Thursday, September 30, 2004

The Mother of All Reforms

With election-year nuttiness about to peak this evening, it is time to refer to Leanard E. Read's proposal to pick our leaders by lottery. Here is an excerpt from the link:

"The first reaction to such a procedure is one of horror: 'Why, we might get only an ordinary citizen.' Very well. Compare such a prospect with one of two wrongdoers which all too frequently is our only choice under the two-party, ballot-casting system. Further, I submit that there is no governmental official, today, who can qualify as anything better than an 'ordinary citizen.' How can he possibly claim any superiority over those upon whose votes his election depends? And, it is of the utmost importance that we never ascribe anything more to any of them. Not one among the millions in officialdom is in any degree omniscient, all-seeing, or competent in the slightest to rule over the creative aspects of any other citizen. The recognition that a citizen chosen by lot could be no more than an ordinary citizen would be all to the good. This would automatically strip officialdom of that aura of almightiness which so commonly attends it; government would be unseated from its master’s role and restored to its servant’s role, a highly desirable shift in emphasis.

"Reflect on some of the other probable consequences:
a. With nearly everyone conscious that only "ordinary citizens" were occupying political positions, the question of who should rule would lose its significance. Immediately, we would become acutely aware of the far more important question: What should be the extent of the rule? That we would press for a severe limitation of the state seems almost self-evident.
b. No more talk of a "third party" as a panacea. Political parties, which have become all but meaningless as we know them, would cease to exist.
c. No more campaign speeches with their promises of how much better we would fare were the candidates to spend our income for us.
d. An end to campaign fundraising.
e. No more self-chosen "saviors" catering to base desires in order to win elections.
f. An end to that type of voting in Congress which has an eye more to re-election than to what’s right.
g. The mere prospect of having to go to Congress during a lifetime, even though there would be but one chance in some 10,000, would completely reorient citizens’ attention to the principles which bear on government’s relationship to society. Everyone would have an incentive to 'bone up,' as the saying goes, if for no other reason than not to make a fool of himself, just in case! There would be an enormous increase in self-directed education in an area on which the future of society depends. In other words, the strong tendency would be to bring out the best, not the worst, in every citizen."

Leanard Read enumerates just some of the advanatages. A moment's reflection suggests many more. Imagine politicians and their many acolytes having to join the productive economy.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

No-Fault Transit Planning

Having spent $300-million per mile to build LA's rump Red Line, LA's leaders now want to spend another billion dollars to extend it. Council Backs Expansion of Red Line ... The officials agree that 'congestion has reached a breaking point' and support building the subway system westward .."

This is all getting tedious but silence in the face of craziness is not an option. The Red Line ridership forecast (Segment 1 and 2) made in the official 1983 EIR was for 376,000 daily boardings. The actual FY 2003 daily boardings for these segments was 95,100 (thanks, Tom Rubin).

Of course, $300-million per mile to build (and many more millions to operate since then) was not part of the 1983 vision.

Finally, the impact of the project on congestion reduction is nonexistant.

This is all old news -- except to the folks ready to move forward. Yesterday's LA City Council vote to start pushing was unanimous.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Wealth and Angst

Gregg Easterbrook's The Progress Paradox: How Life Gets Better While People Feel Worse is worth reading. While Simon and Lomborg and others have documented the material improvement part, they said little about why many people were not taking delivery of the good news. Easterbrook is very good at surveying both.

Actually, the book has three parts; in addition to a fine exposition of the details of expanded material welfare and corresponding increased grousing (especially by smart people), Easterbrook adds two chapters on how to improve the world. So, skip the last chapters (how to reign in greedy CEOs, calls for universal health care, a higher "living wage" and more foreign aid) and enjoy the author's thought-provoking surveys of material success and the accompanying widespread (though non-universal) angst.

Monday, September 27, 2004

Smart Growth and Smart Diets

Most of the popular media (and others) have been taken on by the cachet of "smart growth" and the many dumb ideas that it includes.

John Tierney, however, got it about right in yesterday's NY Times. He even writes, "... I don't like my own car ... But I no longer believe that my tastes should be public policy ...."

