David Strom

Ever notice how the left’s solution to all the world’s ills is to create a bureaucracy?

The larger the better. The more government employees, the better.

Let’s take the example of providing transportation for people who can’t or don’t drive cars. As we all know, no matter how wealthy we become as a society or even as individuals, there will always be a few people who need help getting around because of economic circumstances, illness, or disability. Or who just plain can’t drive.

The solution that liberals have come up with is stunning in its scope: the building and subsidization of enormous, unwieldy, unproductive, and largely unsatisfying transit systems. If you ever for a moment think you might like government-run health care, take a look at the government-run transportation

system and you will foreswear ever toying with the idea again.

Transit is one of the greatest failure stories in America, on par with the welfare system prior to the reforms of 1996. Even as subsidies have skyrocketed, transit’s share of the transportation market has been steadily diminishing for decades. By any measure, productivity in transit has been declining while the rest of the economy has become much more efficient.

And yet, like welfare before it, transit (government-run transportation) is one of the most cherished programs of the left. If you ever feel the need to be compared to Hitler, Stalin, and Mussolini, suggest the elimination of government-run transportation systems.

Let me give you an example from the area I know and love best: the Twin Cities metropolitan region here in Minnesota. We are blessed to have a regional government, unelected, of course, called the Metropolitan Council. Originally created to efficiently provide sewer and water service to the growing metropolitan area and coordinate planning among the zillion sovereign governments in the area, it has morphed into an unelected government spending over $600 million in tax dollars a year.

Of this, the Metropolitan Council spends over $300 million per year on providing transit services for basically Minneapolis and St Paul (most suburbs have opted out of the MetroTransit system)—and yet transit has a market share hovering around 2% of trips.

To put that in perspective, total State and Federal spending for all roads in Minnesota for the same year was $1.6 billion.

In other words, in order to provide about 2% of the trips for Minneapolis and St Paul—the Metropolitan Council consumed 19% of available money for the entire state. For most of us, that looks like a pretty bad deal, right? Spending more than 10 times as much per trip compared to road funding.

Worse yet, these trips can only take place at the government’s direction. You have to show up where they want you, go where they want to take you, and use it when they want to provide it. If there is a “choice” involved here, it’s almost entirely the bureaucracy’s.

But for a liberal, that’s a pretty good deal indeed.

Why? It’s pretty simple really. If what you are interested in is maximizing the number of government jobs and the number of people dependent upon government, transit spending is pretty darned effective. Compared to road funding, in fact, you wind up with many more government employees per dollar spent, and they are almost all permanent employees with union contracts.

And unlike roads, your clients are almost all under your thumb. While automobile drivers tend to go where they want when they want to, and have innumerable alternatives when you close a road or tunnel, transit riders are almost completely dependent. You can tell them where they can go, when they can do it, and even minor changes in bus routes or times can wreak havoc on countless lives.

And you can do all this while appearing to be as virtuous as an angel—after all, you are providing a service to people who would generally be helpless without it. They will even vote regularly to expand your service in the hope that more money will improve it.

Very few cities in America depend upon transit systems in any real sense, and each of those is characterized by tremendous density caused almost unheard-of in any 20th or 21st Century city. New York, Boston, and San Francisco come to mind. In these few cities transit can be seen as a public utility similar to roads—adding substantially to the vital transportation infrastructure necessary for any modern economy.

But for the vast majority of cities, such as Minneapolis and St. Paul, a government-run transportation system is a ridiculous government-employment scheme. Almost all the benefits of the system accrue to a small number of people, and almost all of those are the providers of the service, not the recipients.

In the real world, this system would get scrapped almost immediately, but in the loony world of liberals this is a huge success story. Understand why, and you understand the liberal mind.

In the liberal world, more government employees per dollar spent means more potential voters per tax dollar collected, because government employees are almost always liberals. They are paid to be, after all. And the more inefficient the system, the more liberals employed. And it is easy enough to get those liberals to support more spending for lousy government services, because it means more money in their pocket.

Best of all, because the service is lousy you can always convince everyone else that the system needs more money in order to provide the service better and to more people.

In the liberal world, inefficiency in government is a good thing. It means more government employees, probably unionized. It means more money going through their hands. It means more and more people under their control. What’s not to like?

Never, ever believe a liberal or moderate when they say that government services could be better if we just reformed the system; the liberal is lying, and the moderate is delusional. Government bureaucracies almost always have interests fundamentally in conflict with the people they supposedly serve. Individuals are almost always better off if they can provide for themselves or go into the competitive market to get a service, rather than depend upon government. Bureaucracies are always better off the more people who depend upon them and lack alternatives.

Getting back to transit: here in the Twin Cities we spend almost $2,500/year per daily transit rider, providing truly lousy service. What if we provided means-tested transportation vouchers to truly needy clients? I’d bet a million dollars that the system would be vastly better than what we have now.

It’ll never happen, of course. Because liberals won’t let it. They like inefficient government because it serves their needs well. That’s why we need to fight them every day and in every way we possibly can.

David Strom

David Strom is the President of the Minnesota Free Market Institute. He hosts a weekly radio show on AM-1280 "The Patriot" in Minneapolis-St. Paul, available on podcast at Townhall.com.

Be the first to read David Strom's column. Sign up today and receive Townhall.com delivered each morning to your inbox.