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Burning the Midnight Oil for Living Energy Independence

This week in The New Republic, Richard Florida presented his vision of High Speed Rail as the central strategic point of leverage in an economic "reset" to get us out of the doldrums resulting from the failure of the 20th century growth model to deliver ongoing, sustained growth any more ... though the way he frame it is:

As dismal as housing prices continue to be, they have yet to hit bottom in some places. Unemployment remains frozen at an overall level of nine-plus percent, and job creation has been anemic. If the crisis belonged to George W. Bush, the recovery has been Obama’s—and it has been a fragile and tentative one at best. Along with billions of dollars in stimulus payments, the president has spent down most of his political capital. So what is his next step?

So ... what is the next step?

This article is dated 12 August, and given the central role that Florida paints for High Speed Rail, has of course already been addressed by a number of others, including Yonah Freemark at The Transport Politic and Robert Cruickshank at the California HSR Blog.

Florida's thesis:

  • The Economic Growth Engine that dominated the post-WWII US economy generated a form of geographic Keynesianism
  • This Economic Growth Engine has reached its end
  • We must therefore turn to a Growth Engine based on Innovation
  • Innovation is fostered by clustering
  • So the Economic Geography of the Next Growth Engine will be emerging national Mega-Regions
  • High Speed Rail is uniquely suited to connect the distinct cities of a Mega-Region together, so High Speed Rail is the strategic linchpin of launching the Next Growth Economy


The End of Keynesianism and Beginning of Fantasy

There is much that is right and much that is wrong in Florida's argument. One of the signal failings of the story as he presents it is presenting the 20th Century Growth Engine as some kind of natural force, ignoring the substantial entrenched policies that channeled it down the particular paths it took.

And this is strategic for Florida's argument about the nature of the Next Growth Engine, since if these things are natural forces, the projection of the Next Growth Economy from the trends of the twilight of the Automobile Age is straightforward. For example, if:

Our transition from a Fordist mass production economy, based on the assembly line, to a knowledge economy, in which the driving force is creativity and technological innovation, has been under way for some time; the evidence can be seen in the physical decline of the old manufacturing cities and the boom in high-tech centers like Silicon Valley, government boomtowns like Washington DC, and college towns from Boulder to Ann Arbor. Between 1980 and 2006, the U.S. economy added some 20 million new jobs in its creative, professional, and knowledge sectors. Even today, unemployment in this sector of the economy has remained relatively low, and according to Bureau of Labor Statistics projections, is likely to add another seven million jobs in the next decade. By contrast, the manufacturing sector added only one million jobs from 1980 to 2006, and, according to the BLS, will lose 1.2 million by 2020.

This reads as if this just happened, rather than being made to happen by pursuing policies of de-industrialization, and by accepting policies with de-industrialization as a natural consequence, whether promoting the power of transnational corporations with mis-named "trade" agreements that primarily focus on the freedom of corporations to exercise corporate power across national borders, or the "fight inflation first" strategy of the Fed that biases the US exchange rate against the interest of exporters and toward the interests of importers, all the while their primary target is the prevention of full employment.

By stereotyping manufacturing as Fordist mass production, and setting it in opposition to the Knowledge Economy, Florida sets up a false dichotomy where Knowledge-Intensive Manufacturing disappears from view, and so does not have to be considered as a target for national industrial policy.

The story Florida sketches regarding the post-WWII Fordist Growth Economy is, of course, only partial, but is broadly correct.

  • There was a wave of investment in Road Infrastructure by state and especially local governments in the 1920's, and its ebbing was part of the sagging national income that exposed the financial fragility of the late 1920's
  • Federal Investment in Road Infrastructure picked up in the 1930's, providing part of the foundation for the post-WWII wave of suburban development
  • That wave of suburban development was financed in a way that permitted the further finance of automobiles, refrigerators, stoves, furniture,
  • and the income from the manufacture of that whole complex of products helped fuel the ongoing development of the suburbs.

However, Florida skips an important part of the story, which is the system of cross-subsidies that helped fuel that system by channeling income from urban and rural households into the development of sprawl suburbia. A fairly well known example is the Federal gas tax, which many Americans imagine to be a user-pays system for funding roads. In reality, all motorists pay the tax, whether or not their driving is on funded "highways". The majority of city streets are ineligible for funding while a majority of Interstate, National, State, County and Township "highways" on their periphery are eligible for funding, so that in the 1950's, this was a strong cross-subsidy from the urban and pre-WWII inner-suburban majority to the "new suburban" minority.

