As just one example, the U.S. government subsidizes air service to two smallish cities served daily by Amtrak’s Southwest Chief – Dodge City and Garden City, both in Kansas. The combined Essential Air Service subsidy last year just for those two towns came to $4,607,624. As the venerable Casey Stengel once famously said, “You could look it up!”Perhaps because the Essential Air Service subsidy is part of the welfare payments to Rural America. No Essential Air Service, Archer Daniels has to buy more corporate jets. Let the Republicans be philosophically consistent about not spending tax money on transportation, and listen to the griping from Republican constituents.
It’s amazing how many people don’t know that. But members of Congress do. So, I ask again, why do the Republicans object to Amtrak’s subsidy and not to the subsidy the airlines get? Anyone?
Megan McArdle suggests environmentalists have a similar blind spot when it comes to air travel.
[F]lying rarely provokes the kind of environmental shame that driving a Hummer or running the washer and dryer with a single item might. It’s hard to say exactly why, but I have a theory -- it’s easy to act like an environmentalist when it means buying cool new stuff like reusable grocery bags, a high-efficiency washer, or a hybrid car. When doing the green thing requires actual sacrifice or a substantial change in lifestyle, well, that’s where most of us draw the line.Scoff at those jet-skis or motorized quadricycles or leaf-blowers or pickup truck the size of aircraft carriers, yes. Question your access to conferences or the Third World, no.
Giving up air travel and overnight delivery is much more personally costly for the public intellectuals who write about this stuff than giving up a big SUV. If you live in one of the five or six major cities that contain virtually everyone who writes about climate change, having a small car (or no car), is a pretty easy adjustment to imagine. On the other hand, try to imagine giving up far-flung vacations, conferences, etc. -- especially since travel to interesting locales is one of the hidden perks of not-very-well remunerated positions at universities, public policy groups, nongovernmental organizations, and yes, news organizations.I'm tempted to try that, looking askance at the next NPR-listening, Prius-driving metrofexual looking forward to a trip to Italy for the wine or to somewhere in the Third World for the wildlife.
If we’re going to get serious about greenhouse gasses, we need to get serious about air travel. Going to a distant conference should attract the kind of scorn among the chattering classes that is currently reserved for buying a Hummer.
The more serious social science, though, is in identifying the distributional effect of the Essential Air Service subsidy, the use of general revenues to maintain airways and highways, and cheap overweight permits for heavy trucks.