He repeats the old familiar argument:
- (1) Amtrak requires operating subsidies.
- (2) Rail operators overseas had the same problem.
- (3) Rail operators overseas found out that increasing the speed solved the problem.
- (4) So if we do the same thing, it will lose money.
He also channels Ed Glaeser's hackery on High Speed Rail, and indeed using the strategy that Ed Glaeser's hackery was built for:
In a blog-posted analysis, Glaeser made generous assumptions for trains...
- (1) Ed Glaeser is looking at a "hypothetical" Express HSR corridor with a potential ridership of 1.5m.
- Which is (2) not enough ridership to get an Express HSR corridor funded under the current policy - the California Express HSR system will be 10's of millions.
- So (3) it would be either The Big Stupid or The Big Lie to use Glaeser to criticize the current policy.
- Notice, its easy to be generous when you have rigged the game from the start
This is Robert Samuelson, not the famous Paul Samuelson (and while I critique much of Paul Samuelson's work, he had an impressive intellect and work ethic), so I pick The Big Stupid. This is just recycling the argument Ed Glaeser made, with an even bigger dose of (mostly inherited) reputation to make up for an even smaller dose of actual argument.
Note about the picture: the WaPo supports Samuelson pretending to engage in serious argument by showing a Japanese high speed train, with a caption about high density and such. This is of course also intellectually dishonest, since HSR has been a big success in areas like Germany, with similar population density to Ohio, and Spain, with similar population density to California. So my picture above is a Spanish high speed train, "from a country with similar size, population density, and geography to California".
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