Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Stakeholder capitalism vs. shareholder capitalism

In the last forty years, capitalism in America became "Shareholder Capitalism" - i.e. corporations were run solely for the sake of the shareholders - i.e. profit and shareholder returns trumped all else.  The collapse of that model happened in 2008, and the U.S., Europe, and the world are suffering pretty badly as a result.  Short term quarterly results for shareholder returns has run its course and needs to be rethought, I believe.

I have long thought that companies and corporations stand on a solid foundation of four pillars - their responsibilities to:

  • Shareholders
  • Customers
  • Employees
  • Community
And when any of these is neglected or ignored, the company would become out of balance and be harmed.  

It turns out this approach has a name - "Stakeholder Capitalism" as described in an interesting short article by Michael Lind.  He points out that the most dysfunctional industries have the highest paid CEOs, whose compensation is tied to shareholder value.  Overemphasis on shareholder value creates stupid management, witness the collapse of the financial industry, which has unfortunately rallied politically to protect themselves and their dysfunctional compensation structures to fail another day.

Stakeholder Capitalism is nicely described by the founder of Johnson and Johnson in 1943:

"We believe our first responsibility is to the doctors, nurses and patients, to mothers and fathers and all others who use our products and services....We are responsible to our employees, the men and women who work with us throughout the world....We are responsible to the countries in which we live and work and to the world community as well...We must be good citizens....and bear our fair share of taxes....We must maintain in good order the property we are privileged to use, protecting the environment and natural resources....Our final responsibility is to our shareholders....When we operate according to these principles, the shareholders should realize a fair return."

Amen to that.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Not in anyone's backyard

Meanwhile, the crisis in Japan seems to be getting a little worse.  The Japanese government has requested a “voluntary evacuation” of up to 19 miles around the Fukushima plants. 

Two workers were burned when they unexpectedly stepped into water that was higher than the tops of their boots.  I didn’t realize that radioactive water actually burned the skin, but apparently it does.  If it is that intense, these workers must be getting pretty large doses of radioactivity even if the waters don’t touch their skins.

In addition, there is said to be a long vertical crack running down the side of the reactor vessel – cracks only get bigger, never smaller – and water and gas are leaking out.

Since nuclear fission plants must produce nuclear waste that must be stored for centuries, I become even more convinced that nuclear power plants are fundamentally immoral and a threat to humanity, now and for centuries of generations to come. 

Regardless of what the experts end up saying to try to convince us all that future nukes will be safe, I can’t imagine any community allowing a nuclear fission plant to be built near them after this Japan catastrophe.

Engineers are not imaginative enough to design against unforeseen circumstances, nor smart enough to even design against foreseen possibilities.  I say this as an engineer who works with engineers and knows that designs are always a work in process, with mistakes corrected and improvements made all the time. 

The only safe nuke is no nuke.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Time for a new vision

I saw the Oscar winning documentary film “Inside Job” Sunday night.  It was a good summary of the financial crisis of 2008, which we are still living with. 

It showed rather dramatically what I have been reading about pretty intensely for the last couple of years or so – greed, lack of character, deceit, incompetence, all leading to disaster for the financial system, leading to a disaster for the economy, leading to a disaster for workers in America and around the world, but leading to bigger bonuses for the financial sector who caused it all.  Pretty disgusting.  And no significant changes in the financial industry.  So, it is set up to happen all over again.

I don’t care how much the super rich make or have.  I just want to create my own prosperous life, and I am against being jealous and envious of the super rich because I think those feelings are toxic and counterproductive to me. 

But I do care if the super rich have created a system where they are essentially stealing vast sums of money from the middle and lower classes so they can compete with each other for more and more elaborate trophies of wealth to feed their bottomless hungers.  And, although the middle classes were caught up in their own greed and foolishness, they were dealing with a financial industry that used the smartest guys in the country to entice the least sophisticated buyers to buy the most toxic financial investments ever invented. 

In the past, I didn’t give any credence to the class warfare rants of the radical left wing.  The “robber barons” of the late nineteenth century amassed huge fortunes and many were pretty odious in many ways, but they created industries and jobs and a system where people were able to create their own livings.  So, I thought that they provided a service, one that lifted the standard of living of the nation and was a benefit to the country.  And I was not bothered by their wealth at all.

But these robber barons of the financial industry of today have done just the opposite.  They have created nothing.  And they have lowered the standard of living of the country. 

