June 11, 2003

Austrian Economics in the Fast Lane

There’s hope.

I don’t want to downplay all the bad news: British citizens may get sucked into the EU and voluntarily give up their liberty; Hillary Clinton will dance through a softballs only book tour; and the New Jersey Devils have won their third Stanley Cup since they broke a 17-year old heart and pulled out of Colorado.

Yet I have to look for progress, for hope. It’s a small but moral victory but I have been reading up on HOT lanes. They are working in California and Houston, and are being evaluated in Florida and Denver. I like them because they are a pure free market play.

Currently, the north I-25 corridor in Denver has a dedicated two-lane median strip that is used for High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) access. It can be switched from southbound travel for the morning rush hour to northbound at other times. My wife and I use it even when there is little traffic; if we are together, that’s a carpool and we can leave the Single Occupancy Vehicles (SOVs) in their lugubrious gridlock. Suckers! We’re going and you’re not. I’m always amazed that they don’t shoot at us.

To be fair, though, we are the only ones in our little private super world. The budding economist in me wants to see scare resources used efficiently and this isn’t it. Damned social engineers, making us ride around together to use the roads we pay taxes on: “Come join us! Break your programming! Give me your overheated masses yearning for a chance to use third gear…”

Well, that chance may come if the HOT (High Occupancy Traffic) lanes go through. If you haven’t seen it, the idea is that they remain open to carpoolers, buses, and guys with reasonably human looking inflatable girlfriends, but the lonely S.O.V.s can ride in 55 mph regal splendor for a fee. The fee varies by weekday and time to control traffic -- by markets, not by fiat.

Opponents call them “Lexus Lanes.” If I may translate left wing pejorative for the uninitiated: see, the Lexus is an expensive and desirable motorcar. By having the government create special lanes for their unencumbered travel, we are subsidizing the rich on the backs of the poor, members of which have to drive regular Toyotas. They have to sit on cloth seats and now they have to pay $3 if they want to go fast.

Of course, with all the 2003 Lexae in the HOT lanes, the poor can pilot their ’99 Corollas with a little extra room on their shabby little Interstate highway. Or, well, they could carpool with the other Bob Cratchits. Or maybe not buy a doughnut. The fact is that everybody is better off. C-DOT gets more funds, more carpool HOV lanes might be available, the traffic on the other roads will decrease, those who want to pay can get a better commute, moving cars pollute less – all without raising taxes.

The fear that somewhere, a rich man may be happy causes the soi-disant progressives to discard wealth creation and quality of life. My beloved Austrians pointed out that what a rich person has today, will be mainstream in a few years and common in a few more. I think I paid $400 for a VCR 20 years ago and dared not dream of having a car phone. If you love your children, ascertain that the rich get a wonderful life today. That is the baseline for the life of your kids.

Coloradoans: check out www.valuelanes.com for more information and a chance to comment.

Last week: The Best and The Brightest

Next week: Checks and Balances

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