And, referring to experiments, as on the I-15 near San Diego, he notes, "The toll lanes have become so popular that they're being extended 12 miles further out of town, and the concept of variable tolls has become highway engineers' favorite solution to traffic jams. After decades of working on technological fixes like beam-control roads, they've turned to basic economics instead. They now see traffic jams as equivalent of bread lines in the Soviet Union, a consequence of an unimaginative monopoly run by politicians loath to charge the market price for a valuable commodity. To be fair, the Soviet politicians, though, at least they didn't blame the public for the problem they created. They didn't promote a smart-diet program urging people to eat less bread."

Sunday, September 26, 2004

Debt and Mega-Debt

The National Debt Clock puts the U.S. national debt at $7,394,068,208,622.52 as of 8:27:10 PM GMT, Sep 26, 2004. It will soon hit $10 trillion and not look back. Rightly, many are concerned.

Thomas R. Saving recently wrote in the WSJ that the Social Security and Medicare unfunded liability is $73 trillion, 10 times the national debt. The new drug benefit will quickly make this worse.

The national debt got to where it is because politicians like to spend money and cut taxes and because of wars and the problems with raising taxes during economic recessions. The Bush tax cuts are widely cited for their regressivity but the Social Security "payroll tax" is the most regressive federal tax we pay -- and the fastest growing.

Yet, many of those who fret most over the national debt and the Bush tax cuts vow to defend the Social Security status quo.

Perhaps it's back to the idea that the "smaller" numbers are more comprehensible. Elite opinion can fathom trillions but balks at tens of trillions.

Friday, September 24, 2004

Sprawl and Health

The sprawl-causes-obesity silliness has become a growth industry and we now have the inevitable sprawl-and-health follow-up. Life is too short to dwell on these but the latest research from RAND will surely get a lot of press play. It may even make "60-Minutes."

Sprawl is bad for your physical well-being -- although the authors could not establish links between sprawl and mental health.

Where to start? When the authors score "sprawling sites", they mean MSAs -- like LA county with hundreds of neighborhoods. Characterize all these with a single score?

Be that as it may. Among the control variables, it seems sensible to include how long respondents have lived in these hellish conditions -- a week, a year, a decade? I could not find anything that might even be a near-proxy.

Studies like these are funded by groups that insist that they know what "livable communities" are. They typically are not the ones that most people choose to live in.

We all know where that discussion leads.

The researchers should consider that suburbanization and life expectancy have both been increasing for many years. Surely, suburbanization causes long life.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Doomsday, Horse Manure and Urban Planning Conferences

By now, we all know that long-run forecasts are a fool's errand and that all of the doomsday forecasts have been wrong. We also know that they keep on coming.

Historian Stephen Davies recounts "The Great Horse-Manure Crisis of 1894" in the current issue of The Freeman (some of contents on-line but, unfortunately, not Davies' piece). All urban non-pedestrian traffic was horsepowered and the stuff kept piling up. "In New York in 1900, the population of 100,000 horses produced 2.5 million pounds of horse manure per day ... " And, "Writing in the Times of London in 1894, one writer estimated that in 50 years every street in London would be buried under nine feet of manure."

Even better is Davies' reports that, "In 1898 the first international urban planning conference convened in New York. It was abandoned after three days, instead of the scheduled ten, because none of the delegates could see any solution to the growing crisis posed by urban horses and their output."

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

World Car-Free Day

It is hard not to like the WSJ's coverage of today's big non-event, World Car-Free Day. The piece says it all. Here it is:

"Honk if You Hate Cars"

"You may not know it from all the traffic, but today is officially "World Car-Free Day." As for all those environmental enthusiasts who intend to mark the moment by parking their Beamers and hybrids for the next 24 hours, the Competitive Enterprise Institute is issuing a little challenge.
Car-Free Day started with local activists more than a decade ago and has since grown into an official event for governments world-wide. The goal is to hang up the car keys for a day and contribute to building a fossil-fuel-less paradise by biking, walking and rollerskating about town. Many European cities will offer free or reduced-rate bus and commuter train service, while some U.S. places (Berkeley, California, for one) will shut down a section of the city to cars for the afternoon.
"And yet promoters have been perplexed to discover that several hundred fewer locales are taking part this year than did the 1,300 in 2003. Maybe it's because one test drive with a car-free world is inconvenience enough. Which gets to CEI's request that supporters of Car-Free day take part in a little "sincerity test." How hard is it, after all, to hide the garage door opener for one sunny afternoon when you've had months to plan?
"The real test, says CEI, is for all those participating in today's experiment to make it as real-world as possible. The group suggests that participants make their car-free trips today come rain or shine, carrying several bags of groceries, toting a baby if they have one, and to be sure to include a nighttime trip. This is, after all, how the world's love affair with the automobile began."

