Opinion Editorial

By Dennis Polhill

The failed monorail proposal contained interesting aspects, one of them being the absurdity of its discussion as a viable proposal.  Voters wisely recognized the dubious and speculative nature of the exaggerated technological and economic claims.  Even if the monorail could have worked at any price, then how would this massive capital outlay ever do anything to address traffic congestion?  To succeed, the monorail would have to absorb all future as well as some of the pre-existing trip demand.  When expectations transcend the unlikely and range to the impossible, advocates engage in delusional fantasy.

The November 2001 election was friendly to most ballot measures across the nation.  Odd-year elections typically do not address many issues.  Nationwide there were four statewide initiatives and 29 referred measures in five states.  Thirty-one of the 33 passed.  The only other item to fail was a referred measure that would have allowed Washington state funds to be invested in the stock market.  It received eight percent more yes votes than did the monorail.  The Colorado monorail might arguably have been the 2001 elections stupidest idea in America.

Die-hard supporters hold firm in their view of monorails viability.  If its viable, they should not be deprived of the opportunity to profit by offering this service in the free market.  The fact that advocates opted for the awkward, slow, inefficient and maddening politics of a government-sponsored project suggests that they do not truly believe its viability.

Non-viable projects require the coercive force of government to extract support from unwilling taxpayers.  Therefore, all capital-intensive proposals brought for a vote should be suspect.  The current orgy of collectivist coercion threatens the very foundation of self-government, free markets and freedom.  Well intended, but unenlightened, zealots seek to impose their view of a better life upon all.  Provided privately, the monorail would empower every individual to choose whether its benefits were worth the outlay.  This is how good decisions are made: at the grocery store; when going to dinner, plays or movies; in buying cars, houses or vacations.  Choice is the American way.

Yet there is no shortage of ideas unabashedly requiring coercive imposition: sports stadiums, convention centers, light rail, T-REX, and monorail.  The reasoning is always the same.  The huge cost is small if imposed on large numbers of people.  The first bite of the monorail apple would cost each person in Colorado only $19.  Its assumed that people will not perceive the next bite, which is to be 80 times bigger.  Instead of doing its critical tasks well, government is intruding into all forms of activities, subverting rather than augmenting markets.

James Buchanan earned the 1986 Nobel Prize in Economics for the development of Public Choice Theory.  The theory asserts that the behavior of political actors is predictable on economic grounds.  That is, special interests succeed most when benefits are concentrated and costs are distributed widely. After being defunded by statewide vote of the people in 1993, the Colorado Tourism Board was refunded in 1999 by the state legislature.  Legislators are effectively powerless when confronted with enormous pro-spend testimony and minimal anti-spend testimony.  It is not economically rational for citizens to incur the time, expense and hassle to testify against special-interest legislation when their individual cost is small.

An Independence Institute Issue Paper by Dr. Barry Fagin, “Who Testifies and Why <http://independenceinstitute.org/Publications/IP/PoliticsandGovernment/WhoTestifiesAndWhy.htm> discovered that before the Colorado Senate Finance Committee chances are 96% that a witness is a beneficiary.  Another study finds that before the U.S. Congress, witnesses favor more spending 145 to 1 and senior legislators are more inclined to support special interests.

Because parasitic interest groups prefer a more favorable audience, the ballot is their instrument of last resort.  Indeed, monorail advocates were rejected by the legislature prior to their decision to go to the ballot.

Spending money frivolously is a right each individual enjoys.  There are as many ways to do it as there are personalities.  People work hard and save in order to maximize this right.  Its exercise relieves stress and enriches.  Intellect and individualism become more pronounced.  Outlays offer new business opportunities and elevate the wealth of other individuals.

But extended to the collective, frivolous expenditure is not a right.  It is collectivist tyranny.  To the minority being imposed upon, the fact that the frivolous spending decision was made by either 51 or 99 percent is cold comfort.  To preserve freedom and choice, Americans must learn that many government transportation proposals are boondoggles that consume more resources than they create.

Under the collectivist abuse model, each free person is impoverished ever so slightly each time a non-viable activity is funded.  It is the torturous death by one thousand cuts.  All Americans owe it to themselves and to their grandchildren to give deep and serious consideration to the implications of offering support to collectivist endeavors.

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Copyright 2001, Independence Institute

INDEPENDENCE INSTITUTE is a non-profit, non-partisan Colorado think tank. It is governed by a statewide board of trustees and holds a 501(c)(3) tax exemption from the IRS. Its public policy research focuses on economic growth, education reform, local government effectiveness, and Constitutional rights.

JON CALDARA is President of the Institute.

DENNIS POLHILL is a Senior Fellow with the Independence Institute.

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