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Thomas Power and Adam Smith

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  • Simon Norton
    From: Simon Norton In answer to Robert Bartlett and Gabriel Roth, I don t think there is any alternative to a free market approach,
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 30, 2008
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      From: Simon Norton <S.Norton@...>

      In answer to Robert Bartlett and Gabriel Roth, I don't think there is any
      alternative to a free market approach, but there needs to be careful
      consideration of how it is applied.
        
      I regard Adam Smith as a progressive economist, and ideas of the UK organisation
      called the Adam Smith Institute as a perversion of his teachings.
        
      If road pricing was really regarded by the rich as in their interests, I believe
      it would have happened long ago. In some circles of the rich kudos is gained by
      eliminating, as far as possible, one's financial contribution to society. Better
      to sit in a traffic jam than to pay money which can be used to improve transport
      for ordinary people. After all, if their journey is really urgent they can
      always use a private aircraft.
        
      One of the perversions of the free market philosophy is free trade
      fundamentalism. Many economists have recognised that the theory of comparative
      advantage breaks down when capital and labour are both mobile. It is this that
      has pushed many so called "developing" countries into poverty. In addition, and
      more relevant to transport planning, it has undermined efforts to internalise
      external costs, either because of regulations introduced to guard against
      protectionism in disguise, or because of fears that it would lead to an exodus
      of business.
        
      Transport policy needs to be based on two questions:
      1. How much roadspace should be allowed for private motoring ?
      2. How should motoring be regulated to minimise its impact on the environment ?
        
      These questions are not independent, but I believe that any attempt to solve
      transport problems solely through question 2 is doomed to failure. In recent
      months I have several times been told that pedestrians, cyclists and bus users
      must be denied the priorities they need because to provide them would lead to
      gridlock.
        
      My own answer to question 1 is "as little as possible". I have long been arguing
      for a study to establish how much motoring really is essential to the
      functioning of a city. Even before it became apparent that the developed world
      needs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by about 80% to have a hope of keeping
      climate change under control, I hoped that the answer would be low enough to
      make walking, cycling and travelling by bus into really attractive ways of
      getting around -- and to eliminate congestion.
        
      I am not a free market fundamentalist to the point that I believe that that
      answer to 1 can be implemented through the pricing mechanism alone, but neither
      do I believe that we can afford to ignore it.
        
      Let us remember, the cost of congestion isn't just drivers sitting in jams. It's
      the time spent by the people they are supposed to be meeting with waiting for
      them to turn up. It's the time people waste allowing for jams which may or may
      not materialise, whether they are travelling by car or bus. It's the time people
      spend waiting for the next bus or train having missed the one they are aiming
      for. And it's the time pedestrians, cyclists and bus users spend waiting for
      gaps in the traffic.
        
      If it is at all possible to run a city without congestion, let's adapt one of
      our existing cities (or build a new one) in this way, and when people flock to
      it in search of a better life let's adapt and build more of them to meet demand.
      That's the free market, isn't it ?
        
      Finally, Gabriel is right to say that so called "market pricing" can be a cover
      for legalised extortion. In the UK peak pricing of rail travel, which also
      affects trains that run at peak times but are practically empty (e.g. because
      they are running against the direction of flow), is a case in point. If public
      transport users have to put up with extortion, why should motorists be spared ?
        
        Simon Norton

       

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