in the eyes of many people worried about CO2 emissions ... who would be aware of much hackery places like the Reason Foundation engage in on the issue of climate chaos.

Not terribly surprised. This happens all the time: economists cite that sort of source, other economists feel collegiate with the first set so are willing to cite it too without looking at where it's coming from...and pretty soon, The Reason Foundation, of all things, ends up quasi-"cited" in the NYT.

But I really connected to this bit from Bruce on Kos:
While the "need to support local rail" is used by the anti-rail lobby as an argument against HSR funding ... when it comes time to fight for local rail funding, the talking points from the Libertarian think tanks swing around to why Bus Rapid Transit is better. And when it comes time for a Bus Rapid Transit project, the talking points end up in favor of ... more car lanes.
I REALLY wish that more progressives and liberals understood this better. I read pissing matches between different interests that use right-wing talking points and always want to yell "They are not your friend. They do not want to privilege your cause over the other guy's cause. They want to crush you both". This happens with social as well as economic issues—I suspect a lot of the anti-erotica feminists I've seen making common cause with censorious wingnuts never stop to think what their newfound friends think of, say, contraception—but it seems most prevalent on economic issues.

It happens over and over again. Try to get more funding for education by attacking NASA's funding? They'll agree, and cut NASA, and then cut education too. Try to get more funding for environmental protection by attacking funds used for roads? They'll agree, fight to cut the road budget, and then turn around and gut environmental protection too. Hoping you can get more money for affordable housing by saying that foreign aid is misspent when it should be spent at home? Guess what? They won't do either.

No, they'll just take the money and either plow it into district-friendly defense spending, Agribusiness, right-wing friendly manufacturers, attracting more Wal-Marts, or just making those upper-class tax cuts that their real constituents like so much. Every. Single. Time.

It always works out like that. Both sides always lose. The Enemy of Your Enemy is always going to make fools of both of you. Yet too many progressives, locked as they are in their little single-interest cages, screw it up again, and again, and again, and again. All the while providing endless cover and ammunition to the people that consider them treasonous dolts and the tremulous "moderates" who are desperately begging for their approval.

No, the enemy of your enemy is not your friend. Your friends are the people who believe that collective action can do good. Your enemies are the ones who don't.

All else is detail.

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