Late Democracy

We hear the term “late capitalism” a lot, but not “late democracy“. Why? Capitalism (the relevant feature of which is markets populated by profit-seeking agents accumulating capital) is much more organic and consistent with the competitive state of nature than democracy, defined by one-person, one-vote.

Late capitalism, recognizing different authors mean different things, implies that, since this is a late-stage of the capitalist economic system, our capitalistic-ish economy will eventually give way to a socialist system of some form, due to capitalism’s internal contradictions. Time will tell.

Late democracy, in contrast, does not warrant a Wikipedia article, yet. The rise of authoritarianism, nationalism, xenophobia, and the like, seem consistent with a rollback of democracy, the end state of which is no real voting system (aside from sham elections) for a majority of adults.

It appears today that the early modern democratic states, like the US and the UK, are doing democracy especially poorly, at least in large part to their early (US) or unwritten (UK) constitutions. While there was a large uptick in democracy following the end of the Cold War, the global situation is now worsening according to Freedom House. The world is still better than it was in 1987, and 1997, but not where it was in 2007.


Late democracy implies that the political system will eventually revert to authoritarian dictatorships (strong-man or monarchical) covering various territories. Democracy has numerous internal contradictions, not the least of which is that a minority of the population can elect leaders in a first-past-the-post system and electoral districts (as per the US Congress and Presidency).

The general problem is the majority of those elected (not a majority of the population) can enshrine their temporary majority by changing the rules in a way to the detriment of freedom. These methods include gerrymandering and disenfranchisement, leaving aside blatant corruption and vote-fixing. While some rules (Constitutions) might require supermajorities, others do not. And as power simply flows from those who others believe hold power, even those supermajoritarian changes can be affected should enough people simply assent to those with power.

Some problems emerging with democracy include

  • Dishonest leadership
  • Poor leadership
  • Rise of  demagogues leading to tyranny
  • Weaponizing loyalty tests (Australia’s Section 44, e.g.)
  • Influence of money (bribery, revolving doors, advertising)
  • Corruption / emoluments
  • Vote stealing
  • Foreign influence/social media

These problems have long been with us, but appear to be getting worse. The mechanisms to fight these dysfunctions are not being deployed effectively.

The figure below shows that at least one rating agency (Freedom House again) believes the US is slipping in its Democratic Standards. While there has been a large downturn with the current administration, the slippage began earlier.

FitW9_820px_United_States_Trajectory-croppedThere are numerous reforms to democratic systems like that in the US to make it more resilient, for instance, Elizabeth Warren’s “plan to strengthen our democracy” is a good start, but I have little expectation those will be implemented, even after she is elected, in the absence of a Democratic supermajority in Congress (despite her goal to eliminate Filibuster), and the last time that happened, (2009) these issues were not seriously raised or addressed (despite the fiasco of the 2000 election, and for that matter, the Al Franken long count in Minnesota). There are reforms to  US-style democracy that could be implemented by establishing federal standards for federal elections with federal funding, without difficult Constitutional reforms:

  • Mandatory voting. Where in-person voting is either a holiday or a weekend, and easy to do before election day, and where everyone is automatically enrolled, rather than having a cumbersome registration process.
  • Compact political districts to avoid gerrymandering.
  • Multi-seat districts to provide more representation for minority opinions, or just elect parties directly.
  • Ranked-choice voting. Maine just adopted it for the Presidential election
  • Publicly-funded elections (though denying people the right to endorse the candidate of their choice seems to me (and the US Supreme Court) to violate free speech), but lack of funding doesn’t seem a problem for the major parties these days. Immediate transparency on paid political speech (tv, radio, social-media ads), even if by third parties. While speech can be anonymous to protect individuals at risk, paid speech by large well-funded organizations should not be.
  • Secure voting machines with a paper trail for auditing.
  • Consistent poll opening and closing times nationally, so announcements of vote tallies don’t affect outcomes.

