Why We Can’t Have Nice Things–Elon Musk and the Subways

In New York it costs billions of dollar per mile to build new subways, a price far higher than anywhere else in the world. That’s one reason why Elon Musk’s The Boring Company has been anything but. Even if hyperloop technology doesn’t pan out, Musk’s goal of reducing tunneling costs by a factor of ten is laudable. The Boring Company purchased a tunnel boring machine in April of 2017 and incredibly has already completed a two-mile test-tunnel underneath Hawthorne, LA! Awesome, right? Well, some people just can’t be happy.

“[I]nvaders are coming from underground” proclaims Alana Semuels in a big story in The Atlantic. The title and splash page indicate the theme:

When Elon Musk Tunnels Under Your Home

The billionaire is drilling for futuristic transit under Los Angeles. He didn’t have to ask the neighbors first.

Billionaires are undermining your home. And democracy! Grab your pitchforks! Yet dig a little deeper underneath the lurid headline and the actual complaints are–dare I say it–boring.

I talked to a dozen people who live along the tunnel’s route, and most said they hadn’t witnessed any extra noise or traffic. But none had been informed ahead of time that a private company would be digging a tunnel beneath the street.

But what about all the displaced people?

As the tunnel neared completion, disruptions to the community increased. The company bought another building, this one on the corner of 120th Street and Prairie Avenue, for $2 million, according to public records, to allow for the extraction of tunneling equipment. Adrian Vega had run a cabinet business in that building for 18 years. When his landlord sold the building, the Boring Company came in and offered Vega’s company, Los Vegas Kitchen Cabinets and Doors, extra cash to get out in three months. Vega took the money, and asked for even more time from the Boring Company, which he was granted. But he couldn’t find another space; since moving in August, his business has been closed and his customers don’t know that he’s moved, he told me.

…Shunyaa Turner lives in a small house on 119th Place with his wife and two kids. He said that in the past year, they’ve had to battle more pests, such as raccoons, mice, skunks, and opossums, which they’ve never seen before. He isn’t sure if this is related to the digging; the Hawthorne airport has also been doing more construction as it gets busier, so the animals could have fled from there. He and his wife said they’ve also noticed more cracks in their impeccably maintained walkway.

…The initial document also claimed that the test tunnel would not involve digging under private property, but that, too, has changed—though the company has now bought all the private property it is tunneling underneath. The company has also closed a lane of Jack Northrop Avenue, a street on the other side of SpaceX headquarters

In the author’s own words:

Meanwhile, in Hawthorne, the company that promised its transit test projects would be completely unnoticeable by the community has since uprooted a small business, purchased a house, and closed a lane of traffic indefinitely.

The horror.

The whole framing of the piece is ass-backwards. Semuels is correct that:

[this] would have been unimaginable in a higher-income neighborhood. Indeed, when Musk tried to build another underground tunnel in a wealthier neighborhood in West L.A., residents quickly sued. The project got tied up in court, and [died].

In comparision:

The CEQA allows residents 35 days to push back against granted exemptions…in Hawthorne, the 35-day window passed with little fanfare.

But unfortunately Semuels takes the posh, lawsuit-loving, NIMBY crowd as the appropriate normative standard and any deviations from that as suspect and indicative of the power of billionaires to run roughshod over other people’s rights. Instead, the Boring Company, the Hawthorne city government, and the people of Hawthorne should be applauded for their sensible, forward-thinking, and optimistic approach to new ideas. Bravo to Hawthorne! Hawthorne: Where the future is being made!

I do give Semuels credit, however. She writes honestly so that one can see the real story behind the false frame and she even tips the audience to the correct (Straussian?) reading in her final clever paragraph.

Vega [the owner of the cabinet business who was paid to vacate] has nothing negative to say about the Boring Company—he just blames himself for agreeing to be out so quickly. Nothing like this had ever happened to him before, so he didn’t know what was fair. Nor did he know how hard it would be to set up a new store—the process of getting new city permits, he said, is a lengthy one, and he can’t find a way to cut through the red tape.


Great post.

Egads. The US can't build housing and it can't build infrastructure. Given that reality, maybe we should shoot for population declines.

The immigration issue does take on a new light....

The devastation to lives and homes from fires in California has prompted similar thoughts. There have always been fires - so *what* has changed, about California?

It is an interesting question but the first pass is not too mysterious.
1. Unprecedented death of pines in the Sierras
2. Unprecedented level of evapotranspiration over multiple years across the entire state.
3. Very dry autumns recently (although not unprecedented).
4. And (perhaps), an issue with the aging of the landscape. Fire suppression duration now matches the life span of some species. A threshold may have been passed. Speculative.

Interesting. And no other alterations - or additions - to the landscape bear on it whatsoever?

The fires are normal and reoccurring. The wind is the culprit and in conjunction with the fire makes it unstoppable. These wind driven fires have occurred cyclically for millennia it is the towns and populations that now make this a terrible disaster. In the end there is no amount of forest management that can stop these particular fires. The fires this summer were different and they were caused and exacerbated by poor forest management.

So, you are less convinced than Chris that there's an exact mapping of the causes of the fire, and the causes of the devastation?

