Behind the Woodshed

Regarding the comments at Reason and Instapundit and the knee-jerk libertarian response about funding priorities and the Minnesota bridge collapse, Dave E. has this to say:

So no, this was not a matter of priorities. It was a sudden and unexpected collapse of a thought to be serviceable bridge. I like a little snark as much as the next person, but in this case it’s snark that is wrong and intellectually lazy and downright defamatory if you think about it. As though those of us who live in the Minneapolis area would knowingly fund a stadium versus replacing a dangerous bridge that we and our loved ones drive over every day. If that’s the perspective you want to have in the upcoming discussion then fine, you are a moron.

Yeah, sometimes people on our side can be jerks, too. “Instapundit adds his one cent”: I like that. If we claim that leftists infantilize debate (and they generally do), we need to police ourselves pretty carefully.

10 thoughts on “Behind the Woodshed”

  1. Of course no one would “knowingly fund” a stadium if they knew a bridge was in bad shape. While the investigation is still ongoing, we do know thus far that the governor vetoed a bill that would have raised taxes to fix he infrastructure in the state–no new taxes for him! and we know that it was former President Eisenhower who stated that the nation’s infrastructure is central to national security. My concern here, though, is a bit elsewhere. Is it possible to simply make one’s case without resorting to names, pettiness, and lessw than scholarly snippy remakrs, as in
    “…hat leftists infantilize debate (and they generally do), we need to police ourselves pretty carefully.”

  2. I don’t have a good fix on how safety regulation works for bridges, etc, but my perception is that there needs to be more of a separation between safety regulation on one side, and construction/operations on the others.

    If you are an airline, you don’t get to make a choice between spending on fleet expansion, spending on executive salaries, or spending on regulated safety issues. If the FAA issues an Airworthiness Directive against a particular component (a fuel control unit, let’s say) then you *must* comply with that AD or the airplanes can’t fly.

    This doesn’t mean that economics is ignored: there is a comment period on proposed ADs wherein people can argue that the perceived safety issue isn’t real, or that there are alternative methods of solving the problem that are more economical. But once the AD is out, it must be complied with.

    This is not to argue that there aren’t decisions that an airline can make, within the scope of the regulations, that affect safety materially…but a certain level of standards compliance is required for all.

    Something like this system might help to clarify infrastructure-safety issues. There are industry differences, of course: bridges tend to be more customized and site-specific than do airplanes.

  3. Joseph Hill – you completely missed the point. Even if money had been added to the infrastructure budget this bridge would have gotten none of it. It was thought to be serviceable for another decade.

    Starting a libertarian debate about priorities in this case is to completely misunderstand how any amount of money is spent on physical repairs and upkeep.

    I oppose public funding of staduims, full stop. It’s my tax money, and I don’t want it going there. However, I’m also not going to want to replace bridges that reasonable people think are sound for another 10 years on the off chance that they might fail in the interim.

  4. Whatever the flaws of our system for building and maintaining public infrastructure, the failure of a major bridge in this country is a very unusual event, which is why it’s big news.

    One idea to think about, for a variety of reasons other than safety, is privatization. A big bridge whose traffic has grown beyond expectations is a prime candidate for privatization. The revenue stream from tolls would probably make it easy for an experienced contractor to run the bridge at a profit, maximize traffic and maintain and/or enhance the bridge structure to a high technical standard. Additional taxes — the reflexive request of many pols in this situation — are not needed.

  5. John Jay,

    I think David E. misses the point of the snark. I don’t think anyone intended to imply that people of Minnesota and Minneapolis refused to fund any particular repair. That is indeed a silly argument. Instead, the snark was aimed squarely at those who began claiming within minutes of the disaster that a lack of taxes caused the collapse. The pointed example of the stadium showed that the cause wasn’t a lack of taxes because the state chose to spend vast amounts of money on far more trivial projects.

    As I pointed out in my post The Spirits Were Right, the director of MxDot acknowledged that the agency had sufficient funding to repair or replace the bridge but elected not to based on engineering reports.