Reforms that benefit democracy as a whole would have principled support from all those who care about the system producing fair and stable outcomes, more than their particular ranking in it, as well as at least potentially cynical support from the currently-out groups that would benefit from the change. But most politicians care more about their relative position than the fairness or stability of the democratic system.

There are other reforms that do require some Constitutional Amendment:

  • No electoral colleges. The existing system is  imperfect, obviously, with the two Senate seats added to the pool necessary to convince the small states to adopt the new Constitution, but its existence as such is not  the core of the problem, rather it is an implementation wherein the states are all-or-nothing, rather than apportioned by (non-gerrymandered) Congressional District in their electors. I personally would go farther, and make the US more Parliamentary by having the newly-elected House of Representatives constitute the Electoral College (so for at least the first 2 years of the Presidency, the President and House are from the same Party or Coalition, and the Party would have a stronger say in electing the leader), but that is a more radical change.

I don’t believe the downturn in the US is independent of the downturn globally. The inward turn of the US and UK cannot help democrats outside the US. A stronger, more democratic United States whose political leadership cared about Democracy as a value in and of itself, rather than a means to power, would lead to a more democratic world.



Stealing the Presidency: A Scenario

It’s 1973, Spiro Agnew has just resigned as Vice President. Republican President Nixon appoints Gerald Ford as his replacement, but the Democratic Senate and House of Representatives, following the precedent set by future Republican Senate Leader, Mitch McConnell, refuses to hold hearings or consider the nomination, saying the next election is only 3 years away, and the voters should decide. A year later, President Nixon, refusing to resign, is instead impeached by the House and convicted by the Senate for crimes relating to the Watergate break-in. Speaker of the House Carl Albert assumes the role of Acting Presidency. He refuses to pardon Nixon, who serves time in jail. Albert is re-elected in a landslide in 1976.

This didn’t happen of course. But it could have, and something like it could still. It would not necessarily be a bad thing, but it’s not really what the founders envisioned, and surely there is a better way. The US Constitution is in some senses a great document, it has preserved a democrat-ish government for over two centuries, the longest in the world depending on how you count democrat-ish. But it is also deeply flawed in many ways, and it’s in some ways surprising there has only been one civil war given the structural weaknesses. The notion of checks-and-balances is great, until it leads to gridlock, which is fine, until it would actually be useful for the government to do something.

According to the Economist Democracy Index, at least 20 countries are more democratic than the US. Some of them because they have better people, perhaps, who behave in more democratic ways, but mostly because that have better institutions and constitutions that encourage and allow people to behave better.

The US should seriously consider constitutional changes to reform the institutions. There are so many issues (I have some pet solutions in parentheses), a few are listed below:

  • Imperial Presidency. (This is up to Congress and the Courts in large part, but there are Constitutional reforms that can reign it in — see below.).
  • Lack of Independent Attorney General and Treasury. (Like many if not all states, the AG and Treasurer should be independent of the Executive. Each should get more of the cabinet.)
  • Bizarre Electoral College rules (Just make Congress the Electoral College, and eliminate the so-called “popular election” of the President, it would be a huge leap forward toward a Parliamentary-style democracy with a minimal change to the actual Constitution).
  • Unrepresentative Senate. (If it can’t be strictly proportional for political reasons, then each state should still get a minimum of 2, but then each 3.2 million people gets an additional senator, who would still be elected statewide. Essentially this doubles the size, but the new members are all proportional to population.) (Alternatively, each State automatically gets 1 Senator, and 1 more for every 6.4 million people, if the desire to keep the Senate at a more manageable 100 Senators is preferred, or 1 per state + 1 for every 2 states + 1 per 4.8M if we like Dunlop’s Number of 150 Members).
  • Winner-Take-All Seats  (Move to proportional representation for the House of Representatives, there are many models, including multi-member seats)
  • A Duopoly of Parties (Move to ranked choice voting, so third party votes are less wasted)
  • Gerrymandering (Boundaries of districts should aim to be convex and minimize their perimeter.)
  • Voter Suppression (Instead have mandatory voting)
  • Political Gridlock (Reforming the Electoral College at least aligns the President and Congress for the first 2 years of the term. Reducing Impeachment/Conviction requirements to simple majority in each house (respectively) after 2 years might solve the rest. If the Senate and House are held by different parties, it still can’t happen for solely political reasons, and wrongful impeachment of a popular leader could be punished by voters at the next election.)
  • Campaign Finance (All political spending should be accompanied by a full disclosure of the funding source.)