But this is, of course, only the tip of the iceberg. When utility hook-ups are priced by a flat rate rather than by the cost of providing the hook-up, that represents a substantial subsidy to sprawl development. When zoning imposed required minimum parking, the value taken from the property owners depends on the value of the underlying land, so the "in kind" tax imposed on landowners to subsidize cars with the parking they require is substantially higher in urban and inner suburban areas than in greenfield outer suburbs. Households living in unincorporated area (study area is Wisconsin) tend to receive more of their services from the county where they are located. Direct and tacit subsidy of logging, through undercharging for logging rights and provision of logging roads, implied an undervaluing of the value of existing durable urban structures versus new stick-frame detached housing.

What is the difference if we recognize these cross-subsidies of sprawl suburban development? The basic logic of cross-subsidies is to promote growth of the subsidy recipient at the expense of the subsidy payer, reducing the share of income contributing and increasing the share of income sharing the cross-subsidy. A Growth Engine based on cross-subsidy is destined to eventually run out of gas.

And then, of course, we ran out of gas ... starting in the late 1960's when we hit peak oil, the system of stabilizing US crude oil prices by manipulating production in the big Texas oil fields went by the boards, and the Automobile Age was exposed for the first time to the vagaries of the international oil market ... and after sprawl suburbia had captured over half of the US residential population, placing its flow of cross-subsidies at risk, we reached the neighborhood of global peak oil production, at a time that we consume a quarter of the world supply but only while we still produce a tenth of the world supply.

A gasoline price shock of a mere $4/gallon was one of the three forces contributing to the Panic of 2008: a serious gasoline price shock or an interruption of crude oil imports would have an even more devastating impact.


The Optical Illusion of Interstate Highways

Now, the Interstate Highway System, while not the majority of the cross-subsidy for sprawl development, were an integral part. But for passenger transport, "Interstate Highway" is a misnomer. The bulk of the passenger miles on the Interstate Highway system are local passengers, not interstate passengers.

Where the "Interstate" nature of the Interstate Highway system is dominated by interstate transport is in freight transport.

Yet, while Florida gives lip service to freight ...

That means high-speed rail, which is the only infrastructure fix that promises to speed the velocity of moving people, goods, and ideas while also expanding and intensifying our development patterns.

... it is only lip-service. The focus is on all the entrepreneurs coming into the Megaregional Hub to work out how to provide innovative services to each other and consumers, which services will somehow generate the export revenue to allow all of us to import all of the industrial and consumer goods that we require.


Fleshing Out the Skeleton

So, does HSR offer the opportunity to be the "Reset" technology to allow us to restructure our economic geography on a long term sustainable basis?

Well, any long time readers of Burning the Midnight Oil  or others who know me as a long time advocate of HSR will already be expecting my answer: No, of course not. Setting up High Speed Rail as "the" answer to anything is setting it up to "fail" to meet a poorly thought through target.

On of the reasons why "Auto Uber Alles" required heavy cross-subsidy to grow is that it was a "one-size-fits-all" solution. And one size never fits everyone, and never fits many people all that well.

High Speed Rail is a useful part of the mix and, as I have long argued, is the part of the mix that we can get working on right away, given the fact that High Speed Rail has repeatedly shown its ability to generate operating surpluses, even under Automobile Age conditions. That makes HSR a strategic "leading edge" of the new transport system that we shall require for this new century.

However, we must not make the mistake of trying to "re-fight the last war": High Speed Rail corridors will not be providing the bulk of passenger transport, nor will they be providing the bulk of freight transport. Their superior capital efficiency compared to the same intercity passenger transport capacity provided by roadworks is due to the fact that HSR does not try to be a magic "silver bullet" one-size-fits-all solution, rather focuses on being the efficient solution to the problem it solves.

Indeed, despite Richard Florida's focus on innovation, one reason that High Speed Rail looms so large in his vision of the new 21st century is that in High Speed Rail, the essential technical innovations required to allow us to start building have already been made, and there is very little social innovation required. Florida is, in other words, projecting an existing technology into the future.

In local transport, more social innovation is required to reach the point of painting a compelling grand sweeping vision of how we will get from our current, obsolete, system to one that will meet the needs of our new century. So, although this is a more important challenge for our day to day standard of living in 2020 or 2050 ... it is a far less question to consider for those who specialize in painting grand sweeping visions.

And the idea that we will simply abandon making things that do useful things is a fantasy from the twilight of the Age of the Automobile. It rests on the neo-mercantelist strategy of China and others to accept lower terms of trade in return for being allowed to export potential unemployment to the US. The credit creation required to maintain a discounted ¥RMB to US$ exchange rate has been an important part of the credit creation that has been papering over the fading income-generating capacity of the post-WWII Growth Economy.

However, this is also an imbalanced and ultimately unsustainable process. In a sustainable system, our standard of living will depend not on the creation of credit in China, but in the creation of goods and services of value to our own economy and to potential trade partners overseas. Pre-emptively hobbling our capacity to produce valuable products by continuing to engage in aggressive de-industrialization is the path towar being a poorer nation in the future than we need to be.


