Category Archives: Politics

Jurisdictional Overload | streets.mn

Cross-posted at streets.mn Jurisdictional Overload :

Jurisdictional Overload

 

The Minneapolis-St. Paul region has many, many municipalities. Though I hear at international conferences that we have metropolitan government here, that seems a Viking marketing myth (much like the naming of Greenland).

In fact, depending on how you count, the region has 189 Minor Civil Divisions (MCD).

MCD-1990

Each is a local unit of government, which may have police, fire, roads, schools, parks, libraries, and many other public services (the scope of services varies, and some jurisdictions share services, and school districts have other boundaries).

Is this too many or too few? In Maryland there are 23 counties (including Baltimore City), and very few incorporated cities. For most people, the county is the smallest unit of government. Thus there is one less layer of government, and the counties achieve economies of scale.

On the other hand, the Tiebout Hypothesis (wikipedia) says:

“[M]unicipalities within a region [offer] varying baskets of goods (government services) at a variety of prices (tax rates). Given that individuals have differing personal valuations on these services and varying ability to pay the attendant taxes, individuals will move from one local community to another until they find the one which maximizes their personal utility. The model states that through the choice process of individuals, jurisdictions and residents will determine an equilibrium provision of local public goods in accord with the tastes of residents, thereby sorting the population into optimum communities. The model has the benefit of solving two major problems with government provision of public goods: preference revelation and preference aggregation.”

Thus we can dial-up the mix of public services and taxes we want by “voting with our feet”.

I am mixed about this. While I am skeptical there are a lot of economies of scale to be had at larger units of government (and there are many diseconomies of scale to be had as well),there are some. But it doesn’t make sense to me that we need 3 layers of government in the roads operations business (state, county, and city), and a fourth (metropolitan) in the roads planning business, when many places get by with 2. We seem to get a lot of buck-passing, and remote governance. Now this isn’t inherently a flaw with minor civil divisions. It is an argument that either cities give up their roads to the county, or the county turns back its roads to the local jurisdictions within.

The difficulty with this is, as many Streets.MN readers know, that e.g. the Hennepin County public works agency is not very innovative or progressive, and tends to resist things likebike lanes and roundabouts, which the city sometimes supports. So why are there Hennepin County roads in Minneapolis, surely the City can manage things adequately? The evidence for this is that most counties are smaller (in population and tax base) than the City of Minneapolis. To do this the City would need to be given the funds the County would have spent in the City anyway. This comes back to highway finance formulas at the State level, and allocation of country property tax revenue. We should of course have a higher state gas tax to replace the local property tax for local roads. But even without that, allocation of funds is a political problem, not a law of nature, and can be overcome if people can agree we are over-governed.

Minneapolis is one thing, what about a smaller municipality, like Richfield, or Lauderdale? If an MCD is too small to manage its roads, it can join with neighbors, just as municipalities often join for libraries or schools, or police. Or there can be some cities which manage all their roads, and others which let the county manage all their roads.

 

Today’s Post | Symposium Magazine

I have a post up at Symposium Magazine:

“I’ll start my posts this week by making some general points about how people view trade-offs when it comes to public dollars — not just for transportation, but infrastructure, more generally. This topic was the subject of recent interviews run by Chris Riback which you can view here.”

No Hetero, Godless, Childless Capitalists welcome

Deconstructing the Obama and Romney websites gives you insight into how their campaigns think.
Look at the Obama website, and you see interest groups:

  1. African Americans
  2. Asian Americans & Pacific Islanders
  3. Catholics
  4. Educators
  5. Environmentalists
  6. Jewish Americans
  7. Latinos
  8. LGBT Americans
  9. Native Americans
  10. Nurses
  11. Parents
  12. People of Faith
  13. People with Disabilities
  14. Rural Americans
  15. Seniors
  16. Small Business Owners
  17. Sportsmen
  18. Veterans & Military
  19. Women
  20. Young Americans.