In practice this many reforms could only be achieved with a Constitutional Convention, and everyone is afraid to do that since the first one was so successful at overturning what went before. But really, if it were so bad, the reforms would not be subsequently adopted by three-fourths of the states.

I have steered clear of substantive issues (gun control, abortion, budgets) which should be dealt with politically, and instead focused on process issues which the political system cannot easily self-regulate.

On the Second Amendment and the Right of Revolution

There are several reasons some people in the United States support the private ownership of guns. School shootings and the rest are unfortunate collateral damage of ensuring the principle of individual arms can be readily obtained.

Flintolock musket

The Second Amendment confusingly says

“A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

It is not clear on what arms people can have. Almost everyone agrees people should be allowed to have knives and muskets. Almost everyone also agrees no private nuclear bombs. I like the idea that original intent of the word “arms” means that no weapons invented since 1789 are implicitly constitutionally covered. The current interpretation of the second amendment is a modern one.

In addition to the “well regulated militia” rationale, there are other reasons people might want guns, including:

  • Personal Self-defense
  • Hunting
  • Committing crimes (some of which is self-defense while doing illegal things)
  • Over-throwing a `tyrannical’ government (which also relates in part to self-defense when rebelling against a well-armed opponent, as well as offense against the same opponent). This is also known as the “right of revolution.” It is discussed in this Federalist article.

I believe most gun supporters are, in fact, though most won’t admit it, about the last point. That is, their minds foresee a dystopian outcome when a fascist (or communist, but same thing) comes to power and must be resisted by weapons that have yet to be confiscated by a weak liberal regime.

The Civil War is a morally repugnant example of this kind of resistance, in that case by a south defending slavery; but one can equally imagine a world where a slightly less demographically and economically powerful  north was resisting imposition of slavery  by the southern states.

Or, their mind foresees the US being invaded by a foreign (or alien) army which somehow the military was unable defeat. Having grown up in the 1980s and seeing Red Dawn and V, I have some empathy for that view in principle. In practice, not so much.

Yet, if you are right wing, and believe the previous administration was the illegitimate dystopia that fuels your nightmares, where was your uprising? I missed it. If you are truly anti-fascist, where is your uprising now? You, gun-owners of America, are as well-armed as any citizenry in history. The US government’s ICE brown shirts are taking people from their homes and deporting them. Police officers are systematically killing people of color. And gun owners are not systematically challenging them. Hmm. Oh, I missed the part that it was the right of revolution for white people.

Which leads me to the conclusion that over-throwing the US government with the citizenry’s privately owned weapons is just not going to happen. Which means, we can strike the justification of needing guns for keeping the government in check. At this point in history, the US government can keep the populace in check, even if armed. At best you can take someone out before being killed yourself. You will not actually win.

The counter-argument is that it is the well-armed citizenry that is keeping the government in check, and thereby keeps it from confiscating guns (and eliminating other freedoms, but those are secondary to the guns). But if that were true, they wouldn’t be worried about the government confiscating guns. The reasoning is circular. The reason to have guns is to keep the government from confiscating your guns. If the government could confiscate your guns at any time with a change in legislation, the guns aren’t actually buying you your freedom. Instead it is that the government cannot effectively act without the consent of the governed.

