Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The ‘law of the infinite cornucopia’ and trains…..and more…

Somewhere in my casual reading of various sources and publications and documents in the last year or so, I came across “The Law of the Infinite Cornucopia.”

In a nutshell, here it is:

The Law of the Infinite Cornucopia, put forth by Polish philosopher Leszek Kołakowski suggests that for any given doctrine one wants to believe, there is never a shortage of arguments by which one can support it.

If your imagination is as fertile as mine, you should have no problem coming up with “proof” that this ‘Law’ is valid.  And you might look to the Ostrich as your best source for such evidence.

I think back, for example, to the ‘dialogue’ that took place on their pages when the issues of base closure and new school construction were fresh on the local agenda.  I remember reading letters on the op-ed page asserting that Brunswick would ‘continue to grow in spite of Base closure,’ even though we had not been growing at all, so ‘continuing’ was a non-sequitur. 

And that ‘young families’ would flock to the former Navy housing and overflow our school capacity.  We’ll let readers judge how that’s working out; as a frequent driver down McKeen, this reporter has his own view.

In recent weeks, we’ve had a local author suggest that the Federal Government could make ‘interest free’ loans of printed currency to revive the economy and end the ‘great recession.’  We don’t know where to begin with such bizarre (or should we say berserk) suggestions.

Today, however, we wish to touch briefly on the recent letters responding to Fred Blanchard’s published challenge to the fiscal wisdom of bringing ‘the train’ to Brunswick.

These letters challenged Blanchard’s thesis largely on the basis of incomplete analysis of the underlying costs of the alternative to trains, that mostly being cars.

We find two major problems with the arguments presented. 

The first is the argument that the infrastructure associated with auto travel is very costly, and should not be underestimated.  A reasonable point, except that the infrastructure is already in place and being maintained as a recurring expense. 

No-one that I know of is proposing that a new road be constructed between Portland and Brunswick and calling for an initial ‘investment’ of $40 million or more, independent of the sustaining costs of such a road.

In case the writers hadn’t noticed, we’re talking about ‘marginal’ or incremental costs to bring something into existence that doesn’t already exist, and what patronage levels would be required to make the ‘investment’ of your and my tax dollars pay off.

Secondly, the notion of ‘per capita’ costs seem to be lost on the writers as well.

The most recent writer argues that the cost of operating a train is a winner compared to the cost of operating a car every time.  Nice try, but that clearly assumes a full, or nearly full train.  Have you ever watched a Maine Eastern excursion train come through Brunswick with a head here and a head there in the windows?

The IRS ‘calculates’ the cost of operating a car independent of the number of people in it; those advocating MASS TRANSIT are working on a ‘per person’ basis, which pre-supposes a particular level of ridership.  And it’s not one person per train, I can assure you.

The same observations would apply to any ‘carbon footprint’ consideration.  I’m real sure the footprint left by a diesel engine far exceeds that of a car.  I don’t know where the per capita break even point is, but significant ridership is key.

Finally, the most recent writer asserts that he likes trains, as if that’s a sound economic argument for subsidizing them.

So do I.  And I like free car repairs as well, especially for retired people. 

Does that mean I should expect them to be financed by our public servants with your money?

You tell me.  I can’t wait until we see “Maine Street Station Auto Repair” being constructed downtown with the help of Federal and State ‘investment funds.’

If that doesn’t revive the economy, nothing will, right?

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1 comment:

  1. Be careful what you wish for, the Town Council might just be listening.