Tuesday, September 21, 2004


The legacy of Julian Simon roars on. Bjorn Lomborg's work is well known, the World Bank and others are chiming in with relevant international data findings (Sunday's post) and a new book edited by Terry L. Anderson, You Have to Admit It's Getting Better (Hoover Press) delivers recent research that adds still more. The authors suggest that the data show that sustainability is here. We are on the path.

One of the chapters (by Robert E. McCormick) even shows that net carbon emissions are subject to an Environmental Kuznets Curve. Economic growth eventually gives us a "race to the top."

Just when the NY Times Book Review had retained Al Gore as book reviewer for a book that stuck to the dim view.

Interestingly, my colleague Martin Krieger, in his "What's Wrong With Plastic Trees" was remarkably prescient about the sustainability mantra in 1973.

Yet, Martin could not have known, no one could have predicted what I discovered when I accompanied my friend Matt Ramsey to his school's Winter Sing, just a couple of years ago. Most of the the schmaltzy Christmas stuff had been replaced by songs about recycling!

I can only imagine what gets taught to these (and many other) kids throughout the year.

I did send Michael Sanera and Jane Shaw's Facts, Not Fear: Teaching Children About the Environment to Matt. The good news is that I can follow up with Krieger, Simon, Lomborg and many others.

Monday, September 20, 2004

People and Places

"Nobody goes there anymore. It's too crowded." So goes the old joke.

Now, researchers at the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government, in their Update on Urban Hardship, find that, in the years 1970-2000, St. Louis showed the most improved Intercity Hardship Index Score while Los Angeles' ranking declined the most.

Theirs is an index that combines six attributes: unemployment, dependency, education, income level, crowded housing, and poverty (see the report for precise definitions).

Trouble is that the place-prosperity vs. people-prosperity distinction highlights the fact that, over time, it is best to consider the fortunes and misfortunes of real people, rather than places (or quintiles, or deciles or such).

And to compare places, it is best to look at where people and capital are choosing to move. Those rankings never match the ones revealed in the study. That is the insight of the old joke.

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Doing Business

The World Bank's "Doing Business in 2005" includes estimates of how much a country's annual economic growth would gain by going from the being among the worst regulated to joining the least regulated: 2.2%. This is substantial and would compound quickly, making a big difference in some of the world's poorest places -- which have some of the world's worst regulations, including plenty of outright corruption.

Governments that have been kept in power by conventional aid programs, just as Peter Bauer predicted, are the most likely to add to the cost of doing business -- and more the problem than the solution.

Nevertheless, it's very good that the World Bank has finally discovered the obvious.

The IMF insists that macro-economic "reforms" go with its bail-outs. Much better to focus on what look sensible micro-economic reforms.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Fake but Accurate

If we stoop to generalize U.S. politics in terms of a simple left-right spectrum, it appears that many on the left honestly see themselves as on the side of the angels (e.g., Dan Rather, et al.) while many on the right garner a sense of self-righteousness in reaction (e.g., "can you believe these guys?").

The current flap over the 60-Minutes Memogate slip-up corroborates the point. While Fox-TV News flaunts their "fair and balanced" mantra and everyone knows that it's a Rupert Murdoch joke, the much more serious left now defends the Dan Rather evidence embarrassment as simply being about some memos that are "fake but accurate."

Unintended self-parody.

"Fake but accurate" just might make it into the folklore of our time -- along with, "if the glove doesn't fit, you must acquit ...", "it depends on the definition of 'is', ..." and, of course, "fair and balanced."

It's just that the latter was fully intended self-parody.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004


What is the Zeitgeist to do with data from the BLS that we are not all overworked wage slaves?
We'll have to see.

Most social science data involve stuff that is transacted and taxed. Time diaries are few and far between and this new regular feature of federal data reporting is welcome.

Economists have always been keen to see how we respond when money prices change. It is probably as useful to know how we react to time prices. A standard question was always about how people handle worsening highway congestion. But time costs also fall. We have a much easier time accessing data of all sorts these days. (I am old enough to recall double-parking outside libraries, running around, searching and trying to find dimes to xerox precious pages, etc.).

Once this new data series gets rolling, we will know a lot more about how our activity choices respond to changing money costs. There are units and definitions to agree on but this will all be great fun.