Midnight Oil ~ Blue Sky Mine

Originally posted to BruceMcF on Sun Aug 15, 2010 at 04:03 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  what's gonna happen to China when all (7+ / 0-)

    the water disappers from the Mekong post the loss of the glaciers in Tibet? By that time, will there be enough water remaining anywhere for them to trade debt for H20?

    Grain price already up, particiularly in light of outmigration of Muscovites over past weeks due to unliveable air temps.

    China leap years ahead of US and all western developed nations in term of green economy .. have you read about the solar city they are unveiling in a few months?

    Great transportation piece.

    Horse and buggy returns? but what are we gonna make the wheels from?

    when i'm not busy living, i tweet as boatsie

    by boatsie on Sun Aug 15, 2010 at 04:12:01 PM PDT

    •  We've got not only some iron ore left ... (9+ / 0-)

      ... we have all that material in all of those rusting hulks. And we have massive sustainable electricity resources compared to most nations in the world ... making steel wheels to run on steel or aluminum rails is far less challenging than trying to keep all of our existing road surfaces paved.

      The Chinese, of course, have economists in positions of influence who are not deep in the pockets of the transnational corporations (including oil companies) ... and with the globe at or near peak oil and with China facing peak coal in a decade or two, its no surprise that they are trying to push ahead with sustainable, renewable power.

      But its not as if the US does not have advantages of our own ... including substantially higher bioresource per capita than the world average. If we were to abandon our resource gluttony and live within our means, we could still enjoy a substantially better than world average standard of living.

      Start 2010 with Lesbian Creative Works, 100% Yuri from ALC Publishing

      by BruceMcF on Sun Aug 15, 2010 at 04:23:54 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I am still not convinced we have all that much (0+ / 0-)

        wind energy in this country.

        I read your link on wind energy but it was very skimpy on details.  If the world uses 15 trillion watts, I would guess the USA uses 3-4 trillion watts and I don't see anything like that coming from wind.

        •  I'm not sure how more details ... (6+ / 0-)

          ... are needed to have over and above:

          Onshore U.S. wind resources could generate nearly 37,000,000 gigawatt-hours (GWh) annually, more than nine times current total U.S. electricity consumption.

          Wind power is only one of several sustainable renewable power sources available ... if it provides 40% of our current electricity consumption, that is 40%x(1/9) of the total onshore resource, which would be 4.5% of the total onshore resource.

          Finding and tapping the best 5% of the total resource seems quite do-able to me.

          On a rough cut, 40% wind and 10% each of solar, conventional hydro, run of river hydro, geothermal, tidal and biocoal would cover it ... any of those going up to 20% would cover two of the others dropping down to 5%.

          Start 2010 with Lesbian Creative Works, 100% Yuri from ALC Publishing

          by BruceMcF on Sun Aug 15, 2010 at 05:34:57 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  We have already tapped out hydro, (0+ / 0-)

            and dams are hell on the ecosystem.

            And I am sure we have plenty of wind power but converting it into energy is another issue altogether.  Your link gives no details on conversion.  

            And what if the wind isn't blowing?  Sometimes that happens.  Storing energy is a huge problem in itself.  I think we are headed to a serious energy shortage with no theoretical solutions.  I at least have not seen a theoretical solution with any detail.

            •  Dams are not necessary for hydro ... (5+ / 0-)

              ... and we have certainly not tapped out our hydro power resource.

              As far as converting electric power from wind into other forms of energy, you were specifically talking about our electricity consumption. The wind power is originally generated as electricity: that's what the estimates of our total potential resource is estimating, total annual capacity to generate electricity. When it says:

              AWS Truewind also developed a national dataset of estimated gross capacity factor (not adjusted for losses) at a spatial resolution of 200 m and heights of 80 m and 100 m. NREL estimated the windy land area and wind energy potential in various capacity factor ranges for each state and the entire contiguous United States, using the gross capacity factor data. The table (Excel 108 KB) lists the estimates of windy land area with a gross capacity of 30% and greater at 80-m height and the wind energy potential from development of the "available" windy land area after exclusions. These areas are generally considered to have suitable wind resource for wind development. The "Installed Capacity" is the potential megawatts (MW) of rated capacity that could be installed on the available windy land area, and the "Annual Generation" is the estimated annual wind energy generation in gigawatt-hours (GWh) that could be produced from the installed capacity. NREL reduced the wind potential estimates by excluding areas unlikely to be developed such as wilderness areas, parks, urban areas, and water features (see Wind Resource Exclusion Table in the Excel file for more detail).

              ... I believe it is reasonably clear that it is talking about the estimation of the electricity generating capacity, and not doing some kind of physical measure of the raw energy in the wind and stating it in terms of electrical power equivalent.

