“Libertarian” Academic Denies 100 Years of Govt. Policy Outcomes

Peter Gordon, PhD is a retired libertarian economist from the University of Southern California (USC) who has felt he is quite qualified to pontificate about urban development, the role of public transit, government planning, and similar topics.

It seems apparent that Gordon’s libertarian, “free market” (sic) ideology drives his pontificating. For example, a recent claim from his blog (http://www.petergordonsblog.com/2017/08/anti-econ-101.html):

How many people use public transit in California? Very few. Here are some 2012 comparisons. New York city is #1 with 229.8 per year per capita. San Francisco is #2 with 131.5. Los Angeles is #15 with 54.9 and most of California is below that. The story has been told a thousand times. (Here is the up-to-date U.S. summary.)  There are too few transit users in California to merit more transit capacity of any kind. Climate change is being used to make bad ideas look not so bad.

Of course Dr. Gordon seems to believe the common libertarian fantasy that the current dominance of transportation by the automobile in the U.S. and extent of suburban development was all the result of the “free market.” Well, like many others such as here, here, and here, among numerous others, Gordon denies irrefutable facts that government policies at all levels have favored motor vehicles and suburbia for the past 100 years. This started with with subsidies to “farm to market roads” in the World War I era, to the nasty, libelous campaigns against “jaywalkers” to clear city streets of pedestrians in favor to cars, to the racism built into federal housing programs, to tax breaks for mortgages extended to white people only starting in the 1930’s, to urban freeway construction through “black men’s bedrooms” (sic) with the Interstate Highway program, zoning rules mandating minimum parking standards and “free” (sic) parking, and so on, and so on.

In a 2004 Ted Talk well-known, outspoken critic of suburbia and U.S. over-dependence on the automobile James Howard Kunstler declared,

“Suburbia is the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world.”

While Kunstler is known for flashy rhetoric, the website Strong Towns provides extensive evidence that Kunstler wasn’t exaggerating. In fact, Strong Towns offers an extensive library of information on how suburbia and the auto-based transportation is bankrupting U.S. cities and metro areas, among other things, at http://www.strongtowns.org/more-topics/.

In my view, the Strong Town approach to fiscal issues is actually “libertarian” in the “fiscally conservative” sense, e.g., they also strongly challenge the faux libertarianism represented by ideologues like Dr. Gordon, Randal O’Toole, Wendell Cox and similar “free market” (sic) true believers.

Those of a less “libertarian” bent should also consider what at least a few thoughtful conservatives have concluded about automobiles, the suburbs and cities at http://www.theamericanconservative.com/web-categories/new-urbanism/. (This is a very interesting site, despite the fact that Pat Buchanan is still associated with it).

Photo credit: By SimonP (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons