Saturday, December 11, 2010

American Denovation

"Denovation" - that's my catchy title for what the U.S. is engaged in right now. Our policy has become worse than the status quo, because we are actively engaged in setting back progress. Yes, we are in a terrible economic situation - but we'd rather butter everyone up by continuing a healthy tax cut than make meaningful policy decisions. We should find money by eliminating waste, scaling back entitlements and reforming tax policies that promote gaming the system. The last thing we need is disinvestment in our futures.

Case in point #1: New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's single-handed defeat of years of planning for the "ARC Tunnel", which would have doubled train access from New Jersey and points south and west to Penn Station in Manhattan. Christie's initial point was noble - the Feds needed to prevent this project from becoming another eternal, bloated boondoggle, the bill for which would be on New Jersey's tab. He could have turned this into an example of holding the federal government accountable (gasp) for its numbers, but instead, he engaged in political grandstand and rejected the project altogether. What could be worse for the future growth of a region dependent upon transit?

Denovation goes further - we all hate paying a lot for gas, but higher gas prices help stimulate efficiency, from the design of vehicles all the way down to simple daily habits like trip chaining. Where is our federal government on this issue? The federal excise tax on gas, as it's called, has been virtually stuck at 18.4 cents per gallon since, wait for it, October 1993. This is despite the fact that, during that 17+ year span, the Consumer Price Index is up about 45-50%. Even if we raised the tax to 27.6 cents today, we would effectively have the same gas tax as we did in 1993.

There is no better evidence of our denovation than the world outside us. While we fret about investing in new infrastructure, China's trains are breaking records left and right and they plan to have over 8000 miles of track on the ground by 2012. Our other neighbors in Europe are coming up with ingenious ways to harness energy, while here, innovation in renewable energy is consistently on the chopping block.

What gives? Is it our representatives who are more concerned with getting reelected than with making the hard decisions we need? Is it cronyism and the almighty dollar that put corporate lobbyists and special interest groups ahead of the good of the nation? Are we too proud to look outside our borders for solutions? Do we all really love our cars to death?

1 comment:

  1. Good points! Yes, fiscal responsibility is very important, but so are the decisions which can improve our country (like changing zoning to make mixed use walkable development easier).