Saturday, December 08, 2007

Lenin, Robespierre And Steve Lopez, All Utopians

God protect us from Utopians. They may start out meaning well, but they are tyrants in waiting. Seeking to establish a more perfect order, they almost always end up regimenting and even enslaving humanity.

Lenin meant well at first. His Communist system was going to accept work from everyone according to their abilities, and give out food, rent, health care and the other necessities of life according to their needs. The people who saw differently had to be forced to accept his great system. Millions of them ended up in the Gulag, and after 70 dreadful years, Communism collapsed. In pursuing his Utopian ideals, Lenin even had the Czar and all of his family murdered in a cellar.

Robespierre meant well. To fulfill the Utopian goals of the French Revolution for a perfectly democratic system, he resorted to the guillotine to get rid of a few thousand resisters. He finally ended up on the guillotine himself, and the French soon brought in a more benevolent tyrant, Napoleon Bonaparte. At least, he was not a Utopian.

Who is California's most prominent Utopian today? Who must we all beware of? I think it is Steve Lopez, the L.A. Times columnist, and I'm only half kidding. Lopez is certainly no Lenin or Robespierre. He would never willingly kill anyone. But in advocating congestion pricing and toll roads, Lopez would introduce compulsion to enforce a fundamentally bad idea. He wants to bring about the perfect congestion-free society and that can't be done without a welter of onerous laws and a huge law enforcement bureaucracy.

He is no Lenin, but the results are apt to be grim. When no one can move about, even so much as enter the downtown areas, without paying a toll, the millions of poor or middle-income people won't be able to afford to go anywhere, and California will no longer be the California we know and love. Indeed, the bitterness, the political controversy, the class hatred, such a system would engender would undoubtedly lead Lopez to advocate fines and jail time for those unwilling to comply.

Lopez probably would not agree he is trying to figuratively revive the Gulag and he would never use the guillotine as a punishment for those unwilling to accept his traffic Utopia.

But in the end, the great champion of the Glendale couple fined $300,000 for trimming their trees the wrong way, or the beauty contestant deprived of her prize by a bumbling contest director, would end up nearly as anathema to the public as Lenin or Robespierre. The people would be tearing up newspapers with his picture, just like Russians finally blew up the statues of Lenin.

So what is the answer to traffic, if it is not toll roads or congestion pricing? I think in the long run it is smaller, all-electric cars for traveling in the city, plus good streetcars and bullet trains.

California must start building those systems, no matter what the price. Maybe with a sales tax increase, maybe by an eventual diversion of the billions spent in Iraq to urban transport, maybe by an increased gas tax, but some system that would fall equally on all classes and not penalize the working class so the people with comfortable incomes like Lopez can zip along and leave everybody else in their dust.

"Anyone out there got a spare $130 billion?," asks Lopez, cynically.

The answer is yes, if we start assembling it tomorrow and build the next day.

In the meantime, if Lopez wants to pursue Utopia, let him move his family to Tahiti and spend his time writing a sequel to B.F. Skinner's "Walden Two." That will prevent him from having to use onerous laws against ordinary citizens.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Using a market to efficiently allocate a limited resource is about as far as you can Lenin-Marxism. And it is about as mainstream among economist and transportation planners whose jobs aren't at risk from political backlash as can be.

12/10/2007 9:21 AM  

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