Just as they did in 2008, they divide the world into races and ethnicities (1, 2, 6, 7, 9) religions (3, 6 again, 12), ages (15, 20) , life stages (11), gender (19), sexual orientation (8), occupation (4, 10, 16, 18), ability (13), geography (14), and affinity (5, 17).
I am sure there are studies behind this, but this is a really awful way to think about the world. First pigeon-holing identity is wrong. Second, their pigeon-holes are incomplete. I could easily identify as none of these (though I am sure the campaign figures I am 6 based on mailings I have received, I guess they cross-listed against a names-database). I fall under 4, though I think of myself differently than the school-teacher they have in mind, and parents, but again, I could just as easily be childless.
Why are Catholics singled out, but not Athiests, Protestants, Mormons, Eastern Orthodox, Muslims, Hindus, Zoroastrians, or Buddhists? (Alternatively, are Catholics not People of Faith?) Why are Women singled out but not Men? Why are Young Americans and Seniors singled out but not middle aged non-parents? Why small business owners but not laborers or large business investors (like everyone with a pension plan)? Why nurses but not doctors, physicians assistants, lab technicians, or candy-stripers? Why Rural Americans but not Suburbanites or City-Dwellers? And of course, there is the White Elephant sitting in the room.
[It also raises the question of why it is politically correct to say "Seniors" but not "Juniors" or "Youth", but "Young Americans", or Sportsmen but not Businessmen, or People with Disabilities (no longer the Disabled, or Disabled Americans, or Americans with Disabilities), or Rural Americans rather than Countryfolk, or Catholics, not Catholic Americans, but Jewish Americans and not Jews, or Educators but not Teachers or Teaching Americans or People of the Chalk.]
So despite the 3 times a day emails, I am unmoved by the campaign.
Mitt Romney on the other hand breaks the world into coalitions:

    1. Americans of Faith
    2. Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders
    3. Black Leadership Council
    4. Catholics
    5. Educators
    6. Energy Voters
    7. Farmers and Ranchers
    8. Former Obama Supporters
    9. Healthcare Professionals
    10. Jewish Americans
    11. Juntos
    12. Lawyers

(He goes there!)

    1. Polish Americans

(but not Czechs, Ukrainians, or Romanians)

  1. Public Safety Professionals
  2. Voters for Free Enterprise
  3. Veterans and Military Families
  4. Women
  5. Young Americans

The lists are oddly similar. Environmentalists get replaced with Energy Voters, Nurses with Healthcare Professionals, Rural Americans with Farmers and Ranchers, Small Business Owners with “Romney Voters for Free Enterprise”, African Americans with the Black Leadership Council, Latinos with Juntos, <!– Jewish Americans with the Elders of Zion, –> People with Disabilities are replaced by Public Safety Professionals and Lawyers.
The fundamental flaw is the same, and Romney’s coalitions seem even smaller than Obama’s. Yuck.

Obama on the Issues

I hope to find solace in the issues. At least Obama is still a Civil Libertarian, right? There is no evidence on the website.
The issues page is slightly better than it was a few months ago.
Innovation: No policies appear there, just a goal. Nothing about patent reform or copyright reform? Nothing about open access to scientific research? Further when I click “More on Innovation” I am taken to the economy page, which is about the lack of innovation, reviving the auto industry and manufacturing.
Taxes: Ok, some reforms in that the Bush cuts expire, and spending rises less fast than the baseline. And really, he is only asking the rich to just “pay a little bit more”. Really, why are they complaining? It’s only a “little bit”. BS. It’s a lot, nearly $1 trillion in a decade. That’s a lot even to Mitt Romney. And it should be a lot.
Nation-Building: This is where he talks about Infrastructure and is the best bit. Americans will be rebuilding “road”, not “roads”. I.e. his plan is build one road? Yeah, I know, it is a typo. That’s what you expect on a blog, not from the POTUS. Clearly, it was put together by interns, and no one read it! He seems to refer to the Infrastructure Bank, I am surprised to see it in the top 5 of his list, but good. Of course, the Bank the administration has proposed gives away money in addition to lending it, and it is not clear how the money is paid back, but I guess something is better than nothing.
I have never understood the Energy Independence mantra running through the US politic for forty years now. Who will buy our stuff if we don’t buy theirs? At any rate, we have the good fortune to have lots of new natural gas, so we can burn that now.
More education is good too, but where is the support for vouchers and charter schools? We should have “single payer” education, but not state provision, any more than we have state provision of health care or food. We would be so much better off if we had single payer for both education (less “socialism”) and health care (more “socialism”).
Nothing on immigration? Smart immigration reform is probably the greatest free lunch for growing the US economy there is. (At least there is something elsewhere on the site (though I have to “jump to another issue”) about immigration, but it is not part of the economic blueprint).

