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Noam Chomsky on Mass Transportation

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Noam Chomsky on Mass Transportation
Posted by John WR on Friday, April 18, 2014 8:45 PM

Recently I came across a statement by Noam Chomsky about mass transportation.   I have never thought about the problem of mass transportation as inhering in our free market system as Chomsky suggests it does.   He give the issue a new perspective.   And because I have never seen his perspective before I thought it might be something to consider.   So here it is.  

(Please don't expect me to take a strong personal position on the statement one way or the other.   It is almost as new to me as it will be to you and I think it requires more background than I have).

"Take mass transportation. Going back to markets - if you take an economics course, they tell you markets offer choices. That's partly true, but very narrowly. Markets restrict choices, sharply restrict choices. Mass transportation is an example. Mass transportation is not a choice offered on the market. If I want to go home today, the market does offer me a choice between a Ford and a Toyota, but not between a car and a subway. That's just not one of the choices available in market systems, and this is not a small point. Choices that involve common effort and solidarity and mutual support and concern for others - those are out of the market system. The market system is based on maximization of individual consumption, and that is highly destructive in itself. It's destructive even for the human beings involved - it turns them into sociopathic individuals. But it also means that the kinds of things that areneeded for survival are out of the market system - like mass-transportation. That's the form of economic growth that could help preserve the hopes for survival. I don't think that it was at all unrealistic for that to have been done; there was nothing utopian about that."

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Posted by Overmod on Saturday, April 19, 2014 9:46 AM

Fascinating when linguistic philosophers dive into economics.  People might even start to believe them.  I do have to admit that even for Marxists, a claim that market economics breeds widespread sociopathic behavior might read a bit strong.  As is the idea that mass transportation is essential for society's survival.

Nowhere does Noam mention that almost every mass-transportation system started out as a market-driven enterprise, at least conceptually -- and that if such a system has 'failed to thrive' in a market-based economy, it's a pretty strong indication that society does not consider it "essential enough" to support directly.  (Rather than through big-government subsidy, etc. etc. etc.)

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Posted by John WR on Saturday, April 19, 2014 10:22 AM

Thanks for your thoughts, Overmod.  I, too, was struck by the "sociopathic" comment.   A few years ago while walking across a busy street in Newark, NJ, going with the walk signal and in the crosswalk, I was hit by a car and suffered a traumatic brain injury so that influences my thinking on the sociopathic issue.   But I suppose and I certainly hope you and others have not had the same experience.    

As far as a market based economy is concerned, the issue had been discussed at length on this forum.   In the US transportation is a combination of government investment and free market economies.   Chomsky is free to buy a Ford or Toyota only because Federal, state and local governments have a policy of providing free roads.   I can only wonder if he has bus service to his home.

John

PS.  Chomsky teaches at MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  So if he cannot ride a subway home that is because he chooses to live too far from a subway line.    

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Posted by daveklepper on Saturday, April 19, 2014 2:47 PM

1.   Chomsky's expertise is linguistics, not transportation.

2.   The fact the mass transportation is tax supported and cannot sustain itself from the farebox alone, is no proof that it is not essential (granted, only in certain areas, by no means all areas where it is provided).  Lots of things considered essential in Western Civilization don't earn their keep moneywise, like hospitals, schools, and highways, where user fees and gas taxes are not sufficient these days in most states.

3.   If one has a car, or can buy a car, the the car is certainly a competitor of whatever local pulbic transportation exists, and to say it isn't is putting a stretch on linguistics.

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Posted by Firelock76 on Saturday, April 19, 2014 3:54 PM

I wasn't going to say anything, but...

Before Mr. Chomsky condemns this market-driven capitalist society he lives in he should think twice, three times, and then not do it.  Few other societies in the world would provide a linguistics teacher a cushy job at probably a six-figure salary at an institution where I imagine very few go to study linguistics.  I don't know about you but linguistics isn't the first thing that pops into my mind when I think of MIT.

That's assuming he teaches the course at all and doesn't push off the grunt work to graduate students.

Accordingly I pay very little attention to anything Mr. Chomsky has to say about anything. 