I had thought that the financial industry provided funds for industry to grow, and for people to buy houses, and for America to prosper.  But, when peeling back the cover of what the financial industry was actually doing, one sees that they were making vast fortunes off of derivatives, which were nothing more than zero sum games for the super wealthy to place bets in a super sophisticated casino, and which did nothing to create jobs or grow the economy or benefit America.  The main ingredient of their casino was sub-prime mortgages, and their lust for these low quality loans was insatiable, so that over time the loans became more and more risky and toxic.  But as long as the music was playing they made billions of dollars in bonuses, and they drove the economy off the cliff. 

In the end, the bubble burst on the sub-prime mortgages, the mortgage backed securities and their derivatives became worthless, and the economy stopped working altogether.  It was only by the government rescuing the economy with even more money from the middle classes – i.e. tax dollars - that the economy was saved and people were able to continue to put food on their tables. 

But the financial super-rich did not go to jail, nor lose many of their jobs, nor stop getting their billions in bonuses.  The game goes on, and the smartest guys in the country are finding new ways to suck more billions out of the country and into their Picassos and yachts and hookers.

Both political parties are at the heart of the problem.  Reagan started it with a belief in an unregulated free market which he sold to the American people and the world.  Clinton followed with his agreement on the basic idea and assisted in further deregulations and market stimulations.  Bush was a true believer who went all in on the unregulated free market idea and ran us all off the cliff.  Obama had a chance to bust the oligarchic financial rulers but put it off while he pursued his dream of health reform, and by the time he got around to financial reform the oligarchy had reasserted its powers and nothing meaningful has been done.

These are my thoughts on this arena so far.  They are a work in process.  More to come, I am sure. 

But for now, I think it is up to each of us to look to live our own lives more prudently, less greedily, less materialistically, more spiritually.  In a country of prudent, temperate, responsible citizens, the zeitgeist wouldn’t allow such reckless, abusive behavior in the people trusted with our financial system.

The country, and the world, needs a new voice on these matters.  Reagan’s voice answered the toxic voice of Marx.  Then Reagan’s philosophy became toxic itself.  A new voice is needed that allows both the innovation and opportunity and creativity of the Reagan philosophy, and allows the caring and community and compassion of the Marx philosophy, and transcends each with a new view of material and spiritual prosperity.

I think it has something to do with empowerment.  It starts with the self empowerment of individual achievement and prosperity and perhaps goes on to having something to do with the empowering of others, creating systems where others can become empowered, free, expressed, individuated, autonomous, and cooperative.  It somehow includes and transcends both socialism and capitalism.  It both empowers the individual and fosters cooperation.  It is the dream of each and both the right and the left, and is a synergy of both energies, thus becoming greater than either.  I wish I had a better idea of what that new dream, that new vision, that new voice can be. 

All I know for now is that the financial industry took the beauty of capitalism, of free market economies, and gamed it and turned it into a toxic poison that is hurting America. 

It is time for a new vision.

Sunday, March 20, 2011


Finally, the West and the U.S. act in Libya.  I wish we had done this three weeks ago.  If we had, I believe that Qaddafi would be long gone as he would have been turned on by his own supporters.  Now, he may have delusions of staying in  power, or perhaps just going out with a blaze of glory fighting the infidels.  Who knows what goes on in his fevered thinking?

I hope and pray that this is over soon - i.e. his own supporters see the inevitability of their own defeat and turn on him and his sons -  and the Libyans can get on with coming up with a new government.  

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Where is Obama?

Where is Obama?  He made a nice speech about what Qaddafi "must" do, but Qaddafi isn't doing it, his troops are entering Benghazi, and apparently the West is stuck in its own quagmire of trying to figure out how to coordinate its military action.  The U.N. resolution was passed on Thursday morning, and it is already Saturday morning without planes in the air.  I think this is what happens if the U.S. doesn't lead, people die and feel betrayed by empty promises.

"They have entered Benghazi from the west. Where are the Western powers? They said they could strike within hours," rebel military spokesman Khalid al-Sayeh told Reuters."

If the U.S. had put planes in the air when the protesters first rose up, right after the momentum of Egypt's successful forcing of Mubarak's abdication, I firmly believe that Qaddafi's thugs would have turned on him.  But, Obama hesitated, Qaddafi turned the momentum against the poorly armed and trained protesters, and the slaughters started.  And now, even after U.N. resolutions and Obama saying a bunch of stuff about what Qaddafi "must" do, the Qaddafi forces proceed undaunted.

