Posts tagged ‘Great Northern’

Biden on Government

From the New York Daily News, quoting VP Biden: (via Maggies Farm)

Every single great idea that has marked the 21st century, the 20th century and the 19th century has required government vision and government incentive

Wow, its hard to believe that even a hard core statist believes this in the face of historical evidence, but there it is.  The example  (and remember even a single correct example does not support the word "every") is an interesting one:

"In the middle of the Civil War you had a guy named Lincoln paying people $16,000 for every 40 miles of track they laid across the continental United States. "¦ No private enterprise would have done that for another 35 years."

I am actually stunned that he is historically literate enough to get the second part of this right, that there was in fact a single transcontinental railroad, James J Hill's Great Northern, that completed its line without government subsidies or land grants.  He even gets the date about right.  A few thoughts:

  • Not mentioned by Biden is the emergence of the entire rest of the US railroad industry, which by 1860 had about 30,000 miles of track, mostly via private initiative.
  • I think the original transcontinental railroad has interesting parallels to the Apollo program -- certainly government action got us into space and a transcontinental railroad faster than private action, but it could be argued that both delayed private initiative in these areas longer than would have occurred without the action.
  • For Lincoln in the Civil War, the transcontinental had as much to do with cementing Union control of California as it did promoting commerce or any other values

Here is my favorite fact -- Every single transcontinental railroad went bankrupt at least once before 1925, except one.  Can you guess which one did not?  Yes, it was the Great Northern, the only one built entirely with private capital.

And the Winning Low Emissions Technology is...

The one the government did not support, plan for, or subsidize.

It increasingly looks like hybrids, particularly newer plug-in hybrids, will be the high MPG, low-emission technology winner in the foreseeable future.  The US and California governments, among others, have subsidized (and at times mandated) pure electric vehicles, hydrogen vehicles, natural gas powered vehicles, and fuel cell powered vehicles.  While some governments have come along with ex-post-facto promotions of hybrids (e.g. ability to use the carpool lane), hybrids have been developed and won in the market entirely without government help and in places like California, effectively in the face of government opposition (because they were stuck on zero emission vehicles, low-emission vehicles were opposed)

Plug in hybrids have many of the advantages of electric vehicles without the range problems.  They use standard gasoline so they avoid the new fuel distribution issues of natural gas and hydrogen.  And fuel cell technology may be great one day but is not there yet.  I was reminded of all this by this article by Stephen Bainbridge on why the EV-1 failed.

Update:  This reminds me of the 19th century transcontinental railroads - UP, SP, NP, GN etc.  Only one of these transcontinentals did not get any federal land grants or government financing -- the Great Northern of James J. Hill -- and not coincidently the GN was the only one not to go bankrupt in the close of the century.