    The political and professional management in MxDot had three choices: (A) close the bridge and replace it immediately, (B) attempt to shore up the present bridge or (C) wait and see by increasing inspections to biannually. The cynic or realist (take your pick) in me believes that when you present a (public or private) bureaucrat or leader with multiple choices they will reliable pick the option that proves the cheapest and the least attention grabbing in the immediate short term.

    The people of people of Minnesota and Minneapolis most definitely did not refuse to spend what was needed for their transportation safety. They had wisely authorized the raising of more than sufficient sums. Unfortunately, those they entrusted to spend that money with equal wisdom did not do so.

    Those who do claim that the people of Minnesota and Minneapolis were so shortsighted, stupid and greedy that they failed to authorized sufficeint taxes to insure the safety of themselves and their families deserve all the snark they get.

  6. I don’t like paying taxes for my state university that pays its bsketball coach more than it pys its president. I don’t like paying taxes for Bush war in Irq etc
    Plese. It was not the peole of Minn. who did not want money raised for repairs. It was th eGOP governor he vetoed a bi-partisan bill.

  7. Shannon said:” I don’t think anyone intended to imply that people of Minnesota and Minneapolis refused to fund any particular repair.”

    Well, I read statements like “Apparently up until this week they didn’t have any more pressing construction projects on which to spend that money”, “Ouch”, and “It’s all about priorities” and it seems to me the writers are saying exactly that. Any other reading strikes me as a bit Clintonesque.

    They want to score a point about publicly funded stadiums just like Joseph Hill wants to score a point on gas taxes. That neither issue apparently had anything to do with the bridge collapse doesn’t seem to matter to them. I expect that sort of muddled thinking from the left(in general), I don’t expect it from Balko and Instapundit.

  8. joseph hill,

    Plese. It was not the peole of Minn. who did not want money raised for repairs. It was th eGOP governor

    Okay, unless Minnesota suddenly became a dictatorship while I wasn’t looking the PEOPLE of Minnesota elected the GOP governor and he alone of all elected state officials represents ALL the people of the state. Just because politicians on both sides of the aisle who represent narrow constituencies had their snouts in the trough doesn’t mean that the people of Minnesota thought more taxes were needed.

    Unless democracy in Minnesota is seriously broken then the people in total didn’t want the extra taxes. The fact that you believe the governor doesn’t represent the people of the state says a great deal about what you really think about democracy.

  9. David E,

    Well, I read statements like…

    I think you need to read individual blog entries as single statements in a long ongoing discussion. Both Instapundit and others made it clear early in the debate that they were targeting those who see dead people and immediately conclude that the problem is a lack of government power and money. They do not say that in every post but if you read all the post on the matter in sequence I think their intentions are very clear.

    Basically we are presented with three scenarios: (1) MxDot correctly identified the bridge as a hazard but was powerless to fix the problem because selfish Republicans had starved them for funds, (2) MxDot correctly identified the bridge as a hazard but chose to spend money elsewhere, (3) MxDot incorrectly identified the bridge as a hazard and therefor took no action regardless of their level of funding.

    Joseph Hill et al as a matter of faith believe that scenario (1) applies. I think that scenario (2) applies based on previous such incidents and published sources and you appear to think scenario (3) applies for unstated reasons. I think the comments you criticize were aimed purely at those who latched onto scenario (1) practically before the bridge hit the water.

  10. Shannon-Thanks for the clarification on your position. I’m puzzled though about why you think the bridge was identified as a hazard. Everything I’ve read says that it was rated as serviceable(not a hazard) but possibly needing work to keep it serviceable in the near future. Also, that it was not likely to last as long as originally designed, so they needed to move up the planning for it’s replacement to before 2020.

    I’ve been traveling so maybe I missed something. Can you provide a link to something that says that MnDOT identified the bridge as a “hazard”?

    I ask because my position is that the bridge was NOT identified as a hazard. Obviously it was and how that was missed is critical to avoiding such tragedies in the future. The fact that it wasn’t identified as a hazard means that it’s replacement never was even discussed as a priority. That’s the key point and as much as I respect Glenn Reynolds and read his blog everyday, I still think he meant what he said and that he’s wrong. I’m fully capable of understanding context and in this case, I don’t think it changes anything.

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