Ending the forest management of cutting down trees that resist fires, sawing them into boards, kiln drying them, then using them to build wooden houses instead of region appropriate adobe, so the managed forest products go up in flames from sparks, is very bad forest management.

The structures burn faster and more completely than trees.

Look at the photos of Trump standing in from of structures burned to the ground, surrounded by trees with leaves and needles still standing tall.

<a href="http://thefederalist.com/2018/11/16/misguided-environmentalism-blame-californias-wildfires/"Here is an antidote to the drivel posted in your comment.

The drivel is actually in the article you attempted to link. The fire in southern California didn't occur in a forest, so forest management practices have absolutely zero to do with it. And having grown up in Ventura county, she knew that. The majority of the article is, as you say, "drivel."

She cares about her mom in Oxnard? Seems like she should know Oxnard is farm country... And one last thing. And as an "expert" in fores fire precentiin, you'd think she'd know it's Smokey Bear now.

Do yourself a favor. Don't quote The Federalist - it's not an authority on anything.

Paradise is not in Southern California.

Malibu suffered no fires when it was controlled by the Mexicans or the Queen of the Malibu, only when it was controlled by the California government did it burn. Private owners take care of their land, governments don't.

The West LA elite ran rough shod over peoples right to transit.

Less boring is whether the LAX-SFO corridor has enough density to support mass transit. Probably it does not. You need to have "European" style density to get economical mass transit, or even "India" style density (over one billion people in a continent about one-third the size of the USA).

Bonus trivia: looking at a map of the USA by density at 1900, it's amazing how these same places, over 100 years later, are just as dense, specifically, the NE corridor (Amtrak!) and the region around the Great Lakes (Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland), from east Indiana, through Ohio (very dense!), to upstate NY (following the Erie Canal, which is about only place that lost people but still fairly dense even today, another region that lost people is the stretch of the Mississippi from St. Louis to Memphis, though they still have density, relative to the Midwest, today, as does Kansas City) and, relatively speaking for the non-dense South, the cities of Birmingham, Atlanta, Charlotte, and Rayleigh, all lying along a railroad and/or road linking them. All these places are relatively still dense today, so would support mass transit. Newcomers in density not found back in 1900 are: LA (but not SF, which was already dense in 1900), Seattle, Houston (but not Dallas, already dense in 1900) and pretty much every town in Florida today (almost none were present in 1900).

This site indicates NYC metro area is up from 4.2 million in 1900 to 20 million in 2010: http://www.peakbagger.com/PBGeog/histmetropop.aspx

Yes, right, the point I'm making is that what was "high density" back in 1900, when populations were 75M, is largely the same "high density" today, when populations are 300+M.

The international combustion engine allows you to commute to Wall Street from six acres in Rockland County in roughly the same amount of time it took your 1900's era ancestor to commute there from a six-to-a-room tenemant on 35th Street.

People have adjusted their living arrangements accordingly.

I think Libertarians should be a little bit more clear about their view on property rights and eminent domain.

It may not be clear in the article for Alex's post, but the right of way is 100% owned by the city or the Boring Co. The tunnels go under the streets or property Boring Co. purchased so I don't think there is an actual contradiction here.

I'm not sure how much you can solve things in Los Angeles by following existing right of away, but you are right that this does become a simpler problem.

(The question is whether needed transit would be on diagonals relative to the street grid.)

As usual, you misidentify the real problem so you can attack libertarians. The fact that this project faces obstacles when there is no issue of the abuse of eminent domain suggests that dimwits like Nancy MacLean have got it ass-backwards: "democracy" is enchaining property rights and the public good. (Btw, this project fits under the traditional understanding of "public use" under the 5A's restriction on the exercise of eminent domain.)

"undermining your home"

After all, there was a related contradiction in tbe Keystone saga.

"A group of Nebraska landowners sued to block the company behind the Keystone XL pipeline from seizing land by eminent domain. "

And yet you would most often hear from right-libertarians that Keystone should be built.

Obviously there are no simple solutions, and there is a lot of nuance involved, but I think it becomes that much more absurd to make fun of "the Liberals" who won't let us drill and other people's land.

This is why you have to (politely) scratch your local libertarian just enough to see below the surface.

If what you see is utilitarian/economic, you can bet that property rights will give way.

If what you see is philosophical/rights-based, you encounter a stronger argument for property owners even at a cost in growth.

Typically, the former reaches its logical absurdity when ignoring any argument for any other sort of valuation, which opens the door to tacitly endorsing politicians who are personally very far from libertarian, thus creating a strange bedfellows phenomenon on the far right.

The latter reaches its logical absurdity by turning numerous macro-level problems into issues of individual rights in a way that threatens to invert itself, either expanding the term libertarian beyond all recognition, or turning it into a synonym for "problem-solving," which is much the same.

I generally agree with you here, but I object to your classification of the first group as "utilitarian/economic." Utilitarianism can easily be swayed, and conceptions of rights will suffer. But a libertarian committed to the economic justifications of liberty will generally oppose property rights violations and appeal to Coase-Theorem-type arrangements that resolve this sort of conflict.

Fair enough. I was going for maximum coverage and readily acknowledge your point.