Romney on the Issues

Romney does in fact have a better issues page. I don’t believe it of course, and it looks wrong, but it does lay out the issue in a way that you can believe that someone on his team has actually thought about it. The five key points:
Energy Independence
The Skills to Succeed
Trade that Works for America
Cut the Deficit
Champion Small Business.
Aside from the “Reduce taxes” and “Replace Obamacare” parts of Champion Small Business, it mostly sounds okay and bland, i.e. it could have appeared in some form on the other party’s website. Clearly there are some subtle differences, Obama spiked the Keystone pipeline in its proposed form. But really, we all want streamlining, cutting red tape, and eliminating strong-arm tactics. We just disagree as to what constitutes important safeguards and what constitutes increases in regulation tangling job creators in red tape.

Disclosure

For the record. I nevertheless intend to vote for Obama. The objectivist Republican alternative is awful, the big “L” Libertarian alternative is not going to win, and if he won is unprepared to govern.

My mayoral campaign | Christian Wolmar

UK Rail writer Christian Wolmar says he is running for Mayor of London in 2016Mayor of London:

“So here I am, bidding for the Labour nomination. But what would I do? As I wrote in my launch manifesto in The Times, I will try to present a vision for what London could look like if it was weaned off the obsession with catering for people in cars. It was timely, therefore, that London has just been the subject of a real-life experiment in changing the way that the transport operates for the Olympics.”

Dr. Willard and Mr. Mitt

You have to have some sympathy for the impossible position of Republican Presidential nominee Willard Mitt Romney. On the one hand, he had to be sufficiently moderate for the voters of Massachusetts to elect him Governor, on the other, he had to be sufficiently immoderate to acquire the GOP nomination. As noted by others, these positions are incompatible. So will the real Mitt Romney please stand up? There are three mainstream positions on this. I will add a fourth:

  1. Mitt is really a Massachusetts liberal (or at least a moderate northeastern Republican, the kind David Brooks likes), and his positions to get the nomination were a head feint. Evidence: Romneycare
  2. Mitt is really a Randian libertarian, and his positions in Massachusetts were just instrumental in trying to obtain the nomination. His tell is that he named his son Taggart and brought Paul Ryan to be the VP
  3. Mitt is really just Mittonian, and the only thing he really cares about is Mitt (as opposed to the wider Libertarian agenda). The evidence is that his positions are inconsistent, but aligned to achieve a majority vote in the next election. His pursuit of wealth at Bain is just Mittonian.
  4. Mitt really has a split personality, who I will call Dr. Willard and Mr. Mitt.