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Posted by wanswheel on Saturday, April 19, 2014 5:44 PM

Chompsky vs. Buckley on Firing Line, April 3, 1969

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0k9aTeoDBxw&list=RD0k9aTeoDBxw

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Posted by daveklepper on Sunday, April 20, 2014 2:43 AM

All capitalist-economy countries have some portion of the economy basically socialist, like the US Post  Office,, but that does not mean that capitalism is a failure and socialism a success.   Also all capitalist-economy countries have certain restraints on unimpeded selfishness, such as a minimum wage law and maximum hours of work per day, etc.   But, again, that is not an argument for socialism.

Chomsky is somewhat controversial in linguistics.   But since MIT taught me music theory as well as engineering, I have to trust their judgement in paying Chomsky his salary as a linguistics teacher.

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Posted by Phoebe Vet on Sunday, April 20, 2014 11:51 AM

People who deal in absolutes are generally wrong.  In this example: Free Market=good, government supported=bad.

Capitalists are not interested in anything unless a substantial profit can be extracted from the enterprise.  If there are many sources for the goods or services, then competition keeps the price under control.  When few or even one source is available then the vendor becomes predatory and the consumer of the product suffers.

How profitable do you suppose it would be to have 6 or 7 bus or light rail companies serving the same routes?  If there was a single vendor, no one would be able to afford the fare.  The only two possible solutions are government regulation or government operation.

The larger a city gets, the more it absolutely NEEDS mass transit.  You just cannot build enough traffic lanes or enough parking spaces.  Capitalists are, by their very nature, greedy and predatory.  Are your parking spaces privately owned in your city?  How much does it cost to park?  Do they raise the price when a special event is going on?  I know they do in Charlotte.  If there is a convention in town, do the hotels raise their rates and require multiple day minimums?  They do in Charlotte.  The buses and light rail, on the other hand, operated by a government agency, put on extra cars and increase frequency during those events, but the rates remain the same.

One of the reasons that medical costs are skyrocketing is that giant corporations are buying up hospitals and medical practices and consolidating the market.  After your doctor's practice gets absorbed by the local giant hospital, notice how much the rates go up and notice the new luxurious offices and increased staff.

Less competition means higher prices.

Dave

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Posted by blue streak 1 on Sunday, April 20, 2014 1:01 PM

IMHO there are two broad categories of items that have made capitalism work in the U and Canada.  one is communication and the other is transportation. 

1.  Communication

a.   Communication was started by Ben Franklin with the first postal system  --  government supported. To support the postal system a system of post  ( postal ) roads were built.

b.  The Telegraph first important use was the civil war. -  some GOV

c.  The pony express from St. Joe to Sacramento speeded up the stage coach mail very much --  GOV ?

d.  Supported RRs enabled much faster movement of paper work both public and private. 

e. Telegraph then expanded nation wide --  PVT when GOV show the reasons.  bye - bye pony express

f.  Telephone  an add on to telegraph mainly private but GOV supported where not economically feasible. especially rural.  Now business could communicate instantly

g.  Coaxial cable and then microwave allowed lower telephone rates enabling more calls. Later satellites enabled overseas communication 

g.  FED EX then started as a document carrier that allowed contracts and legal papers to be transported much faster than the mail.

h.  Fiber cable ( GOV research  pushed ) now allows internet and more importantly instant transfer of plans and documents. The importance of satellites has changed.   So FED EX becomes and package and freight.     

2.  Transportation.  --  All about moving goods and people

a.  Ships started out as the only way to move items from US port to port. 

b.  Long boats and barges soon followed on those rivers that could be used but many time portage would be in place around non navigation areas.

c.  Soon canals and locks enabled passage round blockage and mountains.

d. In parallel to b and c the post roads started out the roads carrying freight by wagon trains and stage coaches came in being.  The transcontinental RR soon followed speeding up passengers and goods and services. + improved communications.

e.  Finally the airplane for high priority passengers and freight and mail.

3.  All of this post points to the necessity of mass transportation and communiction that will return many dollars for $1.00 in investment.  The above allows the economy to grow.