Since the ‘committing crimes’ is also not really a good reason to keep guns, and ‘hunting’ doesn’t require sophisticated weapons, and ‘personal self-defense’ with guns is only necessary because everyone else also has guns and may be committing crimes, the US should just throw in the towel and follow the civilized world, or even Australia, and more significantly reduce access to firearms.

On Politics and Politicians

A Court House
A Court House

Politics balances the ideal with the possible. In the first best world, we do the best thing assuming everything else about the world is ideal. In the second best world, we do the best thing recognizing everything else about the world will remain as dysfunctional as it already is.

Many political debates are because people disagree on values: I think a lot of freedom is more valuable than a little bit of safety, you may be more afraid, some people capitalise on that fear; I think the life of the unborn has value, you think a women’s body is her own.

Other debates occur because people cannot agree about the relevant time frame: I think earning more dollars today will solve tomorrow’s problems, you think we need to sacrifice economic growth to reduce pollution now.

A Political Economy of Access: Infrastructure, Networks, Cities, and Institutions by David M. Levinson and David A. King
A Political Economy of Access: Infrastructure, Networks, Cities, and Institutions by David M. Levinson and David A. King

A few debates are because people don’t accept common facts: I think very few people attended the President’s inauguration, he purports to believe it was the biggest ever.

Finally, some debates are because people disagree about the model of the world: I think most threats (future dangers) are home-grown, you think they come from outsiders. This relates to the last two, but is distinct because it deals with future facts, not something evidence-based.

Often political debates are about how much change is possible. This depends on the model of the world. If I vote yes now, we move somewhat in the right direction, but we release the pressure to move farther in the right direction. If I vote no, we don’t make the move, hoping a better offer will be on the table later. There is no guarantee this will occur, and in the meantime we may have lost some benefits. Say, in the US context, I believe in what a real Green Party* would stand for, but don’t think they will win, should I vote for the Democrats instead, which will be closer than the Republican alternative to my preferred outcome? Given the current US single-member district, first past the post, no ranked-choice voting system, that’s a logical choice for most environmentalists. They are choosing the second-best rather than nothing. I can make a protest vote, or I can try to move the system. If everyone in my district (admittedly I am thinking of progressive Minneapolis here) thought the Greens had a chance, they would act as if the Greens had a chance, and the Greens would have a chance.  The possible is determined by what everyone thinks that everyone else thinks.

I believe there is no point in being a politician unless you want to accomplish something that improves the world around you. Sure some people get into politics for personal self-aggrandisement and wealth enhancement, but I believe for most politicians there is in the end no reason to accumulate power but to do something with it, that is to impose their values, their preferred temporal horizon, their perception of reality, and their model of the world on the government. Further, they must have the notion they can do this better than anyone else, not just better than a person in the opposing party, but better than the next best person in their own party.

Power is a means to an end, and usually the end is more significant than private wealth. Some politicians may forget this along the way, many try to combine their values with wealth-enhancement, but hopefully they remember near the end of the careers the whole point of doing what they did and expend some of their power to achieve their original aims.

It is the advocate’s job to move the politician in a particular direction.

It is the politician’s job to compute how far to move both to maximize future power by ensuring his constituency is along for the ride and to actually move in the ‘right’ direction consistent with the reason for being a politician in the first place.

* The US Green Party at the national level is of course highly problematic from an environmental and political perspective.




The apparent victor in the electoral college, which as we are again reminded is how America chooses its President, is the Republican nominee.

There are many reasons why he won and she lost. No one can enumerate all of them.

In my post  “No Hetero Godless Childless Capitalists welcome” I identified one reason 4 years ago when looking at campaign websites. It is the type of reductionist coalition building, identity politics, that each party, but especially the Democrats do. In short, the Obama campaign (which I supported despite, not because of, this) appealed to select groups (demographic group X, profession Y, issue voter Z) rather than speaking to Americans as Americans. To be clear, the Romney campaign did this as well, but not as well.