              Start 2010 with Lesbian Creative Works, 100% Yuri from ALC Publishing

              by BruceMcF on Sun Aug 15, 2010 at 06:09:05 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

      •  in conv w/film maker Climate Refugees (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        RunawayRose, Judge Moonbox

        lat night he told story about going for drinks after COP15 event with a few Chinese delegates; after they warmed up or opened up:) and in response to a question about CC, they responded how their master plan was they hoped the US would not be proactive on CC because they planned to own the entire business of 'green' and sustainable manufacturing. Coupled with their recent announcment of a solarpowered city... link and the 22 July announcment link, one has to really wonder. So are we just giving this to them in repayment for our debt? Is this the demand? Sink the US into a depression, send us your wheat as we are so threaned by the drying of the Mekong .... and thus no hope whatsoever ... Is the financial crisis the price the US is paying, the end of the Middle Class, free trade, the inclusion of China in the WTO, their rights to our crops... how our gov't pays for pusing consumerism here?

        when i'm not busy living, i tweet as boatsie

        by boatsie on Sun Aug 15, 2010 at 05:50:17 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  We don't have to give them anything ... (5+ / 0-)

          ... for our debt at the moment: they are still riding the demographic wave, and are still forced to keep their currency depreciated against ours. As long as they are in that position, their hands are tied as far as "dumping" our debt goes.

          That free ride we have been getting does not, of course, go on forever, but if we move in the next five years, we'll have time.

          Start 2010 with Lesbian Creative Works, 100% Yuri from ALC Publishing

          by BruceMcF on Sun Aug 15, 2010 at 06:11:11 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  And, I should stress, ... (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Odysseus, RunawayRose

          ... "we", as in our government, was not forced by the Chinese into letting China into the WTO. It was a general corporate consensus, which means a bi-partisan consensus ... there was no big corporate power block with a strong opposing interest.

          Start 2010 with Lesbian Creative Works, 100% Yuri from ALC Publishing

          by BruceMcF on Sun Aug 15, 2010 at 06:53:38 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  sos this man last night worked for the Pentagon (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            BruceMcF

            he was hired by the Pentagon to do study on Climate and Homeland Security... He put forth these ideas about our debt to China and how they will be collecting it via grain... due to their droughts and the Tibetan plateua glaciers impending crisis. Interesting. So you disagree. This man also said... Peak oil is a joke, that natural gas is the way to go ... and there also was Steward Brant discussing nuke power et al. I grabbed the 2 of them for questions post movie. I was flabbergasted. Asked about fracturing, tar sands, energy and polluton and $ related to drilling out every smidgeon remaining of earth's oil and he says we will be way on our way to alternative fuels way before end up w/o oil. A FASCINATING panel, given the fact that the movie w/Lester Brown gives the vision of we can do it now with 1 million windmils and solar power from western africa . ... etc. and then they have these oil industry backed folks as well on the panel. It was surreal. (yeah, i did my background research on Brandt. He wears the same farmers clothes and lives in teh same tugboat but what IS REAL?

            when i'm not busy living, i tweet as boatsie

            by boatsie on Sun Aug 15, 2010 at 07:00:12 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Our 'debt to China' is ... (6+ / 0-)

              .. denominated in dollars. If they wish to sell it before it matures, they will be pushing the exchange rate of the US$ down and the value of the ¥RMB up.

              So, yeah, they could "dump out debt", and make our remaining export industries suddenly far more competitive against Chinese industry than they have been for a decade or more ... but, why would they?

              As far as the threat to their food production capacity ... why do you think they are reaching all sorts of deals with African nations where they sell buses or other manufactures on soft credit terms or in return for mining concessions at rates favorable to the African nation? A substantial increase in the world market price of grains means the end of the dumping of subsidized grain from the US and EU into Africa, which means a substantial increase in the agricultural productive capacity of African producers.

              Nobody with any sense would bank on the US government being so mired in neoliberal ideology that it can be bluffed into paying a debt with wheat that can just as easily be paid with newly created US$. Even if that'd be a nice con to pull on the US if our government is so gullible, its no sure thing.

              On natural gas reserves, what the fellow has going for him is, nobody knows how much of the tightly packed natural gas plays there are out there. They are not like crude oil ... they produce, and then they stop. Then you move on and fracture some more rock, and, if there's gas in the rock, it produces, and then it stops.

              Since nobody knows, nobody can prove him wrong when he claims that there's plenty. However, there is a bit of a burden of proof problem there ... the natural gas cornucopians are saying to put all of our eggs in one basket based on uncertainty that it will fail. Certainty that it will succeed is more like the standard of proof I would prefer for a "all eggs in one basket" strategy.