 

  

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Posted by Paul of Covington on Sunday, April 20, 2014 3:09 PM

Phoebe Vet

People who deal in absolutes are generally wrong.  In this example: Free Market=good, government supported=bad.

   Amen.   I deleted the rest of my comments to avoid stirring up political unrest.

_____________ 

  "A stranger's just a friend you ain't met yet." --- Dave Gardner

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Posted by John WR on Sunday, April 20, 2014 6:58 PM

Dave,

I agree with point 2, that many essential things in the society do not make a profit.   And of course as a society we do have mass transit.   The issue is how much of it should we have which means how much should we a s society contribute to it.   Anyone who reads my posts knows I would like to see more but of course my opinion is not the only one.   

However, if the only ones allowed to have opinions were transportation professionals this forum would be a lot shorter.   

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Posted by John WR on Sunday, April 20, 2014 7:02 PM

Firelock76
Accordingly I pay very little attention to anything Mr. Chomsky has to say about anything. 

Wayne,  

While I do think Noam Chomsky has a right to his opinion I think you have an equal right to ignore it.    

John

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Posted by Firelock76 on Sunday, April 20, 2014 7:05 PM

Ignore it I do John, ignore it I do.  He's not worth the agita.

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Posted by John WR on Sunday, April 20, 2014 7:17 PM

Fred,  

I listened to Chomsky on Firing Line but I head nothing about transportation.   Did I miss something?

John

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Posted by John WR on Sunday, April 20, 2014 7:27 PM

Phoebe Vet,  

I don't think Coomsky deals in absolutes.   What he does say is that free markets restrict choices.   And referring to transportation he says in America the market restricts its offerings to transportation that can make a profit; therefore it does not provide public transportation.   

If I were trying to rebut him I would point out that here in America we do have public transpiration.   It may not be ideal but then no human effort is ever ideal.   But the fact of the matter is that we have it and it is quite possible to choose to use it.  All of my working life I used public transportation to go to and from work so I know that it is available.   

John

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Posted by John WR on Sunday, April 20, 2014 7:33 PM

Blue Steak,   

I certainly agree with your proposition about the importance of transportation and communication to the importance of economic growth in the US and Canada.   I would only add one more item:  Electronic communications.   

John

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Posted by John WR on Sunday, April 20, 2014 7:39 PM

Wayne,   

I must be the world's luckiest guy to have you as a friend.   No matter how stubborn and pig headed I am you are right there grabbing me us and setting me straight.   

John

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Posted by daveklepper on Monday, April 21, 2014 3:01 PM

John, I think in this instance Chomsky's heart may be in the right place, but his definitions don't make sense to me for the reasns I stated.  There are people who are not transportation proffessionals but who still have had a deep interest in public transportation.  As an MIT Grad I have had some correspondance with Chomsky on various matters.  I did not get the impression that transportation was ever one of his chief concerns.  Again, on some very serious matters, Chomsky and i have serious disagreements, but in this case his heart may be in the right place, until he generalizes to include the total economy and not just North American public transportation.

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Posted by Firelock76 on Monday, April 21, 2014 6:34 PM

John WR

Wayne,   

I must be the world's luckiest guy to have you as a friend.   No matter how stubborn and pig headed I am you are right there grabbing me us and setting me straight.   

John

Hi John!

Who, ME? 

Actually, maybe I'm just a little jealous of Mr. Chomsky.  It must be nice to be able to waltz through life with a copy of "Roget's Thesaurus" in one hand and a copy of "Das Kapital" in the other!

Wayne

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Posted by wanswheel on Tuesday, April 22, 2014 4:04 AM

John WR

Fred,  

I listened to Chomsky on Firing Line but I head nothing about transportation.   Did I miss something?

John

John, the Firing Line video about Vietnam was to give an idea of the longevity of Chompsky’s celebrity status. It was interesting to hear Jeff Greenfield ask him (in part 6, link below) if it would be ok to blow up a troop train. First he said yes, then no. 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SE8WOg6F3fQ&list=RD0k9aTeoDBxw

Mike

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Posted by wjstix on Tuesday, April 29, 2014 11:04 AM

If I remember the psychology classes I took years ago, a "sociopath" is someone who basically is extremely selfish - that is, the joy or suffering of others is irrelevant to him as long as he gets what he wants or needs. Stealing money from a charity is no problem for them; the fact that the money would have helped widows, orphans, or disabled people is irrelevant to them.