Further the Obama campaign did not even try to systematically cover the map with demographic groups, professions, or issue voters. This made many feel excluded. While some in those groups may say, “good, my turn”, that’s not how the others in the excluded groups feel, and voting is nothing if its not about expressing feelings. Reagan was a popular President because he spoke to all Americans, even those he disagreed with. Obama, to a less-successful extent, tried to do this as well.

Trump of course used identity politics well, just chose a different coalition than his opponent and thus a different set of identities. And his coalition produced a majority of electoral votes. And those voters decided to go for one form of identity politics because it had been used to explicitly exclude them in the past, and was used again this year in the other party. It is possible that an appeal to all Americans would have worked again, as it had in the 1980s and earlier, but that was not tested.

We can talk about sexism and racism and nationalism and xenophobia and economic hardship, and those are all contributing factors. It is certainly possible (if not likely) a different messenger would have resulted in a different outcome. But she is as white as he is, she has as many balls as he does, and his voters were wealthier than hers and the economy is far better than it was when the last Republican governing with Republican policies left office.

Voting is about expressing preferences and identifying with coalitions. In a two party system, each party seeks the narrowest coalition possible that guarantees victory (so the party’s governing policies will be as close as possible to the preferences of the party members). One party’s coalition was smaller than expected. Someone (everyone) miscalculated.

On the need for a Right Wing Love Machine

It appears on the Internet, that Hate trumps Love.

  • There are 4370 Google hits for “Right Wing Hate  Machine”.
  • There are 3690 for “Republican Hate Machine”
  • There are 4850 for “Left Wing Hate Machine”
  • There are 571 for “Democratic Hate Machine”+ 840 for “Democrat Hate Machine”

In contrast

  • There are 3 Google hits for the “Right Wing  Love Machine”
  • There are 5 for “Republican Love Machine”
  • There are 43 for “Left Wing Love Machine”
  • There are 9 for “Democratic Love Machine” + 4 for “Democrat Love Machine”

and these are generally ironic or sarcastic.

When I attended a Reformocon (Reform Conservatism) summit 18 months ago, (where I presented Modernizing America’s Transportation Policy) someone snarked I was getting in bed with the Right Wing Hate Machine, and I shot back, no, it’s the Right Wing Love Machine.

Perhaps I am naive, but I believe there is a difference in the two groups. The Right-Wing Hate Machine (RWHM), comprising what we now call alt-right, fueled by talk radio, sanctioned by many churches and so-called religious leaders, and most recently inspired by Donald Trump, spews hate. It is the physical embodiment of the comments section on the Internet.

In contrast the Right Wing Love Machine (RWLM)* puts forward policy they will believe makes America better. As it is comprised of fallible people instead of Vulcans, it does sometimes get a bit worked up and needlessly mischaracterizes the opposition, but they don’t go around  encouraging race war and trying to intimidate people. The difference between the RWHM and the RWLM is the difference between saying ‘Hillary Clinton killed Vince Foster’ and ‘Hillary Clinton earned a lot of money while in “public service” somehow.’

The Left-Wing Hate Machine is not nearly so bad, nor so organized, nor has taken over a party, but is a natural response to the RWHM, and does needlessly demonize those they disagree with, practicing the politics of personal destruction, defining demons down, making it harder when they need to demonize someone actually worth demonizing.

Given what the two extreme wings say about each other why would anyone want to become a political figure. And given why a sane, rational person wouldn’t want to be a politician, is it a surprise we so seldom get great figures to be leaders.

A Love Machine tries to make the world a better place. You may disagree with its policies, but it keeps policy differences distinct from character assassination. Ideally we would have two (or more) sides that seek common ground, respect their opposition, understand the rules of the game, and acknowledge the results of legitimate elections.