Being president is about more than making speeches.  To lead is to make choices.  Where is Obama?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

No-fly zone approved!

Finally, the U.N. Security Council has approved a no-fly zone over Libya.  I hope it isn’t too late.  If we had done that three weeks ago, Qaddafi may have been overthrown by his own thugs.  At least it has been done now, just as Qaddafi and his brutal sons are on the verge of crushing Benghazi.  

I want planes in the air within the hour.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Neither idealistic nor realistic in Libya

I am pretty disappointed in Obama and the Western world.  They stood around while Libyan protesters were burned to the ground by Qaddafi. 

I understand the tremendous uncertainty around the various uprisings in the Middle East, and that it is very difficult to know when to assist and when to just give encouragement on the sidelines.  But, I really think the U.S. made a mistake in letting the madman Qaddafi and his brutal sons crush the opposition with little more than meaningless rhetoric about how we are “tightening the noose” around him.  What on earth was the president talking about?

I think our inaction was not idealistic – it didn’t promote American ideals of freedom and liberty around the world. 

I think our inaction was also not realistic – it didn’t join with the forces on “the right side of history”, i.e the forces of Muslim freedom overthrowing tyranny, who will remember our inaction in time of desperate need  – and it let a dangerous lunatic off the hook.  The Qaddafis can be expected to seek terrorist revenge against the U.S.England, and France for speaking against their brutality.

Also, neighboring tyrants see America ponder what to do and perceive that the Mubarak solution, abdicate, doesn’t work but the Qaddafi solution, crush without mercy, does work.  

I think our president, and the West, which is in the habit of waiting to be led by the U.S., made a pretty tragic mistake in Libya, and as best I can tell it is too late to undo that mistake.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Nuclear fission plants are immoral

I believe that generating power from nuclear fission is immoral because it produces nuclear waste which is radioactive poison that lasts for thousands of years.  We endanger our progeny by our short term thinking.

Engineers are always assuring us that they can keep the radioactive waste safe, but they are wrong.  In the current Japanese nuclear meltdown, the spent fuel at the three reactors that have been overheating and exploding is also at risk.  Apparently, they have thick concrete forty foot deep pools with stainless steel linings that cover the waste with water.    The water needs to circulate to keep the waste cool.  If it doesn’t circulate, the water evaporates.  Earthquakes and explosions threaten the water circulation as well as the containment structure of the waste itself. 

Engineers are not able to design fail proof systems for nuclear fission plants.  In addition to natural catastrophes envisioned thirty years ago we have to add the danger of terrorist attacks today.  Who knows what we can’t imagine today that could happen a thousand years from now?

The waste itself is radioactive and toxic.  There can be no guarantee that humankind will be safe from these plants and their spent fuel waste for thousands of years into the future. 

They are immoral and should be shut down.  Certainly, no more of them should be built. 

Monday, March 14, 2011

Libyan genocide if we don't step in

Libyan opposition leader, Mustaf a Abdul Jalil, begs for the West to give them a no-fly zone and a naval blockade, and emphatically does not want boots on the ground.  This is Libya's revolution, but they can't do it alone.  

He says:

"Gaddafi will use anything to stay in power and the Libyan people made the decision that he must go and genocide will be committed if the world community doesn’t get its act together and help us."

Where is Obama?  What does he want?  This is an ongoing question with him, where is his leadership - either for or against military support of the rebels? He kind of supports the revolution, or does he?  

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Help Libyans in their desperate fight

I think I need to change my mind about Libya.  It is just too uncompassionate to standby and watch the citizen Libyans being slaughtered by Qaddafi's professional military and mercenaries.  I no longer think that Obama's soft power approach is enough.  I had thought that Qaddafi would topple because men within his circle would turn on him, but that's not happening.  I was thinking that Obama's caution and timidity were signs of wisdom and a longer view, but I can't support our inaction anymore.

Establishing a no-fly zone looks like it is something we need to do, but more to the point, we need to actively go after the ouster of Qaddafi.  It may be too late, but I hope that outside help, which is being asked for by the protesters, can revitalize the spirit of the Libyans fighting for their freedom and for their lives.  

All my reasons for caution are still there - not knowing whom we are supporting, the likelihood of being drawn into more than just establishing a no-fly zone in Libya, the likelihood of being drawn into other freedom battles throughout the Muslim world, the foolishness of opening a potential third front in our war against the terrorists, the possibility that the Muslim world would see this as another American interference in Muslim affairs solely for the reason of grabbing Muslim oil, plus many more good reasons to stay out that I don't think of right now - but I just hate standing by watching brave, underarmed people being mowed down when they are fighting for the fundamental value that America stands for - freedom from tyranny.