              Start 2010 with Lesbian Creative Works, 100% Yuri from ALC Publishing

              by BruceMcF on Sun Aug 15, 2010 at 07:14:19 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  so would you say he was touting (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                BruceMcF

                bs for the most part? I mean,i asked him for example, how as the movie depicted could these 50million climate refugees actualy GET to the US ...i mean if we are talking 20,30 years out... And we are talking LCA as well as the huge investments the US is putting into securing our borders who the hell is going to let them in and who is going to get them here and why are spending billions of dollars studying climate change as a national security threat? He acknowledged that the problem would be more with smaller offshore islands like Haiti ... and that it would never to that, that the movie was unrealistic... But I guess my question is (*and of course you won't this anwer needless to say) is that we have this new Nash movie presenting a very alarmist view of how the climate refugee situation is going to impact the US BIG time and cause massive wars actually within our country itself and then LEster Brown talking how we can solve all this if we do like FDR did and just covert the factories into mfg solar and windmills etc. while meanwhile sitting right there in the front are these people who don't agree at all. It was quite a mixed message ... but then of course, I was the only one to bring up these issues ...

                when i'm not busy living, i tweet as boatsie

                by boatsie on Sun Aug 15, 2010 at 07:24:43 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  This is where I keep going back to ... (2+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  RunawayRose, Calamity Jean

                  ... burden of proof ... reasonable people can disagree about the possibly or probably supply of natural gas in the US over the next twenty or fifty years ... but anyone stating certainty about natural gas supply over the twenty to fifty year time frame either has been sold a bill of goods or is peddling one.

                  As far as the brown hordes ... I see no reason why we know that we won't be among the refugees if worst comes to worst. And people who imagine "fortress America" often still fantasize that the US lives on our own resources and exports a surplus abroad, when in reality our resource footprint substantially exceeds our own nation's biocapacity.

                  So refugees do not have to spill over our borders to cause massive dislocations to our current economy: they need only disrupt our present sources of resources from abroad to gave massive dislocation to our economy as we have presently organized it.

                  Sure, by switching back to two or three meat meals a week, we could in the abstract easily feed our population on our present resources ... but lining up our resources to accomplish that is a big problem. We rely on (10% imported) natural gas for ammonia based fertilizers and to dry corn ... if at the same time we are trying to convert trucks from diesel to natural gas so we can get food to supermarkets in the midst of a disruption in crude oil supplies, that is a mess.

                  Start 2010 with Lesbian Creative Works, 100% Yuri from ALC Publishing

                  by BruceMcF on Sun Aug 15, 2010 at 07:44:43 PM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

              •  To understand Paul Krugman (2+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                RunawayRose, BruceMcF
                You only have to understand that as the Yuan rises against the Dollar, the relative value of the US debt is devalued, as is the relative value of Treasury notes held by Chinese/others.

                In other words, you loan me $10 I pay back $7.

                What about my Daughter's future?

                by koNko on Sun Aug 15, 2010 at 09:20:16 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

        •  Rizhao is a good example (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          RunawayRose, BruceMcF, Calamity Jean
          Of Chinese use of Model Cities, Model Units/Enterpriss to work out the bugs of social/technological engineering.

          As I have often stated here, Chinese Green Technology/Green Industry did not arise out of a vacuum, but is the product of many years of planning and pilot programs.

          Rizhao is not unique, but rather, just the culmintion of planning with best practices developed elsewhere on smaller scale incubator and implementation projects.

          You may note that China has the greatest number and greatest addoption rate of solar water heaters, and this is a good example of how it works.

          From 2001-2005, China launched the Township Electrification Program (Song Dian Dao Xiang) to bring solar heating and electrification and hydro electrification to 1,000 small rural towns as a pilot program. This worked as a technology/manufacturing incubator and from this, quite a bit of improvement in solar heater effeciency was made and several regional companies started.

          In 2006 the Village Electrification Program (Song Dian Dao Cun) was started which will continue the process with the target of 10,000 villages.

          So while big, high profile projects such as the one's you linked may get more attention outside China, the development path has actually been longer and more incremental, but quite visible to those who have been watching.

          BTW, I'm Shanghai people and the item you linked to, the solar roof at the Hongqaio Trasportation Center, is part of a big project that interconnects Hongqaio Airport Terminal 2 and the High Speed Rail Station and the urban Metro system, including Metro Line 2 which also connects to the Pudong International Airport. So now, from the urban core or outlying suburbs you can take the Metro to the HSR or Airports in about 45 min (from city center). Generally, this is the urban transportation model for big cities now.

          What about my Daughter's future?

          by koNko on Sun Aug 15, 2010 at 10:00:34 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  Perhaps more importiantly (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        RunawayRose, BruceMcF
        China has a great number of technocrats in leadership positions and a large technolocical beuracracy to provide information and analysis for decision making, as do Japan and Germany.

        For example, Hu Jintao started his carrer as a hydraulic engineer in the power industry and it is no accident technological progress is a cornerstone of his administration's basic ideology of Scientific Development Concept to create a Hamonious Scociety, which represent a significant departure from the philosophy of his predecessor, Zhang.