The problem materializes in asymmetric warfare. It appears that Jesus’ admonition to “turn the other cheek” is insufficient, and will get you branded as a spineless weakling. One side cannot turn off the hate while the other continues to spew it. “When they go low, we go high” are nice words, but don’t think there aren’t sharp elbows nearby as well. When I say “one side” does this, it doesn’t mean everyone on that side does this. The first lady does not, nor does the President. They have allies and supporters who do.

Instead we have a dilemma where the rational strategy for one side is to spew hate when the other spews hate, and to spew hate when the other projects love. In short, because people don’t punish (and instead reward) going negative in campaigns and governance, we see negativity.

In game theory, the solution to the Prisoner’s Dilemma lies in Indefinitely Repeated Games. When a positive sum game is repeated an unknown number of times, cooperation beats defection. A single congressional or Presidential race however is played once, there is no repetition, hence no incentive for cooperating if you cannot enforce it by retaliating in the future. A competition between two stable political parties in contrast, has the potential to have the dynamics of Indefinitely Repeated Games. They can come to an agreement not to go negative on each other, to draw and respect boundaries of civil discourse. But this requires the long lasting institution of parties controls the politicking rather than many distinct individuals running personal campaigns. A parliamentary system with strong parties moves in that direction (though one can hardly say parliamentary systems lack negativity).

The other aspect of this Repeated Prisoner’s Dilemma is that cooperation works if it is a positive sum game, that is, if the collective payoff of cooperating exceeds that of defecting. While people should be happier without negative campaigning, in the end much of politics is zero sum, either one side holds control or their opposition does. But policy is not. There should be gains from policy trades as the two sides care unequally about different issues. These policy trades are far more likely in a system where people get along and keep the personal out of it, while discourse remains professional. Again, people, even politicians, are not Vulcans.

In a Parliamentary System, the party in the majority can dictate its platform if it can whip its members in line. However, many systems have multiple parties, and lack a single majority party so require cooperation.

I realize the US will not get Parliamentary government any time soon. In the mean time …

Hate has always been with us. It seems to spike around elections, and has become far more visible with new social media smashing the moderating and centralizing influence of mid- late 20th century American Mass Media. One hopes new tools will come about which don’t silence dissent, but still defang the hate mongers.

After Donald Trump loses in November, it remains essential for America’s future for an there to be effective opposition party at the national level in the United States, one that was reasoned, pointed out the problems with the majority party’s solutions, and itself offered me alternatives and offered me solutions rather than simply playing Bartleby the Scrivener.

This requires the Love Machine reasserting control, pointing out how the Hate Machine, which has controlled the Republican Party in Congress for years now, and has foisted on the world such a piece of work as their nominee, has failed to achieve any of its ends, and has thus forfeited claims to legitimate control the party. This also requires the everyday membership develop a better filter to distinguish between the Love Machine, the Hate Machine, and the Batshit Insane.

The shorthand for identifying a member of the Right Wing Love Machine is any Republican who has disowned Trump from the start, or at least the middle, of the race, and stuck to it. #NeverTrump-come-latelies, who endorsed and then dis-endorsed, will of course make nice with the party, but they wear a virtual scarlet T, discrediting them in the eyes of the everyone else.

* Yes, there will be snark about a “Right Wing Love Machine” given the misdeeds, reputations, and boasting of Mr. Trump, Mr. Hastert, Mr. Gingrich, Mr. Giuliani and their brethren. I am sure the RWLM will not actually go by this name. Sex is not love people. The Right Wing Sex Machine would be a vastly different thing.

Part 6: Political parties, three-axes, and public transport – A summary

By David Levinson and David King.

A comment on power: politics maximizes the ideal subject to the real

To be clear, everyone near power is instrumental – the Democrats favoring rail and construction in general due to  the association with unions and Republicans with their association with “free” roads, or Paul Weyrich with his justifications for suburban commuter rail.  Merriam Webster defines instrumentalism as  a doctrine that ideas are instruments of action and that their usefulness determines their truth. Thus it represents a situation, where values are an instrument to build a coalition to obtain power, as opposed to using power to support core values.  The Libertarians and Greens are purer of heart as they are farther from actual power. (And perhaps they are farther from actual power because they are purer of heart. The causality is mutual.)