We need to support the overthrow of tyranny and the promotion of freedom.  It is time for Obama to stop pondering and act.  The rest of the world is leading in the support of the Libyans: Sarkozy, Cameron, even the Arab League for goodness sakes.  At least if Obama can't lead he can join.

Help remove Qaddafi, including military support of the rebels.

Nuclear meltdown in Okuma, Fukushima Japan?

The nuclear power plant in Okuma Japan has exploded and there is a terribly strong likelihood that a nuclear meltdown is underway, similar to the Chernobyl disaster of 1986 in Russia.

Apparently, the earthquake destroyed the cooling system of the plant and temperatures kept increasing until the explosion occurred.

The key piece of technology in a nuclear reactor is the control rods. Nuclear fuel generates neutrons; controlling the flow and production rate of these neutrons is what generates heat, and from the heat, electricity. Control rods absorb neutrons — the rods slide in and out of the fuel mass to regulate neutron emission, and with it, heat and electricity generation.

A meltdown occurs when the control rods fail to contain the neutron emission and the heat levels inside the reactor thus rise to a point that the fuel itself melts, generally temperatures in excess of 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit, causing uncontrolled radiation-generating reactions and making approaching the reactor incredibly hazardous.”

It’s possible that a meltdown can be contained in the reactor core, or if it is breached, in the containment facility itself.  However, the earthquake may have damaged both.   The nightmare scenario is if the concrete floor cracks.

And so now the question is simple: Did the floor of the containment vessel crack? If not, the situation can still be salvaged by somehow re-containing the nuclear core. But if the floor has cracked, it is highly likely that the melting fuel will burn through the floor of the containment system and enter the ground. This has never happened before but has always been the nightmare scenario for a nuclear power event — in this scenario, containment goes from being merely dangerous, time consuming and expensive to nearly impossible”

I have long opposed fission nuclear reactors because I think that having radioactive waste that is toxic for ten thousand years is amazingly foolish and arrogant.  The notion that our technology can keep that waste harmless for as long as the human race has already existed in the face of unimaginable changes over time is preposterous.  In addition, of course, is the terrible foolishness and arrogance of thinking that we can engineer nuke plants to be safe.  There are always things that engineers and scientists cannot predict.  An 8.9 magnitude earthquake is one of those things.  What about a nuclear bomb strike in case of another unthinkable – a nuclear attack?  What about simple human error and design flaws that aren’t discovered until events reveal the problem? 

I have long thought that the catastrophic anthropomorphic global warming hysteria that has become a religious belief of so many in the world is based on bad science.  A one degree Fahrenheit temperature increase in a hundred years does not mean a catastrophic temperature increase is coming, nor that the increase was caused by man.

One of the terrible consequences of this bad science is the opening to the idea of building nuke plants as an alternative to CO2 emitting plants.  I am totally opposed to building nuke plants. 

The world needs to enter the realm of the spiritual and send prayers and magic to this nuclear power plant to keep it from becoming a nuclear disaster.  How terribly ironic that this is happening in Japan
, the only country that has suffered the horrors of nuclear attack.

Friday, March 11, 2011


An 8.9 on the Richter scale is unimaginable to me.  I was in the San Francisco Bay area in 1989 when we got an earthquake of about 6.9.  Every point increase is ten times greater in magnitude.  So, a 7.9 is ten times greater in magnitude than a 6.9, and an 8.9 is ten times that, or a hundred times greater in magnitude than the 6.9 San Francisco quake!

Thank God it wasn't closer to a city, Tokyo could have been severely destroyed.  

In comparison, the terrible deep ocean earthquake in 2004 was 9.3 and created a Tsunami that was so devastating to Indonesia, and the 1964 Anchorage earthquake was 9.2.  

What a terrible tragedy.   I send my prayers to the Japanese people.  

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Too big to fail vs too small to care about

Mervyn King, The Governor of the Bank of England, was interviewed by Charles Moore of The Telegraph.  I love his observation about business managers, especially banking managers, being overly reliant on data and mathematical or statistical analysis in running their operations:

“Alfred Marshall [the founder of Cambridge economics] was absolutely right that you should do the mathematics but then burn the paper and write it down in words.” Maths and models should be “aids to thinking, not substitutes for it”. 

I am seeing the management of my own company plunging themselves into “maths and models” and getting completely lost in the process.