I think this is a very good sub-thread by the way, which I did not reply to, because it is fine.

"which I did not reply to, because it is fine"

Until now???? Someone needs to kill you with fire

I was just contrasting with the people who did not get it, and did not see the contradiction between people who say they're right-libertarian but support things like I find projects which require eminent domain.

The issue tends to be why projects that have positive gains for society, and where people who free to negotiate will negotiate a solution, a small group can use the legal system to block a project.

So you can argue that Keystone offers great benefits to society and a solution could be agreed upon, except a third party will insert itself to block the project possibly with the help of the government.

Eminent domain often comes into play because a single party can try to reap the full benefits of the project. By holding out they can demand a price so high that it kills the project. The marginal seller to complete the deal can demand a higher price. Governments step in so that an individual seller cannot prevent the potential gains to society and the potential gains to the other sellers.

However, most Libertarians oppose the use of eminent domain to allow for private projects. They see a limited role for government and a preference for private contracts.

Liberals tend to view a more vital role for government with the power to force projects, private or public, that they agree with. Liberals think that they should have the power to overrule private contracts and substitute their values.

There can, at times, be overlap in positions. But how much power third parties should have and the proper role of government start at a different baseline.

If you're asking me what policies we should have w.r.t. eminent domain, I'll argue for making it very restricted and hard to use. If you're condemning someone who's living under our current set of rules for using the rules the same way as everyone else digging subway lines, then I'm going to suspect that you're engaging in an isolated demand for (moral) rigor.

"Fisking" is generally bad, but from the standpoint of things you don't even believe in even worse.


Or assume the same tunnel was dug by the California DOT. Would the Atlantic be writing articles about the homeowners above and their cracked sidewalks? Nope. But somebody with money does it with an eye towards maybe, possibly, someday making more money, and it's the return of effing feudalism.

Or conversely a taking is fine when a capitalist makes money.


"Billionaires are undermining your home. ... Grab your pitchforks!"

Who owns your home?

Do you own the mineral rights under your house(hint: NO)?

Do you own the air rights above your house? Same answer.

But neither does Elon Musk.

Again, we are in the pipeline and eminent domain sub-thread.

But while I am not a lawyer I don't believe mineral rights and tunneling rights of the same thing, no.

Certainly no one stops you from building a sub-basement or underground parking in the same space.

Certainly no one stops you from building a sub-basement or underground parking in the same space

File for a permit and get back to me.

"Or conversely a taking is fine when a capitalist makes money."

That argument wasn't made or even alluded to. Your statement is a strawman position.

Do you have any ability to connect dots at all? I asked about property rights and eminent domain.

"Billionaires are undermining your home. ... Grab your pitchforks!"

Maybe Alex only got a little bit carried away and he wasn't really thinking literally about billionaires be given the green light to undermine your home .. but that doesn't sound like a strong property rights position.

It's not his fault you can't express yourself clearly.

Look, I can see you having some sympathy for the hosts but how much help you really need to read "your home" as your home!

This is not even the current meaning of NIMBY, where it isn't actually your backyard just nearby. This is literally under your foundation. How deep do you think your deed goes?

While I don't see an Atlantic article about Millennium Tower, you will find hundreds of articles about the claims of harm caused by construction of the "Salesforce" transit center. Latest news is the taxpayer supported development and transit public corporation must pay Millenium tower's developers legal bills defending lawsuits from the owner tenants of Millenium Tower.

Millenium Tower was built based on a bad design before the transit center excavation a significant distance away. For some reason, the designers thought a bathtub foundation on river silt and earthquake rubble was better than pylons to bedrock for a skyscraper allowed by the plan to build, AND FUND, the huge transit center.

One of the reasons tall building have been prohibited was the risk caused by the soil, silt and rubble, in an earthquake zone, which had previously been destroyed by earthquake and the resulting fires.

So, the leaning tower private owners have run to government, and blame government, in their fight to get paid for a private sector screw up which has resulted in the floors of their ten million dollar apartments sloping.

Providing lots of opportunities for reporters and authors to write lots of stories pointing fingers.

Very adroit, Tabs old chap. I laughed at your chosen final para.

How come no new West Hunter posts in like a month? (I know it' s not your site but you're kind of second-of-command ....)

Hardly 2 i/c; never met the chap nor exchanged an e-mail. And he knows a smidgen more than me about genetics.

But I know what you mean; I thoroughly enjoy his curmudgeonly grandfather posts. Then again, I miss hbd-chick too.

Thank the Lord that Mr iSteve is still posting.

Hopefully he's building his own probe for Oumuamua

It's certainly understandable for property owners to object to having noisy transit (trains) running beneath their property, the ground and buildings on it shaking from the vibrations. But Musk isn't building tunnels for heavy trains, he is building tunnels for lightweight and quiet (electric) autonomous cars. What Musk recognizes is that autonomous cars will need a separate right of way in order to safely travel at speeds above 20 to 30 mph. Musk would like to own an interest in the separate right of way so he can profit from charging users of his tunnels. It's a bold project, primarily because it is an implicit acknowledgement that autonomous cars will need a separate right of way, something the developers of autonomous cars have gone to great lengths to conceal while the public believes, incredulously, that autonomous cars will safely share the road with teenagers and distracted soccer moms in non-autonomous cars racing through the streets at break-neck speed. You go, Elon!