        Indeed, the current (4th) generation is generally classified as technocrats and it's easy to understand why, since 8 of the top 9 ranked leaders/politburo members have scientific/engineering backgrounds:

        Hu Jintao (President)- Hydraulic Engineer
        Wu Bangguo (VP) - Electrical Engineer, Physisist
        Wen Jiabao (Premier)- Geologist (Geomechanics)
        Jia Qinglin (CCCP Chair) - Electrical Engineer, Product Designer
        Li Changchun (Politburo #5) - Electrical Engineer
        Xi Jinping (Secretariat) - Chemical Engineer
        Li Keqiang (Exec. Vice Premier) - Lawyer/Legislator
        He Guoqiang (Politburo #8) - Inorganic Chemist
        Zhou Yongkang - (Politburo #9) - Organic Chemist, Petrolum Engineer

        One lawyer, and not an economist in the bunch.

        BTW, Xi Jinping is most likely to succeed Hu Jintao in 2013 and he is also a progressive thinker, and quite a bit more Liberal than Hu.

        Obama, actually made quite a few good cabinet approintments, now if he could only whip the Senate into shape ...

        What about my Daughter's future?

        by koNko on Sun Aug 15, 2010 at 09:06:28 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  One thing I noticed... (5+ / 0-)

    ...when we closed on our farm in Stephenson County, IL, is that at least one rail line had been torn up in the vicinity, that had served the nearby town of Orangeville. There may be many small towns like that, well inland from the Interstate, and nowhere near a Steel Interstate route, let alone a branch line. How do they get the grain to market? How do they go to town to buy seed? I don't see a return to the horse and buggy, and I don't like the idea of de-industrialization.

    Float like a manhole cover, sting like a sash weight! Clean Coal Is A Clinker!

    by JeffW on Sun Aug 15, 2010 at 04:18:36 PM PDT

    •  One obvious solution ... (7+ / 0-)

      ... is to put the branch line back in.

      Pluggable hybrid electric high efficiency diesel power trains that can be used by trucks already exist ... the energy budget problem is relying on trucks to haul freight cross country. Hauling freight twenty miles to a railhead is far more within reach.

      For Illinois, Iowa, etc., there is ample renewable energy resource to generate ammonia which can, which a small amount of primer fuel, power mechanized agriculture as well as rural transport.

      And horse and buggy is one option that many are likely to adopt ... a modern buggy could surely be designed that is more efficient than what we were building a century ago, and the cost of operating a horse does not flow down the gas pump and over the border to some oil exporter somewhere else ... never mind In Country, it mostly stays In County.

      Start 2010 with Lesbian Creative Works, 100% Yuri from ALC Publishing

      by BruceMcF on Sun Aug 15, 2010 at 04:34:38 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Yes, but... (7+ / 0-)

        ...for the most part, the right-of-way has been obliterated. I suspect a good portion of it is now the current alignment of IL-26, and other portions have reverted to the farm properties crossed. The route probably saw little traffic, so the railroad abandonned it.

        Here in Chicago, we have many abandonned railroad rights-of-way, or those where redundant tracks were pulled up, some of it being used as container storage yards, others being proposed as in-city elevated bike routes. Many abandonned lines outside the City became hiking/biking paths, like the old Aurora & Elgin and North Shore Line. Some have even argued to reconstruct them, but nobody has the serious money to do it: I remember about 20 years ago some saying it would take $2 billion to restore the CNS&M as it was, not counting grade separation.

        Regarding horses: I've seen that these are mostly for recreation, or, in the case of one of our farm neighbors, entertainment (he deals with the race tracks in/around Chicago). Calamity Jean has been contemplating animal power for farm work: a nice, reasonable Holstein ox. You can even train them to take a saddle!

        The most satisfying thing, though, is that wind farms are starting to be put up in Northern Illinois. About fifteen miles due west of our farm, there's one called Eco Grove, near Waddams Grove, IL. There would be power for ammonia production via solid-state electrochemical cells, amongst other things.

        Float like a manhole cover, sting like a sash weight! Clean Coal Is A Clinker!

        by JeffW on Sun Aug 15, 2010 at 05:32:07 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  The 'serious money' ... (4+ / 0-)

          ... has existed to spend far more than the require amount of money ... except it existed to keep roads paved. With rising price of crude oil and its products such as asphalt cement, that is now pressing up against the means of some localities.

          The systems of subsidy that built up the status quo are still in place, so we are often faced with higher full economic cost systems still being lower in financial cost. But the financial cost of the auto-dependent system will only rise as the cost of oil goes up, and when it does, the "serious money" to put land-banked alignments back into use can be generated.

