Posts tagged ‘Hill 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.