Get on the Bus
Get on the Bus


Despite the transportation logic,  trains are more politically popular. A new train on new track in an exclusive right-of-way is a more comfortable ride than a bus on beat-up pavement shared with cars, trucks, and other vehicles.

People riding buses are unhappier with their commute than commuter train riders in Montreal (though about the same as Metro riders). Walking and biking make their commuters happier still.  By implication Greens are happiest with their non-motorized travel.

The unhappiness with bus use is for a variety of reasons. In part poor people (are rightfully) not as happy about the state of reality than those with more resources and opportunities. In part bus riders are likely less happy because of the stigma associated with buses and because of the underfunding of buses due to that stigma.

While that may seem like bad news for an argument about investing more in buses, we think it is an opportunity. It is the mode most easily improved. Thus it is where happiness can be most readily increased by reorganization and increases in service, better integration of information technology,  and enhancing the environment around stops and stations. We should increase the dignity of riding the bus.

A Political Economy of Access: Infrastructure, Networks, Cities, and Institutions by David M. Levinson and David A. King
A Political Economy of Access: Infrastructure, Networks, Cities, and Institutions by David M. Levinson and David A. King


Bus has received far less attention than rail. In the Twin Cities, the number of planners and engineers, leave aside dollars, per bus rider falls far short of the number per rail rider. In addition to high level design questions, attention to local details does matter, and does pay off. Attention is required.

New London buses
New London buses

Typically, bus/rail comparisons contrast existing local buses, which are old, noisy and slow,   with new trains. New beats old.  Where buses have been used to provide high quality, speedy, quiet (electric), lane separated transit in good markets they perform really well. Finding ways to make buses work requires cooperation of the bus operator (public or private) and the infrastructure provider (almost always the public).

The land use argument is one of choice. Zoning can be changed without building rail, but no one seems to be doing that. Economic development effects have been demonstrated for significant bus improvements.

There is so much more than can be done with buses, and can be done within a year, that it is depressing (if not insane) so few even try.

Take away a few parking spaces, and even some general purpose traffic lanes, and put some paint on the road (reallocating road space to buses), then see how people like the new bus versus the old bus.

Reallocate transit dollars and see how many new high frequency bus services can be deployed for the same resources otherwise dedicated to a short  rail corridor that .

The mainstream political parties tend to exist for political purposes more than for pursuing a coherent set of policies. The evidence suggests no one in power actually wants less public spending, and arguments are about marginal increases in spending. Yet most of the public is far more interested is being able to get around affordably and easily, reaching their valued destinations, than what technology is used.

Political Parties, Three-Axes, And Public Transport

  1. Part 1: Introduction
  2. Part 2: Why Democrats Should Like Buses
  3. Part 3: Why Republicans Should Like Buses
  4. Part 4: Why Libertarians Should Like Buses
  5. Part 5: Why Greens Should Like Buses
  6. Part 6: Summary

Part 5: Why Greens should like buses

By David Levinson and David King.

I don't need a war to power my bicycle. Bumper sticker on car.
I don’t need a war to power my bicycle. Bumper sticker on car.

Greens are most associated in the US with non-motorized transportation. As pedestrians ourselves, we see the many advantages. While many more people could walk than do, and many others could re-arrange their home and work locations over time to enable one or more members of their household to walk or bike, getting people to move home or change jobs to minimize travel costs is a big ask. Creating new (and re-creating existing) urban places (instead of new suburban places) aligns with the philosophy of some Greens. Economic development and real estate  tend to be local issues, and downtown real estate in particular is now an odd ally of the Greens.

The next best thing to minimizing distances through changes in relative location and land use is getting people to their destinations in an energy efficient way.