          Given a tractor operated on ammonia, and perfectly capable of running on gravel roads, hauling a substantial load to a central pick up point for the township is in reach. Given a central pick up point, the efficient means of hauling the loads from their on will depend on local circumstance ... a size fitting each task, not one size fits all.

          Start 2010 with Lesbian Creative Works, 100% Yuri from ALC Publishing

          by BruceMcF on Sun Aug 15, 2010 at 05:44:12 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  They just "re-opened" a short line here in OR (4+ / 0-)

            Over by Corvallis.
            This is what needs to happen here and these kind of things are shovel ready. As the articel says, its economically feasible because we have a lot of bulk agricultural product
            Oregon used to have a tight network of tracks all over, with a very efficent electric interurban and freight network. Much of it's still in place.
            What the state should do before getting involved in HSR is refurbish existing tracks including the Eugene-Coos Bay line and the Port of Tillamook Bay line. Both of them have good passenger potential as does the Yaquina Bay line.
            These are projects you could put people to work on TOMORROW

            Happy just to be alive

            by exlrrp on Sun Aug 15, 2010 at 08:00:54 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  But, again, they are not either or. (3+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Odysseus, RunawayRose, Calamity Jean

              We did not have states either build interstate highways or build local roads in the Age of the Automobile ... we need to meet local and intercity transport needs for both passenger and freight ... and doing that effectively requires a mix of systems.

              Of course, intercity/interstate transport has been taken to be a particular Federal responsibility in the past ... oh, 150 years at least, and given the national interest in shifting from oil addiction, it seems sensible to me for that to continue.

              Start 2010 with Lesbian Creative Works, 100% Yuri from ALC Publishing

              by BruceMcF on Sun Aug 15, 2010 at 08:12:27 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

  •  More light rail! (9+ / 0-)

    Definitely would like to see more train travel and freight hauling. I travel by train whenever I get the chance. not only is it more fuel efficient, it's much more relaxing.

    Beyond petroleum my ass! ~ Rachel Maddow

    by Purple Priestess on Sun Aug 15, 2010 at 04:20:57 PM PDT

  •  One of your endearing, enduring qualities,... (8+ / 0-)

    ...BruceMcF, is that you never present HSR as the silver bullet, something that advocates of other change of various sorts can't stop themselves from doing.

    Kudos. This is one of your best.

    Don't tell me what you believe. Tell me what you do and I'll tell you what you believe.

    by Meteor Blades on Sun Aug 15, 2010 at 05:22:31 PM PDT

  •  I can't decide (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Odysseus, Caelian, RunawayRose, BruceMcF

    which photo is scarier; the one at the top with all the cars or the one in the middle with the roads laid out in a desert somewhere for yet another isolated housing development. And what were they thinking... um, water, anybody?

    Thank you again for being such an advocate and educational resource for trains.

    -7.50, -6.87 Bright Pink Smile - a different sort of art blog

    by asterkitty on Sun Aug 15, 2010 at 05:39:52 PM PDT

  •  The Optical Illusion of Interstate Highways (4+ / 0-)

    The bulk of the passenger miles on the Interstate Highway system are local passengers, not interstate passengers.

    If that's the case, wouldn't it be much smarter to invest those hundreds of billions of high-speed rail dollars on local and regional public transportation projects to provide fast, convenient communting alternatives to cars, creating millions of jobs building and operating the new rail and high-speed bus lines, and helping reduce greenhouse gasses much more than high-speed rail would do?

    I haven't seen a study, but it seems to be that in this recession long-distance travel is way down as business travellers use conference calls as a cheap alternative to face-to-face meetings and people cut back on unnecessary non-business long-distance travel.

    Yet local travel and traffic jams are still omnipresent in spite of high gasoline prices and unemployment.  This suggest that the need for local transportation is unabated while long-distance travel is not nearly as important.  Maybe it would be much smarter to use those billions locally on the many shovel-ready projects that could improve things within a few years instead of a decade.

    Japan and Europe used HSR to supplement existing well-designed and well-used local and regional systems.  With few exceptions, USA cities do not have the local infrastructure to make HSR truly effective.

    Big Joe Helton: "I pay Plenty."
    Chico Marx: "Well, then we're Plenty Tough."

    by Caelian on Sun Aug 15, 2010 at 05:39:55 PM PDT

    •  But its not instead of. (8+ / 0-)

      We have to do all of the transport tasks, and investing in doing the intercity passenger task with the several tiers of High Speed Rail is cheaper than doing it with road or air.

      And we have ample idle labor and equipment to turn to the task. Our bottleneck in terms of resources is imported energy, and these systems when implemented effectively can help to reduce our dependence on imported energy, so that this is an investment that alleviates the major resource bottleneck it faces.

