Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Libertarians (And Fiscal Conservatives) Should Oppose Road Socialism

Libertarians and transport economists for decades have advocated tolling as an alternative to fuel taxes, which have always been a poor proxy for charging users and have since become obsolete. That’s why it was so disheartening to read Rachel Alexander’s recent Townhall article “Toll Roads and Double Taxation: The Left and Libertarians Converge.” Instead of bringing greater market discipline to road funding, Alexander pushes the view that perpetuating certain government subsidies is consistent with libertarian principles.

This argument is based on a faulty premise. Instead of asking, “How should we pay for roads?” we should be asking, “How should we be paying for roads?” This distinction may seem minor, but it is not. Alexander accuses libertarians of “agree[ing] with the left on double taxation.” In this context, “double taxation” is a buzzword for a myth propagated by the trucking industry, which wants to continue receiving government subsidies.

Tolling opponents argue that roads have already been paid for, so any further funding for their upkeep therefore constitutes “double taxation.” Construction has been completed, they claim, so why should we continue to charge users for something they’ve already paid for? The idea that roads, once they have been built, are paid for is absolutely false. The majority of costs associated with a given highway over time are operating, maintenance, and rehabilitation costs—not initial construction. In fact, tolling can make it possible for users to internalize the social costs of accidents and congestion.

Another favorite argument of the “double taxation” crowd is that we are already paying for roads through other means. This is technically true, but what are those other means? Primarily, it comes in the form of non-user taxes such as property taxes or general revenue bailouts of transportation trust funds. As Alexander highlights, the majority of road spending in the United States does not come from user fees. This is a problem; it means that federal, state, and local authorities are taxing everyone to subsidize the road use of some. The proper and pragmatic libertarian solution would be to expand tolling in order to shrink the share of non-user revenue and eventually phase it out completely.

The idea that tolling is too costly ignores recent research. A recent Reason Foundation study found that modern all-electronic toll collection costs were now broadly on par with collection costs for fuel excise taxes. And under all-electronic tolling, there is no need for costly and congestion-inducing manual tollbooth collection.

In contrast to the claim that public-private partnerships (P3s) are “essentially crony capitalism,” P3s are important tools to advance private-sector ownership and control of the road network. While long-term concessions based on a “design-build-finance-operate-maintain” model do not technically amount to full privatization, they do increase private sector involvement in infrastructure ownership and management. P3s also serve as demonstration models that could facilitate full privatization at the end of the concession agreements.

Alexander also repeats the “Lexus Lane” myth that toll lanes are only for rich motorists. On the contrary, lower-income commuters also need to get places on time and are often willing to pay for the ability to do so, as research findings show. Yet somehow, Alexander suggests that denying lower-income drivers the choice to pay for travel-time savings is consistent with libertarian principles. Equity concerns could be better addressed by offering lower-income drivers toll reimbursements or travel vouchers.

Furthermore, linking the monstrously irresponsible Central Artery project in Boston (widely known as “The Big Dig”) with tolling is disingenuous at best. The article she cites as proof of toll collection’s inherent evil focuses on engineering and construction mismanagement that led to shoddy infrastructure and out-of-control cost overruns. Nowhere is tolling mentioned—probably because Massachusetts’ limited use of tolling had absolutely nothing to do with The Big Dig disaster.

Concern over penalties for turnpike scofflaws and arguments to continue our current road subsidization schemes ignore the most important question: how should we be paying for roads? To transportation experts at national libertarian think tanks, including the Reason Foundation, Cato Institute, Independent Institute, and my own Competitive Enterprise Institute, the answer is clear: more tolling, more decentralization, and more private-sector provision of roads. And it isn’t just libertarians: conservative transportation analysts affiliated with the Heritage Foundation and American Enterprise Institute share our goal of curtailing road socialism.

Is it the case that virtually every libertarian transportation scholar in existence holds profoundly un-libertarian views regarding transportation and that their support for tolling is an egregious ideological sin? I suppose it’s possible, but Alexander’s case as presented runs against the overwhelming opinion of experts at some of the most renowned free-market think tanks in the United States



Why Do Liberals hate Success?

There are many successful liberals, so why do so many of them wish to subsidize failure for the poor, instead of showing them how to succeed?

Take Dr. Ben Carson, as one example. Dr. Carson, the renowned neurosurgeon at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Md., is enjoying a certain amount of celebrity unrelated to his profession for speaking his mind about how individuals and the nation might succeed if more Americans were less dependent on government.

Dr. Carson, who is African-American, has been denounced as insufficiently black because he won't toe the liberal line when it comes to big government and the implication that those in the African-American voting bloc, huge supporters of the Democratic Party, who fall below the poverty line, cannot succeed without it. The fact that many have not succeeded with government has apparently escaped the notice of his critics.

Speaking with Megyn Kelly on Fox News' "America Live" last week, Dr. Carson addressed some of the slurs tossed at him, saying they are what you might expect to hear "on a third grade playground." He appealed to his detractors to "move beyond" such rhetoric "and let's have a real discussion about the real facts. If somebody disagrees, let's talk about why they disagree, let's talk about the pros and cons, let's see if we can find some accommodation."

That is precisely what the left does not want to do, because to have such a discussion would expose liberalism's failure to solve the problems of poverty and education -- to cite just two examples -- through government.

MSNBC's Toure Monday has called Dr. Carson a token "black friend" to the Republican Party. I don't recall Carson ever saying he belongs to the Republican Party, do you? Even so, labels should not define the man. What Carson is saying and what he represents ought to be the beginning point for the discussion he is trying to initiate.

Dr. Carson dismissed one suggestion he might be an "Uncle Tom" this way: "Well, obviously they don't know what an Uncle Tom is because they need to read Harriet Beecher Stowe's novel 'Uncle Tom's Cabin.' You'll see that he was very, very subservient, kind of go along to get along type of person. Obviously, that's not what I'm doing."  Obviously.

In the Kelly interview, Dr. Carson hit his main point about liberal reaction on subjects ranging from Obamacare to higher taxes: "They feel that if you look a certain way then you have to stay on the plantation."

Isn't such a personal attack also a form of racism? All whites don't think alike, why should all African-Americans be expected to?

If government were the solution and not the problem, shouldn't we expect that the amount of money spent on anti-poverty programs -- $15 trillion since 1964, according to a CATO Institute analysis -- might have moved the needle on poverty? Instead there are nearly as many poor people today as there were 49 years ago. According to the Wall Street Journal, "Enrollment in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, as the modern-day food-stamp benefit is known, has soared 70 percent since 2008 to a record 47.8 million as of December 2012." Government as solution isn't working and Dr. Carson wants to discuss why. For this he is attacked?

The nightmare for liberals would be if Ben Carson became a role model for the poor instead of a target. If more of the poor had mothers like his (and maybe active fathers, which he didn't have), who focused on reading and discipline, more might grow up to be like him. They might reject the lie that they are incapable of succeeding because of their circumstances.

In addition to Carson's remarks about government dependency, he is also under attack for his unorthodox positions on same-sex marriage and evolution, which the National Review Online reports has led to a petition being circulated at Johns Hopkins Medical School asking that he be disinvited as commencement speaker. That would add censorship to racism.



Bureaucratic Incompetence and the VA

Sadly, bureaucracy is a time-honored tradition in the United States government, but perhaps no greater bureaucratic juggernaut exists today than the Veteran’s Administration (VA) run by the Obama Administration.

The abject failure of the VA under the leadership of the three-ring circus we know as the Obama Administration is a case in point that increasing funding does little to inject competence or efficiency.

Recent documents from an Internal Veterans Affairs Department reveal some veterans actually die before receiving the care they need and others are forced to wait up to eight months to see a doctor, well beyond the VA’s standard of 14 days.

A House Veterans Oversight and Investigations committee appointed to look into the problem found evidence the VA is falsifying numbers and closing out veterans’ appointment requests in response to the backlog. According to the Military Times, the committee chairman, Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO), cites reasons for the closeouts include: “the request was years old, too much time had elapsed, or the veteran had died.”

A March 14, 2013 witness testimony by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) Health Care Director, Debra Draper stated no one actually knows how long veterans are waiting for care because “the reported dates are unreliable” -- a large number of VA appointment schedulers don’t know how to do their job, the whole system is obsolete, and dates are massaged to “show clinic wait times within VHA’s performance goals.”

I digress to note that similar complaints are also documented within Britain’s National Healthcare System where workers manipulate numbers to meet quotas to keep their jobs. If the VA can’t provide benefits to our nation’s veterans, how does the Obama administration plan to deliver healthcare for 30-plus million Americans?

Liberals would have us believe that a bloated federal government has the ability to play a meaningful role in nurturing people’s lives, but if they can’t get this one right, they just need to just fuhgeddaboutit. Case closed. Done.

Additionally, internal VA documents secured by the Center for Investigative Reporting found wait times for first-time disability compensation claims and other benefit claims are much longer than the VA cares to admit, with claims taking anywhere from 316 to 642 days.