A Political Economy of Access: Infrastructure, Networks, Cities, and Institutions by David M. Levinson and David A. King
A Political Economy of Access: Infrastructure, Networks, Cities, and Institutions by David M. Levinson and David A. King

While Greens don’t fit cleanly on the three-axis model, it is probably most related to Social Justice/ Equality, but extending the object of Justice from People to the Environment as a whole (that is valuing the environment for its own sake, not just for the sake of future humans).

Why Greens should want to invest in buses.

Energy use per passenger-km by mode. Source Transportation Energy Data Book, USDOE Energy use per passenger-km by mode. Source Transportation Energy Data Book, USDOE. Figure 27-8 in The Transportation Experience

  • Buses (when more fully occupied) are more energy efficient than other modes, and electric buses show promise to improve this even more. (In practice as shown in the adjoining figure, buses are less energy efficient than cars on average, due to low occupancies in off-peak and suburban services, though the marginal passenger incurs almost no additional energy consumption.)
  • Buses (and vans) are community transportation where people can meet their neighbors and the driver.
  • Rail construction (or any infrastructure construction) is highly disruptive to fragile eco-systems and highly energy intensive, so the payback period for CO2 emissions may be decades, if at all. If you think that CO2 is something to worry about, improving bus service in a matter of months should be far more valuable than potential reductions more than a decade away.
  • Making buses work better adheres to the adage used about housing that the greenest houses are existing houses. The greenest transport is more intensively using existing transport. Even with new rails, existing roads will remain. We should use them wisely.

Political Parties, Three-Axes, And Public Transport

  1. Part 1: Introduction
  2. Part 2: Why Democrats Should Like Buses
  3. Part 3: Why Republicans Should Like Buses
  4. Part 4: Why Libertarians Should Like Buses
  5. Part 5: Why Greens Should Like Buses
  6. Part 6: Summary

Part 4: Why Libertarians should like buses

Buses are franchised out in London, and in many places have exclusive lanes

By David Levinson and David King.

Today libertarian (if not “Libertarian”) transportation policy (best represented by Reason) favors moving towards road pricing, public private partnerships, contracting out, HOT lanes, and privatization as strategies, but doing so intelligently. All of this will have the consequence of raising the cost of travel by automobile and result in fewer vehicle miles traveled than current policies. It also suggests that if auto travel is more expensive, the use of other modes will increase. One of those other modes is buses.

Libertarians uphold the value of “Liberty”, freedom of action. Providing mobility for those without effective options increases overall freedom.

Buses are franchised out in London, and in many places have exclusive lanes
Buses are franchised out in London, and in many places have exclusive lanes
A Political Economy of Access: Infrastructure, Networks, Cities, and Institutions by David M. Levinson and David A. King
A Political Economy of Access: Infrastructure, Networks, Cities, and Institutions by David M. Levinson and David A. King

Why Libertarians should support buses.

  • Buses are more easily contracted out or franchised to private firms in a competitive way than infrastructure itself, which is embedded capital subject to natural spatial monopolies. The evidence for the ease of contracting is the extent of contracting (many non-US cities already contract out or franchise bus services).
  • Bus routing and scheduling is also more dynamic and adaptable to actual and changing needs given an environment with ubiquitous roads and evolving land uses.
  • Buses can take advantage of High Occupancy/Toll lanes, and integrated busways/HOT lanes are useful for suburb to city radial commuting markets, sharing the fixed costs of expensive facilities over more users than exclusive transit ways, without a time penalty.
  • Buses enable people without other options to travel farther than no motorized transport at all, increasing freedom.


Political Parties, Three-Axes, And Public Transport

  1. Part 1: Introduction
  2. Part 2: Why Democrats Should Like Buses
  3. Part 3: Why Republicans Should Like Buses
  4. Part 4: Why Libertarians Should Like Buses
  5. Part 5: Why Greens Should Like Buses
  6. Part 6: Summary