What the highly regarded Mr. King was talking about, however, was the financial industry which is still operating with excessive risk because they are too big to fail and have incentives to take risks too big to take.

“Mr King goes on, too many in financial services have thought “if it’s possible to make money out of gullible or unsuspecting customers, particularly institutional customers, that is perfectly acceptable … in the past 25 years, banks have increasingly “taken bets with other people’s money”.

Now, as then, a lot of people know that the financial industry is operating recklessly, but no one can persuade the governments to break up these banks.

I still praise Bush and Obama, and their counterparts in Britain and Europe for rescuing the financial system in 2008 and 2009.  I remain deeply disappointed that they didn’t break up the banks that were too big to fail when the banks were weak, confused, and vulnerable.  But they didn’t, and the banks rallied and won their key battles and are onto bigger and better systems of compensation that pay them superstar bonuses while they risk other people’s money, knowing that the taxpayers will rescue their biggest mistakes, and knowing that the ones to lose their jobs, livelihoods, families, and futures are those who are too small to care about.

Mr. King says simply:

Could there be a repeat? “Yes! The problem is still there. The 'search for yield’ goes on. Imbalances are beginning to grow again.”

As the producer of the Academy Award winning documentary “Inside Job” pointed out when given his Oscar that not one financial executive has gone to jail.  And, as he said, that is wrong.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Stay out of Libya, focus on Egypt instead

It seems like such a simple thing to do – establish a no-fly zone in Libya.  It seems like such a humanitarian thing to do – help the Libyan people overthrow a mentally unstable tyrant.  It seems like a no-brainer, easy, quick, humane.  But, the more I think about it, the more I think we should avoid any military intervention in Libya. 

Why not Libya?  We don’t know who the revolutionaries are.  I remember how I favored the U.S. support of the Mujahideen in Afghanistan as they drove the evil Soviets out.  But those we supported included Osama bin Laden and the Taliban.  I haven’t noticed a lot of gratitude from them to the U.S. for all of its help in that struggle.  In addition, we have no real national interests in Libya.  Most importantly, it is so much easier to enter a war than get out of it – witness Viet Nam, Afghanistan, and Iraq.  Tar babies all.  A little no-fly zone today, and we could end up in every Arab country that revolts against greedy, brutal tyrants tomorrow in the Arab world, and there is no paucity of those.

I think we should support the Libyans with threats of war crimes, freezing Libyan assets in the U.S. and the West, arms embargoes to the government, safe harbors for the people at the Libyan borders, and any other soft power assistance we can think of.  Not war.  Let them fight their war.  It’s not our war and it is time for the world to stop waiting for the U.S. to save everybody.  We can help, but our military just muddies the waters.

What we want to accomplish is best served by putting real attention on helping the Egyptian people establish a workable democracy.  It has twenty times the population of Libya and many people claim it is the heart of the Arab world.  Helping them is in our national interest if we can help create some form of workable enough Arab democracy.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Conservative over-reactions

The Republican party rode the wave of right wing anger the last two years to take over the House of Representatives.  But they could over-read their mandate and put forward extremist candidates for the 2012 presidential election.  Gingrich is unelectable because he is perceived to be a radical, egotistical loose canon whose main goal is destruction, not construction.  And Huckabee is a likable, charming opportunist who actually seemed to think that Obama was raised in Kenya, or he pretends to give such nonsense credibility.  

George Will made the point recently that the right wing extremists who flood the media with strange anti-Obama paranoia are killing the Republican party simply by asking candidates like Huckabee conspiracy loaded questions that the candidates treat as if they were representing legitimate points of views.  To the question of whether Obama is an American citizen, or has a Kenyan anti-American view of colonialism, the correct answers are to be totally dismissive and scornful.  But, to candidates running for the Republican nomination, it must seem to them that they need to agree with the premises of such nonsense and score points with such deranged paranoia in order to get the nomination.

Conservatives represent an intellectual argument against the perceived elitism and collectivism of East coast liberalism, which aims America ever more toward the social democracies of Europe.  But, the Tea Party movement is an emotional cultural reaction against the culture of liberalism, and over-reads its intent as an attempt by Obama and liberals to radically transform America into not just Europe, but Soviet or Maoist communist tyrannies that micromanage all aspects of people's lives, including, for God's sake, what they eat!  Thus the angry opposition to Michelle Obama's attempts to improve the diets of our children in schools.  

