Thursday, October 06, 2005

WHEN YOU'RE A SUBURBANITE, EVERY SOLUTION LOOKS LIKE A SUBURB. The Ole Perfesser tries his hand at transportation policy, and for reasons that should be obvious, it's all about cars and computers. Light rail's a non-starter, sez the Perf, because "the changing U.S. economy makes traditional commuting -- in which armies of workers flock from suburbs to downtowns in the morning, and back home in the evenings -- less significant."

There's a lot of rah-rah for telecommuting here, of the sort seen in the boosterish trade mags the Professor and his conservatarian hordes probably read ("This isn't your grandfather's workplace. We're five years into the new millennium," etc).

But if you live anywhere near a city, folks, tell me: have the highways become significantly less congested at rush hour? The Census Bureau's American Community Survey says that the "home-based" workforce was up 23 percent between 1990 and 2000 -- but that top figure represents only 3.2 million people, and a 10-year increase of less than a million. Between 2000 and 2003, the ACS reports, just another 300,000 workers went home-based.

These are not quite wave-of-the-future stats. And we don't know whether these folks are writing RFPs for big bucks, or making paper flowers at a subsistence wage. Not all home-based workers are "telecommuters."

But if you whole life has been spent in offices, classrooms, and malls, you might think that. Perhaps the Professor also believes that all those uncounted unemployed who have dropped off the unemployment rolls are actually running profitable consultancies somewhere in the Sun Belt.

But where the policy paper takes a genuinely weird turn is here:
Likewise, I think it's worth encouraging shopping from home, too. I order a lot of things from the Web specifically because it saves me the hassle of venturing out into traffic to visit stores, but when I avoid that hassle I avoid burning gas, too. True, the delivery truck burns gas -- but it's delivering to a lot of other homes at the same time it's delivering to mine, so overall it winds up using considerably less per person than if everyone shops individually.
First, given his cold-dead-hands approach to government intervention, it's hard to guess who is supposed to do the "encouraging" here. (Well, rightwing bloggers consider themselves Tribunes of the People, so maybe he thinks their endorsement will be enough to swing it.)

But it's hard to see how sending delivery trucks to consumers, instead of consumers to stores, will significantly decrease traffic -- or significantly achieve anything, really, except to bring reality more into accord with the Perfesser's fantasy. Because when you look at what he proposes, it's a suburbanite's wet dream: cities starved of transportation funding, and suburbs regnant, filled with jobs and coddled with services, their citizens exempt from the necessity of leaving the house even for an instant.

Something I think that's what really the problem with this country: too many of its most influential residents have a positive horror of human contact and physical exercise, and will do whatever they have to do -- to themselves and to the country -- to avoid it.

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