Saturday, April 25, 2009


High-speed rail for the U.S. is crackpot. Here is a report that spells out why. With apologies to Bruce Yandle, HSR is all about "Baptists and bootleggers", but with an assist from "deep thinkers" (Tom Sowell).

Supporters skip over boring considerations of cost-effectiveness and switch to the polar bears and rising sea levels. But any plausible accounting of HSR's external benefits does not improve HSR's sorry scorecard. One would hope that the Copenhagen Consensus put that idea to rest.

What can be done? Julian Simon succeeded in getting one of his antagonists to put up or shut up -- with his own money. (The latter may be pretty exotic for some of that crowd.) So HSR is a betting opportunity for many of us.

Trouble is we have to live long enough. These projects take a while to get going. And proponents are big on "the long view". One of my old professors once reminded us that at a zero discount rate, one can argue for filling in the Gulf of Mexico to grow turnips.