'The Boring Company purchased a tunnel boring machine in April of 2017 and incredibly has already completed a two-mile test-tunnel underneath Hawthorne, LA!'

So they bought one of the slower models then? Herrenknecht delivers machines able do 45 meters a day (though that is not a figure expected as an average over 2 years of course). Or two miles in more than 80 days - for fun, let's double it, and add the time to set up, break down, etc. - and say that Suse (the machine being used in Stuttgart for the train tunnel work) could have done it in in a year.

Of course, the tunnel machine in Stuttgart is being used to make the train station more suitable for HSR, and is part of this plan - 'The new station – if and when it reaches completion – forms part of a wider project known as “Stuttgart 21”, which aims to create a 267km-long stretch of high-speed railway between Stuttgart and Munich. Moreover, the line makes up part of a greater, pan-European high-speed rail route, running from Paris to Budapest via Strasbourg, Stuttgart, Munich, Vienna and Bratislava.' Not without problems, of course, as the article notes. https://rail.nridigital.com/future_rail_oct18/slow_trains_the_eu_s_high-speed_rail_network_dilemma

Yes, yes, TLDR. We know Germans are the most Boring people in the world.

That trick of dropping the most relevant contrary info near the end of a long article is a favorite trick of deceptive journalists everywhere. Im reminded of the NYT article about how 'austerity' was destroying rural England and thirty paragraphs into it casually mentioned that government domestic spending had not changed. Or the Vox article celebrating a new study about the successes of Australian gun control. Paragraph after paragraph declaring how wonderful the Australian gun control regeime is and how America could save so many lives by doing what they are doing before the author mentioned in passing that the reduction in murders that study in question examined was not statistically significant.

And the amazing part is that we praise them for doing it. At least they mentioned the relevant info. Our expectations of journalism is so low that we celebrate being deceived a little rather than totally misinformed.

Is this something done by the journalist, or something imposed by the editor?

That's my question. Why do so many newspaper stories seem to be so deceptively framed in the first place? Is it because it sells papers or because they are pushing a political agenda?

Fair question, but im not sure why it matters. Would you be ok with one and not the other?

Maybe because how you get to more accurate framing depends on what's causing the deceptive framing?

I suppose. I was thinking more from the perspective of a consumer who is being offered a defective product rather than the perspective of someone with hopes to right great wrongs.

My answer to why is simple, because they dont suffer for doing so.

Yes, they want your clicks so they craft headlines in a way that may seem hyperbolic. However, technically the hyperbolic headline most of the time isn't an outright lie -- it's simply worded as a polarizing interpretation of the story's content so you'll click on it. This way they have a measure (clicks) by which they can show the traffic to their potential advertisers in search for ad revenue.

I assume that most working journalists want to do a good job. They have their own political and cultural biases, but they mostly don't want to lie or make stuff up or omit relevant information. But when they or their editors structure the stories, they often seem to do so to convey one particular narrative, and it's very common to see the stuff that should have made them skeptical about that narrative appear at the very end of the story.

One possibility is that they feel honor bound to include those contradictory facts, but don't want to highlight them.

Another is that they didn't want to include them, but their editors/fact checkers insisted.

Another is that they originally highlighted the contradictory facts, but the editors rewrote/demanded rewriting to make the story fit a cleaner narrative, or perhaps to fit the desired-by-the-boss narrative.

Maybe some combination of all three - the story gets revised through an editorial process which often downplays uncomfortable facts in service of making it into a dramatic narrative - and then the fact checkers step in and insist on keeping certain elements but they end up getting pushed down to the end of the article. Because drama makes money and factual accuracy doesn't. And of course editorial biases as to what the narrative structure should look like are a big part of that. I mean, you could write an article in which The Boring Company and the little shopkeeper are both victims of government regulation, but for some reason "evil corporation vs. little guy" is the easiest, cheapest, laziest, thing to write.

And now I'm getting a picture in my head of some newspaper guy from the 1950s lecturing some young journalist about how it's all about the story and they have to make it a good story, like a strip from a comic book - cause on some level that's what they are doing. Turning the news into comic book stories with helos and villians, and really simple narratives that idiots can digest.

"I assume that most working journalists want to do a good job. They have their own political and cultural biases, but they mostly don't want to lie or make stuff up or omit relevant information. " What leads you to conclude this?

Hazel is sweetness and niceness and cannot conceive that stalwarts of the 4th estate would be utterly corrupt and inimical to her classical liberal interests (and have been for some time).

Because their stories. A bias toward narrative is greater than political bias.

they're. I wish Tyler and Alex would get me an edit function for Christmas.

Definitely enforced by Editors. They have a record - a body of written work and a record of subservient behaviour to ensure they'll pimp the narrative.

Sure, the average j-skool worker bee, with experience, will notice the ethical sliminess. But what are they going to do in today's media environment? But with an average IQ a standard deviation below that of the average tech worker or Special Operations soldier, j-skool grads' career options are limited.

{citation needed}

Slant of papers noticeably changes with editor employed.