The fundamental value of conservatism is liberty, and the emotional statement of that core is "don't tread on me" or more simply, "stay the hell out of my life."

Michelle and liberals, of course, are simply trying to solve America's terrible obesity problem.  And, of course, their approach is to use government to solve the problem.  Liberals believe in government and turn to it reflexively for any societal problems they see.  Conservatives believe in individualism and reflexively distrust an ever more powerful government trying to micromanage ever more aspects of their lives.  

It is an oddity, to my mind, that liberals are convinced that we can't force democracy on the Middle East by invading Iraq, but they seem to think they can force healthy eating on Americans by government mandating of food choices in cafeterias.  Whereas, conservatives think that overthrowing Saddam and setting up elections in Iraq will kick start a democratic movement in the Middle East, but fight the notion of the U.S. government mandating diet in schools as a way to change people's beliefs and attitudes about healthy eating.

Back to Will's point, the Republican Party will eventually nominate a sensible, center-right candidate to run against Obama in 2012, or they will go down in flames in the same historical proportions that the left wing George McGovern did '72 when the Democratic Party over-read the country's anti-Nixon sentiment at that time.

Friday, March 4, 2011

US Uncut

Under the presidency of the liberal Obama, an angry right wing group rose up:  the Tea Party.  Now, under the conservative Republican House of Representatives, an angry left wing group is forming:  US Uncut.  Apparently, it is copying a British movement called UK Uncut that is forming to oppose the conservative UK Prime Minister David Cameron's budget cutting moves.

It is not surprising that these angers have arisen.  Obama and Cameron are both pretty strong ideological leaders, and as a result, people who aren't your normal activist groups are reacting against them with fear and anger.  In America, the Tea Party influence in Washington has everyday liberals needing to express their feelings of anger and fear that all that they have worked for so many decades to build could be torn down overnight by their enemies.  It is the same response that so many unsophisticated conservatives had watching Obama and the liberals in Washington tear down everything the conservatives had built since Reagan.  

Both feel like the world that they know and love is being destroyed by their enemies, that they are moving into a world that they don't know or believe in, and that they don't belong or fit in, or even want to be a part of.  

The times, they are a changing...and both sides of the political spectrum are  afraid, angry, and need to vent.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Pondering President

Ruth Marcus, moderate liberal of the New York Times, writes an editorial entitled "Where's Waldo" wherein she notices that the president seems to be oddly remote and removed from almost all of the major debates of his time.  From standing back from the fray during a year long slug-fest on the health care reform, to doing much the same thing on the big budget negotiations now in congress that have an actual chance of shutting down the government, the question always seems to be "what does Obama want?"

I think it is apparent that each new president is an answer to the perceived failings of the previous president.  After eight years of hard headed quick and decisive decision making by Bush with no thought of retreat, we have a removed and remote scholarly debating ponderer who doesn't seem to like to mix it up or take bold steps into the lead on much of anything.

Personally, I am most disappointed in the president for not taking the lead on fiscal restraint and entitlement reform, but the Republicans are certainly eager to fill the void and lead the country their way in those areas.  

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

An insight into the mind of liberals, by a conservative

George Will is a leading conservative who wrote a very interesting article today on "Why Liberals Love Trains."  His main point, other than he thinks that "high speed rail" is a colossal waste of money that will build systems that too few people will ever use, is that liberals' endless love affair with high speed rail, and indeed mass transit in general, reveals their underlying motivation to control people's lives by moving them away from the independence of individualism (going wherever and whenever you want in your car) and into the dependence on the collectivism, designed by liberal government experts (showing up on time and going where the mass transit authorities have decided are good places to go).

I have always thought that liberals' mass transit fetish was kind of silly, very rarely works, always costs more than projected by factors of 2 or 3 or more, and very rarely gets enough ridership to pay for itself.  And I always stood in puzzled amusement as I saw them push ever harder for more and more grandiose mass transit schemes.

Will's criticism gets right to the heart of the difference between conservatives and liberals, however.  The top value to conservatives is liberty and independence, and the top value to liberals is compassion and caring about others.  

To Will, high speed rail is a way of taking peoples' liberty, independence, freedom of movement away from them.  To liberals, Will's objection must seem like an insensitive lack of caring about providing low cost transportation to those who have less money, or perhaps as a lack of caring for the devastation that autos wreack on the environment, or perhaps a lack of caring about terrible traffic congestion in metropolitan areas.  

To me, high speed rail is a huge expenditure of money during a time when the government is already spending too much money and needs to cut spending, not increase it.