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Part 1: Mark Baumer Reflection: Impounding Vehicles & Immigrant Rights

This is part of a multi-part reflection I've been doing following the death of my friend, Mark Baumer . There's nothing graphic i...

Refining the Conversation About Socialism/Capitalism

Even the image chosen to represent highways says it all,
without meaning to: Look at how overbuilt this exchange is!
Seen: Progressives actually arguing that highways are the same as public schools or social security.

We need to refine our discussion about socialism and capitalism. Things we get as a commons and things we get by paying for them are not opposites, but compliments. They support one another and make one another possible.

One should always pick on the people closest to you in politics (or at least that's how I roll). Political conversations are most useful when they help to refine an idea from within a community that largely agrees on the basics.

The best socialized systems still use prices to manage part of what they do, because to completely abandon the idea of pricing would be totally impractical. As a frequently fined person at the library, I don't resent having to pay for turning my books in late, because without a charge for my over-use of library books, my lateness (I know!) would get worse. I can recognize that there's a socialist aspect of libraries (socialized books) as well as a capitalist one (we can't subsidize irresponsibility, James!). 


A healthcare system might make visits to the doctor free, but incentivize pay to doctors based on the results of their treatments. Fee-for-service--where doctors are paid not for the health they bring about in their patients but instead for each action they take, no matter how ineffective--is one of the things single-payer advocates often suggest changing about American healthcare in order to make it more spry and cost-effective (Ironically, the ministry of health is in charge of many long-distance bike paths in the Netherlands, because the government sees a savings for every mile of bike path put in, just to bring us back to transportation again). The principle that you should get healthcare no matter how rich or poor you are (socialism) is thus balanced with the concept that there have to be price checks on the system to make sure it survives into the next day (capitalism). Another example would be competitive pricing of medications: in the U.S. we pay a lot more for medications simply because of protectionism legislated by American companies. Wanting competition is a capitalist principle, but combining that with universal healthcare is a balanced mixed-economy approach to taking care of the sick.

How Can RI Address It's Overgrown Highway System: Let's Start by Removing the 6/10 Connector and Replacing It with a Boulevard

A Detroit neighborhood before urban renewal, early 1950s.
It's hard to know why progressives use highways as an example of effective government action. Perhaps it's because the vast majority of us use the highway system at some point in our lives. Perhaps it's because progressives outside of the transportation realm haven't thought clearly about what's wrong with the transportation system. Maybe it's an example of reaching out across party lines (Do we perceive that conservatives like roads, and choose them as an example for that reason?). 

This is what public investment brought to that Detroit
neighborhood: not because investment is bad, but because
it was doled out in a way that made no sense.
I can't think of a government program that has been more representative of failure. We spend tremendous sums of money to create overgrown systems which are used heavily only for a tiny portion of the day, during which they don't function because of over-use. Then, during the rest of the day, the hugely overgrown jungle of concrete is barely used at all. We tear down some of our favorite parts of neighborhoods in order to facilitate fast movement through them. We create ghettos around the highway where people who can't afford a better living place get warehoused. Often times the healthy neighborhoods that proceeded the highway were where to ghetto dwellers lived before being forcefully removed  We fail to think about maintenance, and allow our investments to deteriorate, while at the same time expanding them into the horizon elsewhere (more money is put into highway growth in America than highway maintenance). In urban areas, especially, the highway system fails as a capitalist-socialist hybrid because it undermines the profit-creating communities that might create wealth enough to support a common provision of roads. What could be a more dystopian example of government overreach? Our highways are run like sclerotic Soviet collectivism gone wrong.  

Communities across the county have time and again met across party and ideology to support socialized books (libraries) and socialized schools (public schools), but never agreed to the highway system we have today. In the 1950s, the federal government set out to create a highway system run off of gas taxes, to assure that the user would pay for the cost of the service s/he consumed. Our highway system has become overgrown, so that costs are too high, and our gas taxes have been allowed to fall to the point that they don't pay for anything anymore. We wandered into a socialist highway system aimlessly, without intending to. It's not working. Let's stop making posters telling people they should support this failure of a system.

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