Here is some of the story from the WSJ:

September 15, 2004

"New Study Suggests Americans Aren't Overworked After All"
By ALONSO SOLO and JON E. HILSENRATH Staff Reporters of THE WALL STREET JOURNALSeptember 15, 2004; Page D2
"The high-tech economy and global competition may be increasing pressure on everyone to work harder and longer, but a new study suggests full-time U.S. workers still put in a standard eight-hour day and, in general, Americans get plenty of sleep.
"The Bureau of Labor Statistics, in the first of a new series of surveys on time use here, found Americans over the age of 15 on average sleep 8.6 hours a day and full-time workers on average clock in 8.1 hours on the job. That's more work than occurs in many European countries, but still leaves time for other activities.
"The findings also confirmed the picture of an increasingly sedentary society that spends about eight times more time a day (2.57 hours) watching television than exercising (0.3 hour) and three times more than socializing (0.78 hour).
"Here is a list of who spends the most amount of time on certain daily activities.
• Eating and Drinking Men 65 years and older (1.65 hours) • Household Activities Women 65 and older (3.06 hours) • Shopping Women (0.96 hours) • Caring for Family Members Women 25-34 years (1.64 hours) • Caring for Non-Family Members Women 55-64 years (0.52 hours) • Phone Calls, Mail, E-mail Women 65 and older (0.36 hours)
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
"Using data from interviews with 21,000 Americans across a cross section of the population last year, the American Time Use Survey aims to analyze the American worker's behavior and provide a fuller picture of how Americans use free time. Updates will be conducted annually.
Economists are increasingly drawn to time-use studies to examine issues ranging from climbing obesity rates to productivity of the nation's work force. Productivity measures, for instance, are influenced by how many hours individuals spend at work. By getting a fuller picture of the workday, economists might get a better understanding of the forces underlying productivity trends, which are essential to economic growth. Obesity, meanwhile, could be an offshoot of the sedentary lifestyle.
"'Certainly, the most salient fact [in the report] is the vast number of hours spent watching television,'" said Edward Glaeser, a Harvard economics professor. "'This is in line with previous studies, but the numbers remain staggering.'"
"BLS researchers said men work about an hour more (8.01 hours on average among full- and part-time workers) than women do (7.06 hours among full- and part-time workers), but working women are juggling more responsibilities: They spend about an hour more a day than working men doing household activities and caring for household members.
"To be sure, a detailed breakdown of the data showed that not all workers are putting in standard hours. Male full-time workers, for instance, on average spent 8.7 hours on the job on weekdays. And 33% of all survey respondents said they spent some time working on weekends or holidays.
"The survey provides insight into the increased incidence of telecommuting. Nearly one in five Americans -- 18.6 million individuals -- reported spending time working at home. Well-educated workers were the most likely to bring their work home. Thirty-three percent of college graduates, or 9.6 million individuals, do some work from home, compared with 13% among workers with no more than a high-school degree.
"Economists said the findings would help track nonmarket activities that are important to better understand the nation's economy. "Time use is critical for our economy," said Steven Landefeld, director of the Commerce Department Bureau of Economic Analysis, which produces monthly estimates of gross domestic product, the broadest measure available of the nation's output of goods and services. "This is one of the widest gaps we have with our knowledge of the U.S. economy."

Friday, September 10, 2004

Economists Gone Wild

The recent confab of economics Nobelists has produced copy that has appeared in various places. The WSJ's Fredrick Kempe offers this interesting summary:

"How De Niro Boosted Global Growth"

"LAKE CONSTANCE, Germany -- To illustrate a point, Nobel laureate Robert Mundell offers a pop quiz for doting economics graduate students arrayed around his dinner table here. What movie, he asks, has contributed most to the global economy?
"One student guesses 'Gone with the Wind.' Another ventures: 'Titanic.' None lands on the answer before Professor Mundell volunteers: 'Taxi Driver.' He says the 1976 Martin Scorcese movie starring Robert de Niro and a waifish Jodie Foster brought a cool couple of trillion dollars into the world economy. 'No other movie comes close.'

