‘In 50 years, every street in London will be buried under 9 feet of manure.” With this 1894 prediction, the London Times warned that the era’s primary source of transportation energy—the horse—would soon create an environmental crisis.
. . . The lesson is that governments are in no position to predict technological breakthroughs, and their attempts to do so can delay innovations by entrenching inferior technologies. Diesel cars are another example. European states have been subsidizing them for decades, but diesel engines create considerably more noxious gases and particulates. Now Britain and Germany are reversing their policies and trying to phase out diesel.
Some regions have seen catastrophic drops in ridership since 2010: 30% or more in Detroit, Sacramento and Memphis; 20% to 30% in Austin, Cleveland, Louisville, St. Louis and Virginia Beach-Norfolk ; and 15% to 20% in Atlanta, Charlotte, Los Angeles, Miami, San Antonio and Washington.
Adding rail service hasn’t helped. To pay for new light-rail lines that opened in 2012 and 2016, Los Angeles cut bus service. The city lost nearly four bus riders for every additional rail rider. Atlanta, Dallas, Sacramento and San Jose have seen similar results. The rail system in Portland, Ore., is often considered successful, but only 8% of commuters take transit of any kind to work. In 1980, before rail was constructed, buses alone were carrying 10% of commuters.
The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s ridership has been falling steadily since 2014, losing on average 69,000 daily riders each month. The most recent 12 months of data show a decrease of more than 10% compared with the same period three years ago, and Metro’s current “annual boardings” — just under 400 million — represent a drop of almost 20% from the system’s 1985 peak, even though the county’s population has increased by nearly a fifth since then.
It wouldn’t be difficult to turn these figures around, as Metro’s history shows: The transportation authority should stop focusing primarily on building new rail and use a fair share of its voter-supplied wealth to lower fares and improve the bus system.
It’s doubtful whether more than a relative handful of Californians have heard of the Unemployment Insurance Fund. It is, however, one of state government’s largest activities – and a case study in political mismanagement. Currently, California employers pay about $6 billion in payroll taxes into the UIF each year. And currently, the state Employment Development Department annually pays almost that much to jobless workers. Superficially, that would appear to be a sustainable equation, but in reality, it’s not. During periods of high payrolls and low unemployment, such as this one, the UIF should be building reserves that could cope with an economic downturn, when claims for jobless benefits increase. That’s the way it used to work – until political expediency and recession undid it.
Wages are supposed to track worker productivity, and from the end of World War II until 1973 they did. Then, something happened: Productivity kept rising but wages did not. Many on the left argue the link is now broken and redistributing income from the wealthy downward would help workers more than faster economic growth. But a new study co-authored by Harvard University economist Lawrence Summers says that’s wrong. He and Anna Stansbury, a doctoral student at Harvard, found a strong and persistent link between hourly productivity and a variety of wage measures since 1973. The problem, they conclude, is that the positive influence of productivity on pay has been overwhelmed by other forces pushing the other way.