      The idea that HSR cannot be effective without resting on a foundation of effective local transport is debunked every day that French, German, Spanish and Italian HSR stop at suburban stations with access dominated by cars and people still debark from and arrive at those stations. HSR is not incompatible with access via cars, just as airports are not incompatible with access via cars.

      Indeed, intercity travel is where Americans have already shown that they are willing to get out of the car, even with the ultra-cheap oil of the late 80's and 90's. That's another reason why its a strategic "leading edge" technology.

      The point I am making is, rather, to not confuse the strategic appeal of HSR as a leading edge technology, able to get established and grow in advance of establishment of the rest of a sustainable ... with the overall share of total investment we will have to make in sustainable transport systems if we want to avoid coping with a failed transport system before we have started on its replacement.

      Start 2010 with Lesbian Creative Works, 100% Yuri from ALC Publishing

      by BruceMcF on Sun Aug 15, 2010 at 05:53:16 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  And where did you get ... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      RunawayRose, Calamity Jean

      ... "hundreds of billions"? Is that $200b? $300b? Over what time period?

      Primarily for alignments that will last indefinitely ... as long as the corridors remain in use ... and structures that will last thirty to a hundred years?

      For a $14T economy facing a recession or worse every time there is an serious oil price shock, $8b/year for HSR would be a bargain.

      Start 2010 with Lesbian Creative Works, 100% Yuri from ALC Publishing

      by BruceMcF on Sun Aug 15, 2010 at 06:01:08 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Dwight Eisenhower often gets credit (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RunawayRose, patrickz

    for his warning about the Military-Industrial Complex. He also deserves blame for enabling/encouraging the Automobile-Oil-Highway Complex and suburban sprawl.

    •  At the time we were just about ... (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      RunawayRose, patrickz, Azazello

      ... the biggest oil producer in the world. And, indeed, much of the suburban sprawl development system had already gotten established under FDR and Truman.

      However, by the 70's, it became clear that betting all-in on the car was not rational policy, and the result was that in the 80's we got a President who didn't give a damn if it was rational ... if the oil companies wanted an irrational energy policy, he was determined to give it to them.

      Start 2010 with Lesbian Creative Works, 100% Yuri from ALC Publishing

      by BruceMcF on Sun Aug 15, 2010 at 07:19:40 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  We need a Manufaturing policy. Period. (6+ / 0-)

    "They pour syrup on shit and tell us it's hotcakes." Meteor Blades

    by JugOPunch on Sun Aug 15, 2010 at 06:24:23 PM PDT

  •  Question (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Odysseus, RunawayRose, BruceMcF, emilysdad
    There is no perfect formula to create an integrated rail system and much depends on local situation and needs.

    However, one thing I find curious (to my thinking) is that in the US, High Speed Rail seems to have a higher priority than Urban Rail, which to my thinking is putting the cart before the horse (at least in terms of how most countries develop rail).

    Do you think this is the best approach for the US, and why?

    I realize the US has many/mostly low density suburban cities and an auto-centric transportation system so I can see some rationale in connecting big urban centers first, is this the idea?

    What about my Daughter's future?

    by koNko on Sun Aug 15, 2010 at 10:09:38 PM PDT

    •  For the last decade ... (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      RunawayRose, koNko, Calamity Jean

      ... local rail has been the only thing funded. However, it has been so underfunded and quarantined into a defined sets of competitive grants that projects with costs and benefits far out-stripping many funded road projects are turned down, and those projects that are funded are often at a 50:50 or 40:60 Federal:local match when the program allows up to an 80:20 Federal:local match.

      The idea is nowhere near as rational as that. Its rather that local rail has a reputation of being primarily for  big cities. So politically, its something that big city representatives have to horse trade something that suburban and rural representatives want ... and then often goes down in defeat in the Senate which even without the Permanent Republican Filibuster has a strong anti-big-city bias.

      HSR, by contrast, is seen as something that, like airplanes, would be used by rural and suburban residents, so HSR funding has the opportunity to gain defecting Republican support, particularly in the Senate.

      The ideal would be to pursue the Regional HSR tier, the Express HSR tier, and massive local dedicated transport corridors in parallel.

      There is a sense in which HSR can anchor dedicated transport corridors in suburban locations, by providing a patronage anchor to eliminate the "ending in the middle of nowhere" effect that undermines load factors, especially off-peak and counter-peak. But that will be strongest with Express HSR systems, and since they typically require an all new, all grade separated alignment that takes a decade or so to finish, there is ample opportunity to finalize the plan for an Express HSR system, start construction, and then plan, break ground, and finish and connecting local system before the Express HSR station has been opened.

      HSR is workable in advance of heavy investment of local dedicated transport corridors ... but the ideal would be to move forward on all three at once.

      Start 2010 with Lesbian Creative Works, 100% Yuri from ALC Publishing

      by BruceMcF on Mon Aug 16, 2010 at 07:41:31 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

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