What Chomsky is saying is that if we make every decision based just on 'the market', we end up putting a dollar value on everything, and we in effect become selfish - "sociopaths" - because people will tend to only want to pay for things that benefit them directly. If I have kids in public school, I'm more likely to vote in favor of raising taxes to support public education. If I don't have kids, or my kids are grown, I'm more likely to vote against raising taxes to support public education - even though good public schools benefit society as a whole.

Similarly, if I can afford to own and operate a car, I'm less likely to support mass transportation related taxes, even if it means people who can't afford a car may have less opportunity to work and support themselves (because they can't get to a job not within walking distance) and therefore collect welfare or unemployment, or turn to crime...all of which has a negative effect on society.

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Posted by flare40x on Tuesday, April 29, 2014 11:32 AM

Chomsky is correct.  There are LOTS of things the market doesn't do well - mass transportation being only one of them.  Consider health care.  In America, health care continues to be rationed on the basis of wealth.  People who cannot afford doctors, hospitals or pharmaceuticals - well, they can just be sick or die.  Result?  Huge productivity losses, inestimable losses of human potential and mass murders (don't forget MENTAL health care).  When did the market ever do a good job of national defence?  Police work?  Fire protection?  Mass education?  These and many other fields are left to the public sector because private capital simply can't make a profit on them, not because they aren't necessary.  But many Americans are determined to deny the social necessity of public transportation because they don't want their taxes to increase.  It's very, very simple.      

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Posted by narig01 on Friday, May 2, 2014 4:59 PM
All things in moderation.
In the early renaissance many of the Italian (Bologna, Venice, and others) trade houses had private armies and navies to protect their goods. These forces were also used to "settle" trade disputes. The only other problem was the mercenary forces could and were bribed on occasion leaving the victim defenseless.
Flip aide what happens when a government force no longer believes in its government. On car ownership what happens when you don't have a "public "road to drive on? Or do you pay for the road all the way to your front door?
As to railroads, because of the need to have long continuous right of way having the ability to legally force thru a given area meant that they would have to have government support. Unless you want railroads having to use the Wyatt Warps and Doc Holliday s of the old west. IE he who has the biggest and badest guns prevails. Or is that what happened.

Mostly I think there has to be a middle ground between government and business.

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Posted by Firelock76 on Friday, May 2, 2014 6:52 PM

Well, I thought I'd said everything I cared to on this subject, but...

Certainly there are things government has to do that can't be expected from the private sector, that's part of the responsibilities inherent in governments to begin with, either local, state, or federal.  Most people realize this and also realize the need for taxation to pay for it all.

Where the government services are delivered efficiently you usually don't hear too much squawking about taxes.  Here in Virginia government is pretty well run for the most part so you don't hear anything about tax revolts.  The TEA Party's active here but their ire is directed at the federal government, not the local and state.

However, if the government services are sloppy and inefficient, if the schools are under-performing, law enforcement is inept, the criminal justice system is incompetant, the roads are lousy, and taxes keep going up and up and people see no return for their money other than a bigger parasitic bureaucracy, well then like every other consumer they're going to yell long and loud about getting their money's worth or vote with their feet and leave.  It's happening as we speak, with people and businesses abandoning the overtaxed and bureaucratized North and Northeast for the Sun Belt.

The late Mike Royko, the Chicago journalist, summed it up best when he described the secret of success of the old Daley political machine.  I quote:  Deliver the services the taxpayers expect of you, police, fire, garbage collection, good roads, and everything else, and deliver it in the best and most efficient manner possible, and the voters will let you get away with anything!