"By way of explanation, Mr. Mundell -- the father of supply side economics -- first recounts that Congressman Jack Kemp only pulled out of the 1980 Republic presidential primary after Ronald Reagan promised to make Mr. Kemp's tax reduction plan part of his platform. He continues that President Reagan never could have pushed the Kemp-Roth bill through a Democrat-controlled Congress if not for his increased stature following his stylish survival of a 1981 assassination attempt outside the Washington Hilton.
"That brings Mr. Mundell back to Taxi Driver. The would-be assassin was John Hinckley, who was inspired by the movie and his own deranged, DeNiro-esque desire to impress Ms. Foster, who was then attending Yale University. So without the movie, Mr. Mundell winks, the U.S. may not have had Mr. Reagan's growth-generating tax cuts -- which inspired low-tax policies elsewhere.
"Now that Professor Mundell has his audience's attention, he speaks of how President Reagan's tax cut plan was just one of several 20th century economic revolutions that have prepared the ground for a uniquely promising 21st century. His optimism reflects the general consensus among eleven Nobel Prize economic laureates that gathered here at a roundtable last week on the island of Lindau for a unique summit of international graduate students and assorted VIPs (The Wall Street Journal and Handelsblatt were media partners). It was accompanied by a survey this paper conducted to gauge the thinking of the 32 living Nobel laureates in economics. Read the answers1 of the 12 laureates who responded.
"Taking together, the laureates' ideas about the future are a timely reminder that many of the trends that wiped out European fascism and the Soviet bloc -- technological progress, globalization, democratization and the growth of free markets -- are still at work and in some ways have grown more powerful in their potential. It isn't that these men (for that is what they all are) don't worry about matters like nuclear proliferation, overpopulation, global warming and Mideast violence -- they just consider the countervailing positive opportunities to be more powerful and lasting.
"Mr. Mundell's revolutions begin but don't stop with the broad acceptance since the Reagan years that punitively high tax rates stymie growth. The European Union still has skeptics in places like Germany and France who would prefer that the more competitive small European economies adopt their bad tax policies. But the tide is against them -- newly elected European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso appears to know better, having kept the French and Germans out of jobs from where they could better dictate anti-competitive tax harmonization. A Latvian named Ingrida Udre will be responsible for tax policies -- and her country has eagerly embraced the Irish low-tax model.
"Mr. Mundell's second revolution is trade liberalization, which will continue to spread despite occasional reversals. The third is a productivity revolution driven by information technology that is holding inflation down and pushing growth and efficiency up. Another revolution was mentioned by Milton Friedman in response to our survey. He said it was the acceptance of the idea that inflation is a monetary phenomenon -- 'producing more than two decades of relatively low inflation in most developed countries, relatively stable economic output, a high level of employment and well-being.'
"Professor Mundell also considers the introduction of the single European currency, which he championed early in these pages, as a further positive push. He counts it as one of the best economic ideas the world has had in a long time -- moving the world beyond notions of national economies and currencies. He recognizes that the euro zone isn't a perfect currency area, but there are increasing indications that the euro's advocates are being proven right: Sharing a single currency and interest rate leads to healthy competition among euro members for smart economic policies where best practices eventually win out. Protests in Germany show how painfully these changes can be, yet the reforms of Social Democratic Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder also prove that they are inevitable.
"Another encouraging sign this week was a World Bank report that credited increased competition in the newly expanded European Union as the catalyst for business deregulation in several member nations. The report analyzed how regulation and legal systems in 145 countries affected entrepreneurs' ability to start and operate businesses. Slovakia led the list of the 10 countries that had done best at reducing the cost of doing business along with six other EU members: Lithuania, Poland, Belgium, Finland, Portugal and Spain.
"Finally, China's quarter century of rapid economic growth, now followed by India, is triggering yet another revolution. The Nobel laureates in our survey mostly believed that world wealth would be more evenly distributed in 2054. Gaps may continue to widen within countries, as they have in China. Yet most of the laureates believed that the income gap between the First and Third world would shrink. The Berkeley economist Bradford Delong (not part of this Nobel group) has predicted that the boom in developing countries -- spurred above all by China and India -- would see them converge toward the developed world norm at twice the pace seen in the late 20th Century. The introduction of fiber-optic cable and the satellite made it possible for people living anywhere in the world to compete for jobs that were once the exclusive property of the Western middle class.
"It's easy to poke holes in optimistic scenarios. And these Nobel Prize winners see their share of threats: terrorism, global warming, extreme poverty in sub-Saharan Africa, the difficulty of holding down the inefficiencies of big governments, financing the health care and pension systems of the aging societies in the Western world, stubborn subsidies and barriers to free trade and migration. It's also clear that while liberal economists have won the intellectual battle of the last twenty years, they still haven't won the political one in many places. Transatlantic political strains have also made too many Europeans and Americans focus on their superficial differences rather than the fact that they are the ultimate drivers of positive change and comprise the world's largest and most dynamic cross-investment and trade area.
"'We are going to live with painful uncertainty for a long time,' shrugs Mr. Mundell. Yet he believes even the worst terrorist attack and the least visionary leaders can only interrupt but not stop the stream of positive economic change."

