“We can rebuild our roads, upgrade our ports, and unclog our commute,” President Obama remarked in his 2014 State of the Union, “because in today’s global economy, first-class jobs gravitate to first-class infrastructure.” There’s no doubt that mobility is an essential part of modern life in a global economy. Work, school, and leisure are all grounded in travel. But the federal government is not the key to increased mobility, lessened congestion, and more access to jobs. Rather, the US can create more jobs and improve its transportation infrastructure by reducing the federal government’s burden through privatizing its outdated air-traffic control system, investing in bus service over expensive trains, reforming highways, and encouraging private transportation solutions.
Today, planes in U.S. airspace are directed by the same air-traffic control system that was developed in the 1960s. The U.S. has fallen behind other countries in safety, speed, fuel efficiency, and reliability of air travel according to numerous studies. The American traveler would greatly benefit from entering the 21st century of aviation technology by depoliticizing the air-traffic control system, allowing entrepreneurs from Silicon Valley manage the system instead of government bureaucrats. Currently, America’s air-traffic control system requires planes to fly in a zigzag pattern, using more fuel and increasing costs for consumers. Plus, the FAA still uses procedures that limit the use of airspace, even as new aviation technology has been developed and used elsewhere. Canada privatized its air-traffic control system in 1996 and, unlike the U.S., it is a privatized and supported entirely through user revenues rather than taxpayers’ dollars. It’s high time to get travelers to their destination smoother, quicker, and cheaper.
U.S. cities should look to offer inexpensive, dependable public transportation to citizens who are either unable to afford a car or don’t drive due to practical parking and congestion reasons. However, the most economical way to achieve this is not by investing in expensive railway but rather widespread bus service. According to a recent study by Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, rapid bus transit provides cities “the best bang for the buck.” Similarly, the Government Accountability Office released a study showing that buses can provide service as fast and frequently as trains but with lowering operating and capital costs. Plus, buses are flexible and can be easily re-routed when travel patterns change or traffic issues arise. For local transit, buses save both passengers and local governments money while providing better service. For intercity trips, buses already provide fifty percent more passenger miles than Amtrak’s most popular corridor and again are less expensive. Randal O’ Toole of the Cato Institute writes, “Outside of a few dense places like Tokyo and New York City, there is nothing trains can do that buses cannot do faster, better, more flexibly, and for a lot less money.”
The automobile has enabled far more transportation than another other form. But U.S. highways, mostly constructed more than fifty years ago, are crumbling and unable to handle increased drivers. In addition, gas taxes are unable to properly fund highways due to more efficient vehicles. A new system of highway funding must be ushered in for the 21st century that will adequately fund roads and needed repairs. Mileage taxes, not gas taxes, would be the most efficient way to handle worsening US congestion by collecting adequate funds from drivers.
A 2010 Cato Institute report by Gabriel Roth found, “In the period of 1980 to 2008, the vehicle-miles driven in the nation increased 96 percent, but the lane-miles of public roads increased only 7.5 percent.” The best way to increase mobility and limit congestion for the U.S. is to utilize more lanes, specifically more high-occupancy lanes, add tolls, and price congestion. Highways should mostly be paid for by the individuals using the service, not from taxpayer subsidies. By adding more toll lanes to highways, the costs are concentrated on those cars and trucks which travel often and not gas taxes of individuals who may only drive locally. In addition, the U.S. Department of Transportation concluded in 2013 that, “There is a consensus among economists that congestion pricing represents the single most viable and sustainable approach to reducing traffic congestion.”
Current American transportation is not up to 21st century standards. Bus service has been substituted with expensive and poorly-run trains, airports are overly congested, and highways are jammed and need repairs. Plus, private transit companies are blocked from discovering innovative transportation solutions due to local and state laws and regulations. Governments have left taxpayers with mediocre service plus the expensive bill to go with it. The US needs to limit aviation congestion by privatizing air-traffic control, improve and expand bus service in cities, and expand highway reforms and innovations.