Hence editors account for a lot of variance.

Are you referring to this article? https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/28/world/europe/uk-austerity-poverty.html

Because it...details a lot of very specific spending cuts, such as: "By 2020, reductions already set in motion will produce cuts to British social welfare programs exceeding $36 billion a year compared with a decade earlier, or more than $900 annually for every working-age person in the country, according to a report from the Center for Regional Economic and Social Research at Sheffield Hallam University. In Liverpool, the losses will reach $1,200 a year per working-age person, the study says."

And: "Nationally, spending on police forces has dropped 17 percent since 2010, while the number of police officers has dropped 14 percent, according to an analysis by the Institute for Government. Spending on road maintenance has shrunk more than one-fourth, while support for libraries has fallen nearly a third."

The only thing that could be construed as "mentioning that government domestic spending has not changed" occurs about halfway through, when the article notes that NHS spending has been frozen, rather than cut (it does not mention whether the freeze accounts for inflation, which seems to me a key point; if it does not, it's a cut in real terms).

Are you under the impression that the British government does nothing other than fund the NHS?

I guess you missed this quote:

"Britain spends roughly the same portion of its national income on public spending today as it did a decade ago, said Paul Johnson, director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies."

Yea, in an article that says the word "Austerity" 26 times, including in the title, it seems relevant to mention that your working definition of austerity is at a minimum idiosyncratic.

None of that speaks to "Austerity" as its normally thought of. Your quotes are, or could be, simply changing priorities.

Excellent post 👏👏👏 Well-spotted Straussian ending.

For the benefit of those who aren't aware of all internet traditions:

"Straussian" is one of those internet-isms that refers to "an idea so stupid, the speaker would be mocked and humiliated if it was said outright.

Referring to something as "Straussian" means to slyly ridicule it, without being obvious.

Nope, try again.

I read "Straussian" to mean that the writer was writing something socially acceptable, while leaving enough information for the critical and careful reader to understand a less socially acceptable but more accurate set of ideas.

".. to understand a less socially acceptable but more accurate set of ideas."

+1, that's my understanding of how Tyler uses the term.

No, that doesn't fit the facts here.

Unless your comment was Straussian.

The point is, America has become weak and decadent. As American political commenter Mr. Bill Maher has said, America adults are ignorant and read comic books. America today is a nation at risk.

Road construction is a government-run enterprise. Whenever I go by major road construction projects I look at millions in machinery sitting idle. Would a private firm with a profit incentive follow such a pattern?

Remember when a major earthquake hit California and they needed to rebuild quickly? They did away with many of the regulations in order to get the roads built. Even today when they are talking about rebuilding after tragic fires politicians declare efforts to cut red tape barriers so that rebuilding can be achieved quickly and cost-effectively. They are in effect admitting the wastefulness of many of the regulations they impost during less drastic periods.

I don't think equipment utilization is the primary economic efficiency in any urban area.

It might be related to always shutting down the freeway late at night.

In the pacific nw, major road and highway construction and maintenance is done mainly in the spring and summer. I know there are roads in the passes that can’t easily be worked on in the winter but basically I suspect road work is “jobs for the boys” and then they get welfare or unemployment insurance in the off season.

Road construction is a government-run enterprise. Whenever I go by major road construction projects I look at millions in machinery sitting idle.

road construction is government FUNDED but done by private entities.
We should run machines when they are not being used right at that time?

That last paragraph was absolutely brilliant.

If it costs substantially more in NY than anywhere else in the world, including other developed regions with decent safety regulations and high real estate costs (like Tokyo), then I'm not sure why we should be excited about someone wanting to bore tunnels more efficiently. The engineering challenges around tunneling are clearly not the major cost-drivers here.

"What Musk recognizes is that autonomous cars will need a separate right of way in order to safely travel at speeds above 20 to 30 mph."

What instead of a road we created this right of way by building tracks. And the car was actually huge and could seat a few hundred people at a time? And then what if you could take advantage of this scale to just pay a guy to drive the chain-of-cars instead of needing to wait on some unproven future technology?

Carbon fiber monorails for the win.

That's funny, always Google your strange ideas.

"China develops new driverless, carbon fiber monorail train"


(I was actually dreaming of carbon fiber towers and rail though, for earthquake safety.)

What instead of a road we created this right of way by building tracks. And the car was actually huge and could seat a few hundred people at a time? And then what if you could take advantage of this scale to just pay a guy to drive the chain-of-cars instead of needing to wait on some unproven future technology?

Because people are cocooning themselves from increasingly chaotic public spaces.

Those public spaces have been getting less chaotic for a couple decades now.

The market disagrees. Maybe it's wrong and irrational, but wealthy people are putting immense resources into driverless cars as opposed to mass transit. Amazon remains a good investment too.

Public spaces are demonstrably less chaotic, so that's not driving any preferences contra mass transit.

The way mass transit is structured most places renders it an inconvenient means of transportation for those who have alternatives. The vast majority can afford a vehicle of their own or are living in circumstances where they have scant need for one.

