Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Call it "social equity"

Over at Bleeding Heart Libertarians, there is a fascinating discussion of what the phrase really means.  In fact, the site name's sub-head says "Free markets and social justice".  The first part is pretty clear, but the second part is up for grabs.

Philosphers make it their business to probe gems like "social justice" and that's all to the good.  The problem is that weasel words cause serious problems in other realms.

This morning's WSJ includes an editorial headed this way"  "The New Earmarkers ... Cost analysis for transit projects gives way to 'social equity.'"

The text mentions the following:
Under the existing New Starts guidelines, local governments competing for grants must compare the cost of their transit projects with alternative solutions. The Obama Administration's proposed rules would do away with this comparative cost analysis. The new rules put more weight on "social equity and environmental considerations." Such as? Such as the "degree to which policies maintaining or increasing affordable housing are in place."

At the top of the FTA's queue is San Francisco's proposed Chinatown subway, which couldn't get a full funding grant agreement under a more rational review process. The 1.6-mile line will cost $1.6 billion to build and draw just 5,000 new daily riders. Subway commuters would have to descend eight floors to catch the train and then walk the length of four football fields to connect with light-rail lines.
Call it "social equity" or any such thing and the craziest public expenditure is rationalized.  Earmarks, by definition, reward favored constituencies.  How equitable is that? 

California now has the most potholed roads and highways in memory.  Many out-of-staters would be shocked.  Expenditures are hoplessly politicized and basic services are run down.

If the Chinatown subway's $1.6 billion were left instead to generate a 2% annual rate of return, it would make $32 million available each year.  At $75,000 to re-pave one lane-mile, we could rescue 425 lane-miles of California's awful roads each year.

Everyone know that 425 lane-miles of road serves many more people than 1.6 miles of subway.  But does it achieve more "social equity"?  I bet it does.  And I cannot even define "social equity".