Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Only an academic could believe in central planning

Today's Age has an article quoting a "transport planning" expert from Melbourne Uni, Nick Low, who suggests the Victorian State Government not renew its rail contract with Connex, a private operator. Instead Nick Low suggest that the government should operate the trains.

The Government would be wise to not reappoint Connex to run the suburban railways, and wiser still to bring the whole operation back into public hands," he says.

Let's find out more about who this Nick Low character is from his website:

Professor Nicholas Low received his Master of Science in Urban and Regional Planning from the University of Strathclyde, Scotland, in 1971, where he won the year prize of the Royal Town Planning Institute. He has taught planning theory, urban studies and environmental ethics in the Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning since 1974. He has published many international journal articles and books including Planning, Politics and the State (Unwin-Hyman, 1991). In 1997 he organised the University of Melbourne Conference on Environmental Justice. His book (with Dr Brendan Gleeson) Justice, Society and Nature (Routledge, 1998) won the Harold and Margaret Sprout Award of the International Studies Association of the USA for the year's best book on ecological politics. His book (also with Gleeson) Australian Urban Planning (Allen and Unwin, 2000) was launched by the Victorian Minister for Planning in 2000.

Current Teaching Responsibilities

702-330 Housing Sustainability

705-828 Australian Urban Planning

705-644 Planning Urban Sustainability

This guy has a great pedigree in socialist central planning and environmental fascism.

So on one hand, we have an academic advocating full central planning and state ownership of the entire rail industry. The past decade has not been satisfactory for this socialist, where:
  • having a private operator who bids every few years for a government contract
  • is only responsible for operating and maintenance.
  • operates in a heavily heavily regulated industry, where government specifies how many services are allowed to run, what the timetable must be, the ticketing system and pricing, the ticket inspectors, the development and replacement of trains and platforms etc etc.
  • does not have property rights and ownership over any stations, trains, ticket machines and the rail network
  • does not receive any revenue from patrons through ticket sales
Is not controlled by the "public" (the state) enough ?!

Somehow the problems with the train system, as numerous as they are, are supposed to be due to the evil process of "privatisation", when no such process ever existed and the rail industry was always regulated and owned by the "public" (gov't bureuacrats).

Look at the cost blowouts for refurbishing Spencer Street Station. Look at the cost blowout and 3 year delay for the new Myki ticketing system. Look at the brutal violence inflicted by ticketing inspectors who are given police powers. And we are supposed to give the government MORE control over the industry ?!??!?!

When a private enterprise bids for a government contract granting it monopoly powers, that is not in any way, shape or form, the free market at work. It is nothing less than crony capitalism, where privileges and powers are granted as government favor, and market share and profits are not earnt by a business.

The Age report this guy's opinion as if it were sane. But of course, to give the appearance of "balance", the Age have to interview at least one other person, the corporate affairs manager for Connex:
"The facts are well known that franchised public transport has delivered good value for money and will continue to do so," he said.

Err.. there are a lot of people who would beg to differ with that. But I do like the use of the words "franchised public transport". They reveal the fact that the transport is already in public hands, with a whole lot of strings ( regulations ) attached. And the fact that Connex is granted a short term monopoly over the industry and it doesn't have any incentive to provide customer satisfaction because it doesn't receive any of the ticketing revenue.

And to show how complex and varied all the options available to the state gov't are, The Age mentions:
The Government will soon announce a shortlist of potential bidders for the $600-million-a-year contract to run Melbourne's trains for the next 15 years.

Wow, so The Age is really appearing balanced today, they're presenting 3 totally different opinions and solutions !!
  1. 100% government control of everything as proposed by Nick Low
  2. Keep Connex as a public franchise, the monopoly operator, subject to government control (regulation + ownership)
  3. Offer other operators the chance to take over the public franchise, subject to government control
Does anybody actually suggest real privatisation, the mechanisms of free markets as the solution ? Will somebody tell the state gov't to get out of the rail industry altogether. Not in the pages of The Age.

The different socialists and crony capitalists fight aggressively over the spoils of government power, and the only area they disagree upon is not whether, but only how the government should control society. Occasionally in their disagreements, they accidentally say some things that actually make sense:
In his speech, Professor Low attacks a proposal by Sir Rod Eddington to build a $9 billion road tunnel from Footscray to Clifton Hill.

The road tunnel proposal will only encourage more people to drive into the city instead of taking public transport, he will say today.

If the road tunnel were to be built, it would encourage future freeways through inner parts of Melbourne, to relieve the traffic pressure it would create.

Professor Low also analyses calls from RMIT academic Paul Mees to abandon Sir Rod's proposed $7 billion rail tunnel from Footscray to Caulfield.

The irony is that he opposeses the road tunnel, not because it isn't the role of government to spend billions on fancy vote-buying projects, but because he wants the money for his own projects and his own agenda (public transport).

Another fellow academic central planner gives his opinion:

Dr Mees argues the rail tunnel would be a waste of money because the problem of overcrowding on Melbourne's rail network was due to poor operational practices and too few trains.

Money should instead be spent on suburban rail extensions and doubling the size of Melbourne's train fleet, Dr Mees says, along with several simpler short-term solutions.

These people are all too eager to suggest how money should be spent wisely, but notice how they are talking about how OTHER PEOPLE'S MONEY should be spent, not their own. Should we really believe that these academics who spend their life writing in support of central planning, state ownership and calling for more resources to public transport don't have an agenda.

Central planning is destined to fail repeatedly, will we ever learn ?