Dr. Willard and Mr. Mitt could keep their identities separate in the pre-Internet age.
For instance, Dr. Willard is the nice genial uncle (the northeastern Republican) who wants to balance the budget, but would never hurt anyone or say mean things. Mr. Mitt derides 47% of Americans as victims.
Dr. Willard says health care mandates work and supports universal health care, Mr. Mitt calls them unconstitutional.
Dr. Willard supports the American auto industry, Mr. Mitt calls for Detroit to go bankrupt, and while you are at it, unplug Tesla and Fisker too.
Dr. Willard thinks abortion should be safe and legal, and we should respect precedent, Mr. Mitt does not.
Well, you get the idea. A website devoted to flip-flops is here. A You-tube collection is here.
The question is: which is correct? Is Romney intentionally and knowingly flip-flopping as a matter of strategy, or is he genuinely a split personality who can’t keep it together in the modern world under the intense observation, and at the time he is saying inconsistent things is unaware of their inconsistency?
Of course, people grow, and change their mind from time to time, and Emerson said: “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.” But to put it in terms Mittonian Romney might understand, if you cannot maintain a position from day to day, who will trust and believe you? The Confidence Man game can only go on for so long until everyone catches on.
For an historical rail example of the confidence game, see Lord Gordon-Gordon.

Frank and Roberts on Infrastructure | EconTalk

Via JS: @ EconTalk | Library of Economics and Liberty: Frank and Roberts on Infrastructure :

“Robert Frank of Cornell University and EconTalk host Russ Roberts debate the merits of a large increase of infrastructure spending. In the summer of 2012, Frank and Roberts were interviewed by Alex Blumberg of NPR’s Planet Money. That interview was trimmed to ten minutes for a Planet Money podcast. This is the entire conversation. Frank argues that a trillion increase in infrastructure spending, where the projects are decided by a bipartisan commission, would put people back to work and repair a near-failing system at a time when it is cheap to repair it and cheap to fund those repairs. Roberts disagrees with virtually every piece of Frank’s argument. This lively conversation covers fundamental disagreements over fiscal policy, the proper role for government, and the political process.”

In my view Russ Roberts did slightly better in the debate, but both were surprisingly ill-informed about infrastructure policy in the US. Roberts was also disappointingly willing to concede roads and tracks to the government sector for a libertarian, even tracks that are currently privately owned, like freight.

Redistribution vs. Building

TPM: Heller Bails Out:

“Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV) does the requisite distancing from Mitt Romney’s 47% comments …

‘I do believe the federal government has certain responsibilities. One of those responsibilities is building bridges and roads, and national defense,’ Heller said Wednesday in Washington. ‘I also believe in a safety net for individuals who need the help, so that’s why I would respectfully disagree with the comments that (Romney) made.’

Heller pointed out that his mom was a school cafeteria cook, so that he had a ‘different view of the world’ than Romney.”

Interestingly of course, the federal government does not in general build bridges and roads. It redistributes (that word again) money collected in the states (particularly the federal gas tax) back to the states that, along with locally collected funds, enables states to build (or more precisely hire contractors to build (or even more precisely, hire contractors to hire subcontractors and laborers to build)) bridges and roads.
We built bridges and roads before the federal government got involved. We probably would benefit from a debate as to what the federal value added in the redistribution of funds is. It is also interesting that building bridges and roads is something a Republican actually feels comfortable in assuming as a shared responsibility, clearly they have never heard of road privatization. One might call them “socialists”, if one called people names or labeled people.
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(Via .)

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Cost Bundling

Alon Levy @ Pedestrian Observations: Cost Bundling:

“It’s common to bundle multiple construction projects into one, either to save money or to take advantage of a charismatic piece of infrastructure that can fund the rest. For example, on-street light rail is frequently bundled with street reconstruction or drainage work, and rail lines can also be bundled with freeway construction in the same corridor (as in Denver) or widening the road they run under (as in New York). Combining different constructions into one project can be a powerful cost saver, as seen in the Denver example and also in Houston.” …

I really like the term “charismatic infrastructure”.

The Objectivist – Ron Paul – Mitt Romney Alliance

Why doesn’t Ron Paul go after Romney in the 2012 Republican Presidential nomination fight. I just figured it out … Romney’s first son is Tagg, as in Taggart, as in Dagny Taggart, while Paul’s first son is of course Rand Paul. One is named for the main character of Atlas Shrugged, the other for the novel’s author Ayn Rand. (Unusually both men are named for women).
The Objectivists, not the Tea Party, have captured the GOP.
The transportation connection, Dagny Taggart ran a railroad.