The Fallacy of Economics by Coercion: Redux
The Economics (and Coercion) of Transportation Policy
JUNE 03, 2009
Some months ago I wrote a series highlighting Lawrence Reed’s classic 1981 article, “7 Fallacies of Economics,” and my last article dealt with what he called “the fallacy of economics by coercion.” One would think that a government can coerce people into creating economic prosperity, but think again. We now have a government that openly holds to that view.
In a recent talk at the National Press Club, the U.S. Secretary of Transportation, Ray LaHood, declared that the government wants to “coerce people out of their cars.” He was not advocating direct force per se, but rather a series of incentives to make alternate transportation more appealing.
Nonetheless, he did utter the “C-word,” and we need to understand that it was not an accident. Government economic “incentives” are born of coercion, and while government agents often do not advertise that they are going to use real force to “encourage” us to make certain politically favored choices, that does not change the hard facts.
LaHood was describing how the government wishes to create more “opportunities” for people to use public transportation or to ride bicycles or walk to work or shop in order to avoid traffic gridlock:
I mean, look, people don’t like spending an hour and a half getting to work. And people don’t like spending an hour going to the grocery store. And all of you who live around here know exactly what I’m talking about. You know, the dreaded thing is to have to run an errand on a weekend around here or to try and get home at 3:00 in the afternoon or even 5:00 in the afternoon.
Now, look, every community is not going to be a livable community. But we have to create opportunities for people that do want to use a bicycle or want to walk or want to get on a streetcar or want to ride a light rail.
He was speaking of life in the Washington, D.C., area where traffic, indeed, is a nightmare. However, one must remember that one reason for the density of traffic in that location is the huge density of population, which is due to the fact that the federal government plays such a huge entity in our lives. Washington was not always such a major player, but the New Deal and World War II and its aftermath changed that.
Today the Washington, D.C., area has become a huge combination of government employees, lobbyists, and the rest of the government-industrial complex that has redirected huge swaths of our economy to making sure that city and its environments have a very high standard of living. In short, it drains the rest of us.
To combat what LaHood sees as a problem associated with such population densities and government roads, he wants to force a lifestyle on everyone that only a relatively small number of people want. For example, if one really wishes to have one’s life centered around public transportation and away from the automobile, then one should move to New York City. (Whenever I go to NYC, I stay outside the city and take the train and subway while there, as I refuse to drive in that kind of traffic.)
But LaHood is not talking about freedom of choice. Rather, he is speaking of diverting our incomes, via taxation, away from things we would want to do with them to things of which government approves. Government for years has been trying to force us to use public transportation, even as people resist.
It is not as though large-scale privately owned public transportation never existed. Numerous cities and towns had such systems until they either were regulated out of business or people freely changed their living habits. However, that aspect of history is not good enough for LaHood.
Keep in mind that he and other cabinet officials don’t have to worry about driving themselves anywhere: They are chauffeured by limousine, something not available to those us of who are forced to pay for his favored transportation.