Matthew La Corte is a Young Voices Advocate studying political science and economics at Hofstra University. Hailing from Woodland Park, New Jersey, Matthew’s work has been published in the Passaic Valley Today and The Record
“Privatization” is a buzzword in politics that conjures up both hope and despair. Instead of being repelled by potential market failure, opponents of privatization should examine the widespread government failure seen in the status quo. Market failure is a possibility; current government failure is the reality. It’s critical to weigh potential market failure with potential government failure, not potential market failure with their intended desire for government success.
Privatization leads to lower state-owned debt, increases efficiency and effectiveness of services, and allows private investors to support innovative entrepreneurs. Anyone who’s been to the DMV will knows that private businesses serve customers more efficiently and kindly than government bureaus. The simply fact is that politically-motivated agencies are antiquated and unable to produce desirable results that citizens demand.
In an era when stimulating economic growth is needed and political shutdown occurs often, privatization accomplishes two major points. First, it opens up new markets for entrepreneurs. Second, it decreases state and federal budget deficits and debts. Privatization reduces the responsibilities for government; allowing policymakers to better focus on core responsibilities, such as national security.
One of the most egregious examples of politicization of a service which is wasteful and unable to adapt is mail delivery. The United States Postal Service employs an astounding 685,000 people and enjoys a legal monopoly over first class mail. Ted DeHaven from the Cato Institute writes, “The USPS is in deep financial trouble as a result of declining mail volume, bloated operating expenses, a costly and inflexible unionized workforce, and constant congressional meddling.” Due to these issues, the USPS has proposed ending Saturday delivery and closing locations. As technology continues to lower the total volume of mail the agency will only continue to post losses adding onto their $41 billion loss since 2006.
The solution is not ending Saturday delivery or closing locations, it’s allowing government to compete with entrepreneurs. New Zealand, Germany, Belgium, Britain, Finland, the Netherlands, Sweden, Malta, and Japan have all utilized full or partial privatization efforts for their mail delivery. Congress has vetoed potential changes to the structure of the agency and fight against privatization. It is time to bring America’s postal services with privatization, competition, and innovation.
Another unwarranted example of politicization is the ownership of more than 600 million acres of land in the western US. The Federal government, through the Department of the Interior, oversees about 28% of all US land valued at $919 billion. At a minimum, the Federal government could sell this land to the individual states which will lead to better, more localized management and use. At a maximum, the land could be sold to private organizations, non-profit conservation trusts, and other environmental organizations that are funded handsomely and supported by thousands of volunteers. Property should be managed locally, not by bureaucrats. The US should de-politicize these lands to help pay down the national debt and to give control to local states, conservation trusts, and environmental organizations.
Finally, the American air-traffic control system must be depoliticized for it to enter into the 21st century in regards to technology and efficiency. The Government Accountability Office considers the Federal Aviation Administration a “high-risk” agency for wasteful spending. Air-traffic is an example of unacceptable government failure that shouldn’t be subject to political infighting. The chaotic federal budget, overseen by irresponsible politicians, has no rule in business management. Congress has shown that budget shutdowns lead to furloughed air-traffic control officials and worsened airport congestion.
A recent report by the Hudson Institute found that the agency is mired in old technology and struggling to advance. Since the Federal Aviation Administration handles more than fifty million takeoffs and landings per year, it is time for the US to privatize its outdated air traffic control system. Entrepreneurs would manage the system better than bureaucrats directed by political officials. Canada privatized their air-traffic control in 1996 and their system, Nav Canada, is not subsidized but instead supported through user revenues. There is no reason why we should not follow in their footsteps and do the same.
The US is accepting mediocrity when state-run monopolies are sheltered from market competition. Politicizing an agency opens it up to the whims of political pressures and backroom deals, the selfishness of politicians aiming to get re-elected, the bureaucratization of huge federal government programs, and the thin-skin of politicians that can be captured easily by special interest groups. Those who resist privatization must present a case for why politicizing these agencies bodes well for the American public. These three agencies showcase reasons why government control wastes and mismanages finances while serving a mediocre product. It is time to privatize and de-politicize.
Matthew La Corte is a Young Voices Advocate studying political science and economics at Hofstra University in New York. Originally from Woodland Park, New Jersey, Matt has been published in the Passaic Valley Today and The Record.