In the first year of President Obama’s presidency, 11,000 veterans were on a claim waiting list for more than a year. Five years later, despite promises for improvement, and massive dollars “invested,” the situation has deteriorated.

Those on a one-year waiting list for claims rose by more than 2000 percent, to 245,000 in 2012. Currently, the average wait time for 900,000 veterans who have been willing to sacrifice life and limb for our freedom is 273 days. With that kind of malfeasance taking place under my watch, I think I’d do a little less golfing if I were president.

If you think this has something to do with “the mess Obama inherited,” then think again. The Center for Investigative Reporting found, “the average wait time for veterans filing disability claims fell by more than a third under President George W. Bush, even as more than 320,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans filed disability claims.”



Faith in Freedom

 Rick Santorum
On Easter Sunday, Christians around the world celebrated the resurrection of the Lord, Jesus Christ. For us, it was a time of renewal -- a renewal of our baptismal promises, a rebirth of our faith in the Father, a moment to rejoice in our love for the church and its teachings. Also, our Jewish friends and neighbors recently observed Passover and hosted Seder dinners for family and friends.

It's a joyous time of year, and I'm grateful we live in a country where we are free to observe and celebrate our traditions and our faiths -- a country where people of different faiths can respect one another. It's something we often take for granted here in America, for the same cannot be said in many other parts of the world. Too often people endure daily slights for their religious beliefs -- or worse. In many cases, they live in fear of persecution, imprisonment or death for what they believe. Millions are denied what we believe to be a basic right: the right to live their faith freely in a free society.

Our Founding Fathers themselves were witness to much religious persecution and, therefore, sought to create a nation that treated freedom to worship as a fundamental right, the first freedom. In the Declaration of Independence, our founders highlighted our inalienable rights -- which come from our Creator, not government. As the leaders of free people around the world, it is my hope that we would advance our founders' vision and serve as voices for the millions around the world who are oppressed.

But sadly, I'm too frequently reminded that this is not happening. Either it has not been a priority or our leaders don't truly believe in protecting this first freedom. Either way, this is unacceptable. For example, on multiple occasions, President Barack Obama has chosen not to raise concerns with Chinese leaders about their frequent imprisonment of human rights advocates or treatment of Tibetan Buddhists, Uighur Muslims and Falun Gong members -- all of whom have been oppressed because the Chinese government views them as a threat. The administration also has chosen not to speak out on the one-child policy.

But notwithstanding the recent admission by the Chinese government that the country has aborted more than 336 million unborn children -- many by force -- over the past four decades, China's treatment of minority religions is nothing like the oppression suffered by millions in the Middle East today. A recent study by The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life found that just 4 percent of people in the Middle East and Africa are Christian, down from more than 20 percent a century ago. In the cradle of Christianity, nearly all of the Christians have fled. In Egypt, Syria, Algeria, Iran and Pakistan, among many others, there come reports of the tormenting and murdering of Christians. And we have basically abandoned them. Despite the president's now quite famous 2009 speech in Cairo -- in which he committed to upholding religious freedom around the world -- we have done almost nothing to help these people as radical and intolerant Islamist regimes come to power.

Throughout these Muslim countries, religious minorities are being purged from lands they have occupied for 7,000 years. In recent months in Nigeria, as many as 50 Catholic churches have been destroyed by Boko Haram, a militant Islamist group. They also reportedly have targeted and killed Christians and intend to "Islamize" the country. Across the region daily, reports such as the one from Egypt in which a family of eight was sentenced to 15 years in prison for converting to Christianity are very common. You probably won't hear much from our leaders or the mainstream media on this, though. But please know that not all enjoy the freedom to worship that we do.

During his recent trip to Israel and the Palestinian territories, President Obama said he would do his best to help the people of the Holy Land keep the Christian presence there. His visit was met with appreciation from Christian leaders in the region, one of whom described the visit as a "pilgrimage" to a place that is "important for the whole of mankind." Time will tell whether his words were more than hollow gestures. I pray that they are.

Throughout history, our great nation has confronted and defeated threats to human rights here at home and abroad. From civil rights to defeating the Nazis and liberating the concentration camps to going toe-to-toe with the Soviets, we've had leaders who, when they've seen injustice and egregious violations of human rights, have stepped up and, in the spirit of our founders, have protected our first principles and beliefs as a nation. It's time our leaders stood up for the equal treatment of women and the freedom of conscience of religious minorities around the world, for example. And we must stand up against violence in the name of religion. Perhaps more importantly, we also must recognize that religious liberty is under assault by not only Muslim radicals but also radical secularists who are intolerant of expressions of faith. Many of these secularists hold prominent public positions in Western nations.




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