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I saw this tweet from Matt Yglesias (@mattyglesias) a few days ago, then read the linked blog:

Recommended. The LA Times follows up here, pointing out that we’ve reached “Peak Freakonomics” where our two authors seem to have run out of innovative ways at looking at subjects and should probably try to find a new niche to market.

But I was thinking about Yglesias’s proposition: What if the government bought your cars for you? How would that work? So here’s a thought experiment for that:

First, no frills. No leather seats, no iPhone dock, no super-quiet engine. There’s nothing wrong with those sorts of luxuries, but taxpayers won’t swing for them, so they’re out. If you want a DVD player for your kids to watch a movie, you have to spring for that yourself.

Second, how much will you be using your vehicle? Look, the government will be happy to give you a car to transport you places, but does it need to be idle all night while you sleep? Do you need to have it sit on your corporate campus for nine hours while you’re at work?

It would probably be cheaper for the government to pay for a chauffeur who would drive you to work, then go drive other people who needed rides, then pick you up after your shift. In fact, it doesn’t even need to be the same chauffeur!

Third, what if it’s not a one-person vehicle? Why should the chauffeur drive you and you alone to your destination when there are probably quite a few people who work where you work, or who would like to shop at that mall? Single-occupancy vehicles are wasteful and cause traffic jams. The government could streamline things by carrying several people at once.

Larger vehicles would be called for, ones with the capacity to move lots of people around. Perhaps some sort of schedule could be devised (and routes established) to maximize the movement of users.

Fourth, what about free-loaders? Obviously, there are those who want a car just for the thrill of driving. Would the American taxpayer be willing to subsidize that sort of purely-pleasurable but unproductive pastime? Considering how they act when food-stamp recipients buy soda, I doubt it.

Perhaps some sort of small co-pay could be required to discourage joy riding. We could call it a “fare.”

And you know where that takes us? To public transportation, which is certainly not perfect but is still used by millions of people every day. How would the Freakonomics guys feel if we increased its funding? I wish my transit system had more dollars.

Because the government is never going to allow people to walk into a car dealership and pick out any car they like. It’s ridiculous to even offer that as a thought experiment. But if the government thinks it’s important for people to have access to a minimum standard of health care, they will work that out. And if the government thinks people should be able to move around a community without driving a car of their own, they’ll work that out, too.

It won’t be extravagant, but it might make your society run better.

Mirrored from Twenty Palaces. You can comment here but not there.

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Comments

( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
seawasp
May. 21st, 2014 07:31 pm (UTC)
Unfortunately public transportation isn't funded heavily because it's not cost-effective in any area without a pretty damn concentrated population. We have some public transportation here, but it's terribly inconvenient -- as in it would take me 2.5 hours to get to work via bus versus my 10-15 minute drive.
daveon
May. 21st, 2014 07:42 pm (UTC)
But that can also be a bit of a chicken and egg thing though. People don't use public transport because it takes too long to get places, so there's no public transport because people don't use it.

There are places where for sure it doesn't work, but a lot of the standard objections are caused by people wanting it to fail.

A couple of local examples. One of the local land owners has been trying to get the new light rail stop for Bellevue moved from Bellevue, to somewhere a mile and a half from Bellevue, because he doesn't want it to interfere with people driving to park in his carparks. True.

A local ballot initiative to fund the local bus and rail services due to cuts forced on the region by state senators from rural areas (where they don't have buses) failed because of people in suburbs who don't like buses. This is now going to lead to a two tier WA based bus system with Seattle having buses paid for by the people of Seattle and the rest of the state getting told to f*** off.

In short. People are a problem.

seawasp
May. 21st, 2014 08:34 pm (UTC)
It could be, but in this case, it's economics. The Tri-City area doesn't have the population to support a denser bus route even if you COULD convince a fair proportion of the population to use it.
burger_eater
May. 21st, 2014 09:08 pm (UTC)
I would say the issue is one of city planning more than economics. Low-density is a choice that a lot of people make without concern for the difficulties. But at least they get a big yard.
daveon
May. 21st, 2014 07:46 pm (UTC)
I liked the idea that these two economists could start a discussion about how a 60 year old entity that is cheaper to run that pretty much any comparable healthcare provider AND has broadly similar results doesn't work.

Gotta take a special kind of mind to do that.
burger_eater
May. 22nd, 2014 02:10 am (UTC)
I'm sure they were very excited when Cameron cut their meeting short, knowing they could use it in their book.
megazver
May. 21st, 2014 09:31 pm (UTC)
I've actually read the book yesterday.The rest of it was a fun read; unfortunately, the NHS bit was right in the beginning and spoiled things for me somewhat. They actually posted what they think would be a good alternative to NHS on their blog a couple of days ago. It's... a bit silly. Also, the book felt way shorter than the previous two and I agree that it seems like they're running out of things to write about.

Edited at 2014-05-21 09:34 pm (UTC)
burger_eater
May. 21st, 2014 10:10 pm (UTC)
Their bit about the incentives of real estate agents is pretty interesting and useful (I saw it in the documentary and not in their books) but this is just kinda sad.
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )