Saturday, June 4, 2011

Rabble-rousing, Class Wars, and High-Speed Rail

Let's, for the moment and for purposes of discussion, agree that it is a good idea for the federal and state governments to spend money that they don't have to help the unemployed and to pump money into the struggling economy.  It's a Keynsian economic premise and it's the Democratic Party agenda.  Let's, as Edmund Wilson said, "Suspend disbelief," just for a moment.

Remember, this speculation here is hypothetical. Why would all those borrowed billions (which must be repaid) be spent on building a transportation system that will be used only by guys in suits and ties, and their female counterparts?  Is it not clear that regular people ride on regular trains, and the "Leisure Class" (as Thorstein Veblen called them), ride on high-speed trains?

Who do you think are all those HSR passengers in France, or Japan, or Spain?  Check the ticket prices on the Web.  HSR tickets are the most expensive train tickets you can buy (unless of course, you are taking a compartment on the Orient Express).

Look at it this way; no construction workers building this train will ever ride on it; they couldn't afford to.  It's only the professional classes with laptops, such as people with corporate travel expense accounts, that will be the customers for this very exclusive service.  Why don't more people understand that?  Does Joe Six-Pack believe he will be riding high-speed rail?  Not a chance!

As we all kow, the HSR's intended route and initial construction takes it through the California Central Valley, where it will split a number of farms in two, and otherwise produce considerable disruption  to a highly valuable region of the California economy.
So, picture a 200 mph train flashing across this agricultural world, watched by all the farm workers, looking through the windows flashing by at the well-to-do riding this train; a train that they will never see the inside of.  A train built with our tax dollars.

Can you see now why comparing HSR with the Interstate Highway System is a false comparison? Most of America's infrastructure projects are for the benefit of everybody.  Not High-Speed Rail!

I don't want to make a Marxist case about this, but clearly, there is a distinction being drawn between the "Masses and the Classes."  The former, the masses, tend to use public transit -- out of necessity -- for their daily commute.  They often have no other choice. The latter -- the classes -- have several transit choices and can afford all of them.  High-Speed Rail clearly segregates these two populations.  Indeed, that may be one of HSR's attractions for "the classes;" that is, the exclusivity and prestige.

If there is even a grain of truth in this argument, then one must agree how strange it is for the Democrats, the party of ordinary people; that is, the unemployed -- those from Main Street and NOT from Wall Street or the Executive Suite -- to be so avidly supporting the construction of high-speed rail. 

It's not like there aren't many other, hugely pressing construction opportunities that would, in fact, make a productive life easier for the large mass of middle- and lower-middle-class working people in the US, especially in all the high-population regions and cities, including the Los Angeles Basin and the Bay Area.  

Why, for example, doesn't the Secretary of Transportation concern himself much more about commuter transit where people actually live and work, where there is all that congestion that high-speed rail can't fix, AND where transit is in deplorable condition?   Why is he pushing a fancy-pants train on us which many of us can't afford to ride if it does ever get built?

How much more hiring could go on for the vast amount of desperately needed repair and upgrading of urban and regional transit systems?   That is what I would expect from my Party.  Fix the problems were ordinary Americans live and work.  Not building luxurious premium trains for rich people.  

How much would the economy and the environment benefit if getting around in our towns and cities was enabled
through government support; that is, if we made intra-city transit a higher priority than inter-city transit?  After all, that's where the problems are that the HSR promoters claim that their zippy train will solve between the cities -- which is where all those problems aren't.

I find the irony in this situation really hard to understand; that the Republicans, 'the Party of the rich,'  oppose a train for the rich. While the Democrats --  the Party of the People -- support it and wish it to be built with our tax dollars.  

It certainly is a dilemma for me, a Democrat.  Why isn't my Party opposing the construction of an inter-city luxury train, while I would expect the Republicans to build a fancy train for all their wealthy friends? I'm not supporting this, I'm just saying it would make more sense.  As it is, it's the other way around and I find it perverse.

There's something very wrong here, and it appears to be ignored by my fellow Democrats.  Even now in my "golden years," I may have to switch to becoming an "Independent."