Even more radical idea-
We have large autonomous rubber tired vehicles that can utilize the existing street grid, and scale them up to accommodate 50 or so passenger. Heck, we could even bring the cost down by hiring a human driver. People can pre-load a card, and just swipe it as they enter. A app lets the individual users know exactly the route and estimated time of arrival.

I can haz my billion now?

"I can haz my billion now?"

You can have several billions! At least you can after you can make the concept economical and profitable to the extent it will make billions in profits.

How much profit did Interstate 95 make last year?
Are the airports profitable?
Are the sewers in the black or in the red?

If Interstate 95 were auctioned off tomorrow, the bidding would start in the 10's of billions, airports are obviously worth billions. And my sewer system was privately built and managed.

All of the examples you listed could easily be maintained off of user fees. How much is a city bus system worth? I think less than zero is probably correct. Almost all city bus systems are heavily subsidized. If you expand them you are going to lose more money.

Except...they aren't currently maintained off user fees, is the point.
They are mostly funded out of general revenue and no one bothers to even ask if they can be self-sustaining, because everyone grasps the concept that they provide a diffuse common good. Like the bus system.

Down with Abe! Free Mr. Ghosn!

" The whole framing of the piece is ass-backwards. Semuels is..."


Alana Semuels is a Boston/Harvard Progressive/Liberal/Leftist ... with a faulty worldview of economics/politics/life. Thus, she consistently analyzes things incorrectly.

Unfortunately, pleasant people like Ms Semuels dominate American journalism/media/education/economics/government.

"Shunyaa Turner lives in a small house on 119th Place with his wife and two kids. He said that in the past year, they’ve had to battle more pests, such as raccoons, mice, skunks, and opossums, which they’ve never seen before. He isn’t sure if this is related to the digging; the Hawthorne airport has also been doing more construction as it gets busier, so the animals could have fled from there."

People aren't aware that raccoons live in giant underground kingdoms, keeping skuns and opossums as their slaves, carefully funneling holes to the surface to suck all the trash into their chthonian abodes. Play Donut County to learn more.

My understanding is that boring tunnels is not the source of the high cost for construction of subway tunnels in New York. The bulk the costs are related to the large complex stations that connect through private property (you must have multiple independent exits from every station per the fire code), and then all of the follow-up work triggered by the new infrastructure like moving sewer lines and watermains, upgrading the electrical grid and installing new transformers to provide power for the trains. Then throw in that new infrastructure is not necessarily backwards compatible, so that new water line will require you upgrade the surrounding older water lines. You can build a new subway extension with automatic train control, but to use it you have to convert the whole rest of the line, and any interchanges or access points to that line to that system, or maintain two sets of signal systems in case a manually operated train somehow finds it's way on to the line that day. Oh and you need some storage space for the trains on that line, so there's another few hundred million. Even in the places where it is famously cheap to build subway lines, the tunnel boring is the easiest and least complicated part of the project. Musk is creating a solution to a problem we don't have and then getting out when the really complicated and gruelling work has to start so he can say his bit was a stunning success and the problems on the rest of the project are everyone else's fault.

The source of the costs is the arcane work rules demanded by construction unions, and the cozy relationship between the city government and said unions.

France doesn’t have unions?

Japan doesn’t have a sclerotic bureaucracy?

This is specific to America, and it cuts across ideological hobbyhorses.

We pay more for (government) healthcare, defense appropriations, infrastructure, education both secondary and tertiary, the list goes on.

I’ve yet to hear a convincing explanation as to why.

Short answer, because we're not French or Japanese.

Apparently our unions are more corrupt than their unions.

That seems unlikely. And it still wouldn’t explain enough of the variance, and even then how does that map to the F-35, Osprey, and all the rest? That ain’t unions.

And a vague hand waving about “low trust society” doesn’t mean much either. We had a lot of immigrants when we built the NYC infrastructure and ramped up military hardware in the 40s.

You're looking for a correlation that doesn't exist. Nobody else could develop the F-35 or Osprey at all. The French and Japanese both pay more for less than the US when it comes to fighters and helicopters. See AW-101, Eurocopter Tiger, Eurofighter Typhoon, Rafale, Mitsubishi F-2, etc. I'm not saying US military procurement doesn't have its problems, but it's better than Europe or Japan.

"and even then how does that map to the F-35, Osprey, and all the rest? "

The Japanese are buying both the F-35 and the V-22 Osprey. So your point doesn't transfer to American high tech aircraft.

Well presumably France and Japan also have water lines and electric grids that need to be compatible, so that isn't likely to be the answer, right?

My understanding is that graft and corruption at the nexus of the local unions and the NYC government was the large source of the cost. Many other cities manage all the costs you mention.

But you can't suppose that other cities - e.g. London - don't have those problems?

It does. And guess what London also has: labor unions. And high labor costs in general. Yet, Crossrail is being constructed for - I believe - something like one-third to one-half the per mile cost of the Second Ave. Subway.

I mention this to point out that blaming New York's (and America's, other US cities aren't much better) on unions and labor costs is simplistic. It's also simplistic to blame it on complicated existing infrastructure; London has plenty of that, too.

Crossrail is regarded as pretty f**king expensive per mile from the UK perspective! We have the same cost disease, though perhaps a milder strain. Our unions are indeed less strong than yours.

