Modern Transit: NOT WAR!

Japan, China, Most nations in Europe, Australia, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and even Uzbekistan have built or are investing in high speed rail lines. The United States, by comparison, has an interstate system and a traditional rail line which has received fewer and fewer subsidies since the 1980s. One may argue that subsidies are bad, or even perhaps that they are good, but either way everyone can agree that the US is falling behind the rest of the world. Once the shining example of development, the economy that quickly evolved through the industrial revolution, caused Hitler to question how the US fielded so many soldiers so quickly, funded the rebuilding of Europe, and is credited with winning the Cold War, has changed its mission and its culture. The new culture seems to be that of fear, fear mongering with a desire for warfare — we have indeed become the new Roman Republic. Instead of investing in better economic development, enhancing the environment for businesses to thrive, and bettering the lives of its citizens, the US has opted to destroy other nations, send soldiers into unjustified conflicts, and jealously guard its supremacy through costly warfare and its very expensive intelligence apparatus.

My previous posts ( have already presented the costs of combat for more than the past decade, roughly $6000 billion ($6 trillion). What would it cost to invest in better transit in the United States? Over 25 years, for a completed system, the US High Speed Rail Association estimates that 80% of all Americans can be connected for only $500 billion. New business will emerge to support the new networks, cities will update and communities will develop. Considering that the wars we have already been fighting have cost roughly $500 billion per year, does it really seem unreasonable that the US could re-purpose just $20 billion of that expense per year for the betterment of the nation? Just for some perspective, $20.13 billion is the entire GDP of Afghanistan, and the US spent more than 100 times that in the war there (not counting continued future expenses for post-war costs). Surely the US can forego $20 billion in destruction to third world nations, sparse terror networks, and seeking fanatical lunatics in order to update the US transit system. How is it possible that our cost versus benefit analysis has ignored such over-spending in favor of war instead of domestic or international investment? I’ll quip, it seems it would have been cheaper to buy the whole country of Afghanistan than to invade it!

The economic benefits of investing in high speed rail and foregoing war, far outweigh the $500 billion investment into its creation. Comparatively, the improved transit system would have an economic return, while warfare has little return past investment into the military industrial complex. First, deaths on highways can be reduced — significantly. More than 43,000 deaths occur on highways every year, but if high speed transit were available Americans could ride trains instead of driving. Highway congestion could be relieved. Jobs would be created within technology firms, engineering firms, and construction firms. It would reduce our dependence on oil, thereby reducing the trade deficit and helping reduce climate change simultaneously. High speed rail is expected to create about $19 billion worth of new business each year, equating to more than 150,000 new jobs. High speed rail increases productivity since people can continue working while commuting; it increases access to better fitting jobs for people who, unable to relocate, would have access to more distant markets; it increases the pool of employees for employers, enabling them to find better fits for their positions. The list of benefits doesn’t end with this short summary, in fact there are thousands more benefits that are not listed in this paragraph.

In the introduction I listed various nations currently with, or developing, high speed rail, but why would poor countries like Uzbekistan invest in such an expensive technology? The answer is that it is the interstate system of the 21st century, with economic benefits that far outweigh the initial expense. President Eisenhower saw the autobahn and said of the observation, “More than any single action by the government since the end of the war, this one would change the face of America with straightaways, cloverleaf turns, bridges, and elongated parkways. Its impact on the American economy — the jobs it would produce in manufacturing and construction, the rural areas it would open up — was beyond calculation.” If he saw the high speed rails of Japan and Europe today, he would be even more surprised that the US, the wealthiest economy in the world, has not yet adopted the technology. The US can maintain the strongest economy, remain among the highest per-capita incomes in the world, and be admired for its innovation and development for the next 60 years, but only if it invests in itself. Right… Now…

We are still exploring (at how the $6000 billion could have been spent, so far covering foreign investment into developing water and sanitation, and renewing the crumbling interstate system. We have, to this point, spent $438.5 billion and now another $500 billion can be added. Alternative spending into international and domestic development could have built trust, helped people around the world, improved global health, renewed America’s interstate system, and built a high speed rail network. Observe, with our alternative, we have spent $938.5 billion, less than 1/6 of the cost of the wars overseas. With the alternative, we have created productive enhancements to improve the standard of living for everyone on earth — instead of killing them or invading their nation.

One more thing to consider, our recent incursion into Iraq against ISIL is estimated to cost another $7-$10 million each day. Just think, that comes to just over $3.6 billion on the high side after one year. That cost doesn’t account for arming moderate rebels in Syria, no-fly zones that are currently being discussed for Syria, or any other expense that hasn’t yet been foreseen. Additionally, the entire ISIL group was recently estimated to have only about $2 billion in assets. Strange to consider the US will spend almost twice an enemies estimated value, per year, to “degrade and destroy” them. If our enemies hoped to attack our economy, they have succeeded without ever firing a shot at an American civilian or soldier. If they hoped to kill an American, our government has willfully begun the process of providing available targets. If our enemies hoped to recruit new soldiers, the US has emboldened and energized their base; they won’t even have to create a flyer with the US providing the perfect “radicalizing effect.”

We still have another $5000 billion to spend, but it’s once again time to turn to international development, winning friends, and influencing people. See you next week.

If you haven’t read the stories leading up to this point, and you are interested in catching up, please visit my other posts in this order (which will also be posted on Medium in the coming weeks):

Invest in America

Trust Husbandry

Order of Operations

So Little to Help So Many

War is a Crime

Sanitation for Peace

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If you enjoy this story then you will surely enjoy my book, “Three Handed Economist.” It is available at Amazon in paperback, on Kindle, and from other online retail outlets.

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