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Posted by daveklepper on Saturday, May 3, 2014 3:26 PM

Flare has suggested that health care be destributed on the basis purely of need, with the ability to pay not considered.  Up to a point, that seems just.  But is it realliy?   Should a person who has worked hard all his or her life, paid for insurance, and now has a terminal illness, be deprived of a private room and care to insure complete absence of pain, in order to insure that a vagrant who has llived off charity for all his life has comparible care to what the hard worker obtains?  And if you start with healthcare, why not food and housing and clothing as well?   Then what incentive is there to start a business, perfect and market a new idea, and perform better on one's job?

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Posted by Phoebe Vet on Sunday, May 4, 2014 9:27 AM

daveklepper

Flare has suggested that health care be destributed on the basis purely of need, with the ability to pay not considered.  Up to a point, that seems just.  But is it realliy?   Should a person who has worked hard all his or her life, paid for insurance, and now has a terminal illness, be deprived of a private room and care to insure complete absence of pain, in order to insure that a vagrant who has llived off charity for all his life has comparible care to what the hard worker obtains?  And if you start with healthcare, why not food and housing and clothing as well?   Then what incentive is there to start a business, perfect and market a new idea, and perform better on one's job?

Let's look at the flip side of that coin.  Is it fair that a  person who had cancer as a child and is, therefor, now uninsurable to have to file bankruptcy when the next major medical problem or injury hits so that you can have a private room?

You are ignoring the fact that we, in the USA, have the most expensive health care delivery system in the world and a for profit health insurance industry that doesn't want to insure people who are a risk to make frequent large claims.  Bankruptcies resulting from unpaid medical bills will affect nearly 2 million people this year—making health care the No. 1 cause of such filings.

Pure, unregulated, capitalism is commerce without conscience.  Pure socialism lacks incentive and causes stagnation.  What we need is capitalism with regulations to prevent the businesses from destroying the world we live in for profit or from victimizing the work force and the consumer.

Dave

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Posted by schlimm on Sunday, May 4, 2014 10:14 AM

Market capitalism works well for some sectors of the economy but it has not performed at all well in healthcare.  That reliance has given us the most expensive healthcare system in the world with only middling performance as measured by many factors.  Rather than adopt the totally single payer model, we should examine the models used in some European nations, which are hybrids, with a two-tier plan.   For a higher premium, one can opt out of the state plan and get a few perks.  All doctors must participate with both state and private plans.   Very few people choose to opt out, BTW.

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Posted by daveklepper on Sunday, May 4, 2014 10:29 AM

First, the USA has been blessed with fine charitable organizations which did fill in the gaps for people who had enough humility to use them.   Second, two major reforms would have solved many problems before Obamacare, and I believe one is still necessary.   (1)  Iinsurance companies, specifically health insurance, should operate USA wide and not be confined to individual states.  The broader base the client base is, the more effiicient is the insurance and the lower the cost.   Also there would be more competition.   (2) When an employee leaves a company that provided health insurance, whatever the reason, he or she should have been able to contine the same insurance by paying the same fees that the employer had paid, with insurance continuing without interruption indefinitely or until alternative employment is found with its insurance program.  This would have solved a lot of problems for many people and lowered costs.

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Posted by schlimm on Sunday, May 4, 2014 10:36 AM

I notice the type of plan I mentioned is similar to what your adopted country, Israel uses: four mandated universal HMOs with private insurance for more options.  And it works: ranked #4 in efficiency.

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Posted by Phoebe Vet on Sunday, May 4, 2014 11:30 AM

My insurance company, that is located in NY, must not be aware that they are not allowed to operate in NC.

What you REALLY mean is that individual states shouldn't be allowed to regulate sales by big national companies.

I'm really fond of the statement about having the humility to beg some unnamed charities to help out.

I know someone personally who lost her 100K job when the company she worked for suddenly folded.  During the 2 years she searched for a new job, she developed a medical problem that nearly killed her because she couldn't afford to go to her doctor without the insurance she lost.  It went undiagnosed until her daughter forced her to go to the emergency room.

Health insurance should not be a for profit enterprise.  Every time I hear someone spout that false claim that a government bureaucrat will be standing between you and your doctor, I always ask if you need permission from your for profit insurance company to take some drugs or for some tests.  THAT is who has been, and will continue to be between you and your doctor.

Dave

Lackawanna Route of the Phoebe Snow

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