Or: does Elon Musk hope to build tunnels that can accommodate the armadas of delivery drones that Jeff Bezos hopes to unleash?

Such a move would help Musk & Bezos keep our skies up to a few hundred feet completely clear of pernicious and/or dangerous and/or threatening commercial drone traffic (surely drones are already being weaponized, whether with cameras and sensors or with munitions of any type).

This could be the political outcome we can hope for, since a total ban on delivery drones would kill far too many entrepreneurs senses of fun.

Take that, Taco Copter!

I wonder how framings like this come about. Did the editors instruct the author to go out looking for people adversely impacted by the tunneling, or is there some sort of standard journalistic practice so as to put a "human interest" angle to it?
I mean, really when writing a story about Elon Musk digging tunnels, why is the perspective of a random shop owner who was bought out the entry point for the reader? Where does that come from?

If I try to be charitable about it, I wonder if over the years popular news media has developed a lot of cheesy mechanisms to make readers interested, like how in the Olympics there's always a saccarine vingnette about some athlete before an event. So in newspaper writing maybe they are trained to try to turn every story into some sort of dramatic conflict, which means they need a protagonist and an antagonist. In other words, the framing comes about because they are trained to shoehorn the story into these melodramatic narrative structures in order to keep readers interested and sell newspapers.

US media properties with any name or history to them (pre-internet history, that is) are collectives or communities of implicit editorial biases and tacit narrative assumptions: it is the task of editors and scribes working for each venue to determine how to express those biases and assumptions.

When linked with dubious Media Establishment senses of cultural fashion and other journalistic practices like the drive-by journalism for which The Atlantic is justly notorious, readers are given nothing but rank editorializations masquerading as "journalism" (much the same way, mutatis mutandis, that Ivy League-training can now be seen to confer little and less in terms of "education").

Media properties and their readers. Confirmation bias probably plays a role. And the fact that the readers pay for the service means there is an incentive to maintaining the narrative. It's like an ecosystem of bias driven by peoples need to validate their preconceptions.

And, in the American context:

"information" flows in very narrow channels. Most of what most media outlets dub "news" for most American recipients is nothing but "ENTERTAINMENT".

Justification for the Entertainment Premiss's unchallenged reign in US media presentations seems to be the relative ease with which entertainment assumptions and protocols (cults of celebrity, the advent of charismatic politics since the Clintons, gotcha cheap shots coordinated with social media detonations, institutional embrace of fictional narrative techniques common to "the New Journalism" that've been in place for almost fifty years) have undermined our politics at least as well as they've sullied trust in or credible regard for post-secondary academia.

For "American journalism" to make a credible comeback, every leading school (Columbia, Medill, Mizzou) and venue would have to take conspicuous leads repudiating the Entertainment Standard in order to begin laying a foundation of forensic standards that might one day yield boring narratives of facts arranged to present confirmed data (a "scientific standard" of reporting replacing the "dramatic appeal" that media barons have been lying with for decades and centuries).

For that to happen people will have to want to consume news based on boring forensic facts instead of dramatic appeal.
I wonder if we should write off the entire concept of "news media", in the sense of some sort of mass market consumption product. There's got to be other ways to get facts to people without telling it in the form of a dramatic narrative.

The circumstance does make mincemeat of all egalitarian ascriptions of "rationalism" and "rational capacity" to our human herds.

If rationalist assumptions are so incongruous with human reality, perhaps our "rational" rationalist assumptions themselves bear modulation or calibration, too.

(I'm but a rank amateur epistemologist, but it sure beats contemporary journalism. A rank amateur axiologist as well, I have doubts that egalitarian idealism merits whatever enduring appeal it still enjoys: I do think Feyerabend's epistemic latitudinarianism is more politically cogent than what we have by simple historical default otherwise--"complementarianism" acknowledges the spectrum of human breadth and possible political positioning in a world of eight billion far more accurately perhaps than dreamy invocations of idealistic egalitarianism [born in a world of one billion] can any longer permit.)

"For that to happen people will have to want to consume news based on boring forensic facts instead of dramatic appeal."

I had hope that the birth of Fact Checking sites would act as a counter to that, but they seem to have been co-opted for political purposes and don't seem any better than your average media outlet.

Agreed. The fact checkers pretty quickly devolved into mechanisms to call the other side liars.

I actually think something like Wikipedia works much better, since it involves adversarial collaboration. There's only one version of the story and both sides have to agree to it. It has it's flaws certainly, but it seems to be far more accurate than a typical news story. You never see a wikipedia article with an overt emotional spin highlighted in the first paragraph. They don't even have headlines to use as clickbait.

I was much less hopeful. When news organizations have to create units dedicated to telling the truth you have to just wonder what the fuck is the rest of your organization doing?

Whatever its origin, the effectiveness of the technique is demonstrated the amount of attention we are giving the article.

Nyet: the technique is tedious and obvious, outmoded and outworn, and not suited to the contemporary media, social, or political environment--otherwise, our corrupt and corrupting Media Establishment would be managing public discourse as ably as it was as recently as two decades ago, a competence it will attain again only when the contemporary media environment finally faces regulation and non-industry (federal) oversight.