Putting aside the really weird De Niro story, Mundell and the others remind us once more that good ideas inevitably win.

The primitives seem to sense some of this and are resorting to desperation that includes putting dynamite belts around young women so that they can blow up large numbers of little children.

These nihilists may not get it but the West will always supply many writers and thinkers and pundits who support substantial parts of their view of the world.

There must be better rejoinders than allusions to Taxi Driver, Jodie Foster and Warren Hinkley.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004


The working masses of the industrialized world never quite rallied to the Marxist cause in the way that Marx-Lenin-Che and so many western intellectuals had expected. Will a billion or so Muslims rally to the Jihadist cause? The evidence is apparently mixed as of now.

What a wonderful time for the Christian/secular EU to admit Muslim/secular Turkey to the club.

The post-Iran revolution terrorist activities inflicted in the name of Islam around the world have been appalling and many years later, a strong Muslim reaction has not been seen.

James Carroll, in his magnificent Constatine's Sword, reminds us that it took the Holocaust to finally make anti-Semitism disrespectable (hence all of the effort by the Holocaust deniers to make it OK again). Short of Holocaust denial, European anti-Semites have found their legs by making common cause with radical Palestianians.

It was jarring to walk near the downtown campus of Oslo U and come upon a student residence with walls wholly decorated with stirring pro-Palestinian murals of rock throwers.

European news accounts of U.S. foreign policy are much more even-handed, with equal concern over the U.S. and the Jihadists. Shades of late-Cold War moral equivalence.

Europeans now want Turks to be more modern about adultery, as a condition of EU entry. Who will press Europeans to be more sophisticated about sorting out evil? The bombings of innocents in Russia now prompt sophisticated musings about the political causes of the bombers -- the people who carefully planned the mass murder of small children.

Sunday, September 05, 2004

Tough Times

The evidence on U.S. income mobility is documented as well as intuitive. On the latter, other things equal, the U.S. is immigrants' first choice -- and has been for a long time.

Nevertheless, the dynamics-opportunity-mobility story is routinely denied. Cognitive dissonance? The simple story undermines an uncountable mass of intellectual capital (baggage) that so many carry with them for a lifetime. What would they do for a living without it?

It is bad to be unemployed. But, this morning's NY Times' page-one features yet another rendition of how bad it is to be on the job in modern America -- and, this time, in other wealthy places too. Medical researchers here and abroad find nothing but stress and woe.

Medical researchers here and abroad have discovered policy wonkiness and they like it. Watch out.

Friday, September 03, 2004

Who's Counting?

Anthony Downs' insight re rational ignorance is now thought to describe, both, how we acquire and how we process data that pertain to the commons.

Moreover, it is an affluence story because it considers the ever higher opportunity costs of our time.

All of this is germane every time a political candidate, these days, says practically anything.

Beyond presidential politics, in California, the favored mantra is now that the state is projected to gain xx (fill in the number) millions of population growth by 20yy (pick a year) and, therefore we have to bite the bullet and think big and do really crazy stuff fast.

The California High-Speed Rail Authority knows how to play the game. They will soon ask voters to approve preliminary funding of a multi-billion dollar high-speed rail system to carry passengers around the state. The sales claims made are, as usual, out there. In 20 years, the envisaged system will: "Return twice as much financial benefit to the state's citizens as it costs; Carry more than 32 million intercity passengers and another 10 million long-distance commuters annually in the San Francisco Bay area, in the Los Angeles area and in San Diego; Generate at least $900 million in annual revenues; Return an annual operating surplus to the state of more than $300 million." (From their Business Plan at; many other zingers are available).

When pressed, serious people admit that big projects only get built if big lies are told. So, it's OK.
Taking a leaf from the late Julian Simon, would any of the authors of these claims put up for a bet?

Just dreaming.