Me myself, I am happy to give attention here to my views, not those of the . . . gosh golly, already forgot the media antecedent!

Why on earth would you think that federal government oversight would make the media lessbiased?

I think I argued not that media would drop their implicit editorial biases and tacit narrative assumptions as that federal oversight and regulation would (perhaps possibly maybe) succeed in restoring media barons to positions where they could again manage public discourse, the way network executives in the pre-JFK days of broadcast TV managed public discourse: restoring severe editorial control SOMEWHERE in the information food-chain has to come to internet media for that to occur.

American desires to be entertained to death can yield that desired outcome or it can yield a stiff reaction that shows no sign yet of even being about to occur.

Journalism.....giving voice to the voiceless? I think that random shop owner is well-described by the "voiceless".

I'm more concerned about the guy who worries about his home sinking. The Boring company may succeed of fail spectacularly. If it succeeds, probably nothing will happen. If it fails, I doubt somebody will take care of the tunnels by 2050. I think it's also no possible to sue a company bankrupt 30 years ago.

Of course, NIMBY is not the way to go. There should be some way to insure against most of risks in the future, some insurance contract or liability fund.

As pointed out above, the tunnel boring is the cheapest part of the job.
And the casual claim that a subway can be constructed for a tenth of the current cost is as usual left entirely unsupported.
Far from being a sensible solution to a problem, this is really a free lunch scheme, where people imagine that there is a magical fairy that can deliver high quality transportation for almost free.

Yes, the cost of transportation systems can be reduced, but of course there will be tradeoffs.
We could use nonunion labor and reduce the cost by a few percentage points; We could use immigrant labor and reduce it further; We could relax safety regulations, restruct the rights of neighbors to seek redress in the courts, nd so on.

But every one of these suggestions has a specific cost to someone. And ironically, it is the culture of individual rights that created a political system where there are many veto points which demand that all the myriad individual interests be satisfied before the work can be done.

Alex's real objection here, is that his preferred interests are not shared by the community overall.

Yeah, I mean you can reduce corruption and graft but that will slightly reduce the illicit profit earned by the grifters and politically connected so you wonder why people aren't more nuanced on that tissue.

It was not a claim but a goal
"Musk’s goal of reducing tunneling costs by a factor of ten is laudable"

and a link was provided stating how they expect to reduce cost.

We don't need a free subway just a subway that doesn't cost several times more than the rest of the world as mentioned in the linked NY times article.

The linked piece is garbage, but there are very good reasons to doubt Musk can do this: https://pedestrianobservations.com/2017/12/15/elon-musks-ideas-about-transportation-are-boring/

I'd rather see Alex argue with someone like Alon Levy, who actually knows his stuff, than rehash a bunch of libertarian-versus-leftest canards.

My experience with Alon Levy was much less positive. Grossly dishonest is how I would describe him. This was some years ago though so there is that.

And that folks is why Republicans exist at all. This liberal (and this label becomes more inappropriate by the minute) idea that *everything* is an attack on the little guy by corporations is the most annoying, backwards and unjustified thing in our country today. Government can't do a thing, and when private citizens invest their own money and try to innovate all they get is NIMBY. I don't think it is a simple coincidence that Trump, of all things, came from real estate development.

Reaction to Tabarrok's blog post provides an excellent illustration of confirmation bias. Was that Tabarrok's intent?

"I don't think it is a simple coincidence that Trump, of all things, came from real estate development."

Or from a reality show. Or from a wealthy family. And so far and so on.
The American Dream has gone sour and become a bitter lie sociopathic plutocrats try to disguise their rule with. While Mr. Trump inherited his money, conned his investors, betrayed his suppliers and cheated on his wife, President Captain Bolsonaro served with notable distinction in Brazil's Army and survived a leftist terrorist attack.

Taken from the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

I'd be all for the California High Speed Train project, if it were musky, and quick. As it is planned now, it's the slowest high speed train, based on 1950s/60s tech. California could use that bond money in much better ways, instead of pissing it away.

Another government failure.

And yet...

You can’t talk about right-wing populism without talking about urban planning
Right-wing politicians are demonizing bike lanes, public transit, and urban planners to great success.


Am I the only one who immediately thought of Paint Your Wagon?

All this discussion of rights and consequences is interesting and all that but no one seems to be taking the impending racoon plague seriously.

Re "Musk’s goal of reducing tunneling costs by a factor of ten is laudable."
If he reduced costs by a factor of *one,* they would be zero. I presume you mean mean reduce them by 90 percent.

“Hawthorne, LA” confused me. I read it as Louisiana.

As a sidenote, I am a bit concerned about the proposed vehicle Boring Company is planning to use. They are talking about something like an electric minibus seating 10-15 people. Victoria Line in London (not quite the state-of-the-art public transport) runs 36 red electric trains per hour during morning peak, each with about 950 people. This is roughly an equivalent of an 18-lane each direction freeway. How frequent will these vehicles be, given they need to stop, allow the passengers to board and alight, and accelerate back to speed again?

I wish the author of this post actually did some research on Musk's efforts rather than randomly posting. Alon Levy already thrashed Musk.


NUMBY not under my back yard

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