Taken for a Ride I am certainly in basic agreement with one point of Robert Poole's recent Trends note [January]—that the funding and implementation of San Francisco's BART and Washington's Metro subway systems have been wasteful and downright immoral. Yet, I cannot side with Poole's pronounced reactionary attitude in condemning the technology of high-speed transit itself.

While Poole cites statistics compiled by the ACU Education and Research Institute allegedly showing that the real total cost of automobile (and bus) transportation is far lower than the real total cost of, say, a comparable BART ride, these statistics are not convincing. The true cost of the original (and usually quite illegitimate) acquisition of land for roads is apparently not calculated, although it is for BART. (The real value of the land on which roads exist is of course not just what was paid for it, but its present value, and includes the economic pressures to convert it to other uses.) Roads were constructed, by and large, in an era in which there were not high minimum wages, excessive unionization or excessive regulation—all intolerable interventions of the state. Not so for BART. A long history of price regulation has probably warped what would be the price of automobile fuel in a truly free economic system. The real cost of maintenance for roads is buried in a maze of city, county, state, and federal agencies and is difficult to determine, whereas BART's maintenance is a more accessible statistic.

So it would appear that a large part of the relative cheapness of automobile travel when compared to rapid transit is due to the extensive past (but concealed) government subsidization of travel by road, rather than the inherent inefficiency of rapid transit. The present inability of rapid transit systems to wean travelers from their cars is rational enough, given the present conditions. Yet the conditions exist only because the individual traveler is forced—and has long been forced—to subsidize heavily automobile transportation.

I, with Poole, condemn the public rapid transit systems as an incredible farce. However, I prefer not to blur this with an unhealthy hostility toward technological innovation itself ("progress," if you will). In private hands, and with real costs for alternative modes of unsubsidized transportation clarified, I prefer to think that in some urban settings we could indeed be whisked cleanly, quickly, and relatively cheaply, from one place to another in shining trains.

Randall R. Dipert
Fredonia, NY

Mr. Poole replies: As an ardent rail fan, I hope Mr. Dipert is right in his speculation that a full-cost analysis would show some forms of urban rail transit to be economically viable. To the best of my knowledge, however, no such analysis exists, though it might make an excellent thesis topic for graduate students in economics, engineering, or urban planning.

Properly Rights Research Mr. Poole's article ["Is This Any Way to Run an Airway?'" January] was very instructive, and it points to an important problem. It is still necessary to explore how property rights might be extended to the airways—as well as to the air we breathe, the waterways, the electromagnetic spectrum, etc. This seems like a good project for the libertarian think tanks. I know that a lot of foundation money is going to seminars on Austrian economics, human rights, and so on. But what about a long-range project to implement the idea of property rights where no precedents exist? The statists, of course, have a simple solution: the State owns the realm. By comparison, the laissez-faire solution is very complex, and it needs to be worked out with patience and care. And we can't any longer count on legal developments in the US for guidance in implementing or extending the principles of private property, since the judicial system rarely gives precedence to property rights these days. So maybe the new Reason Foundation should put research on property rights on the agenda.

Arnold Storechild
Baton Rouge, LA

Better Answers Robert Poole's article concerning air-safety [January] and traffic control was extraordinary. I was most impressed by the depth of the article—from the historical background to the current conditions to the excellent manner and content in which reasonable alternatives were offered.

Up to several months ago, when the San Diego disaster occurred, this subject was not a high priority item on my list of interests. A certain incident occurred, ironically, just two days prior to that terrible event which changed my thinking.

I was handling the Los Angeles County Fair booth for the Libertarian Party of California, trying to coax as many hot, ill-tempered and apparently bored people as I could over to the booth when an elderly lady wandered over, cast a baleful eye at me and asked what libertarians would do about safety for aircraft and passengers without government control. That was the very first time I'd ever been asked that question, so I'm afraid I gave her a rather stock answer to the effect that airlines and owners of airports would have a vested, proprietary interest in the safety and comfort of their customers, and would undoubtedly do a much better job of it than the government could. Before I could go any further, she interrupted me by saying that we libertarians would go a lot further if we didn't talk so silly. Then she stalked off.

Needless to say, I wasn't very satisfied with that outcome or my part in it, and I wish I had read Mr. Poole's article prior to that. At any rate, I like the style and substance of the articles, and I believe libertarians desperately need more of this kind of writing if we are to successfully cut through the mythology of government's "proper role."

Edward Wolford
Culver City, CA

Sour Experience Bruce Bartlett's article on the Hatchet Bay poultry plantation in the Bahamas [January] was indeed an "object lesson on socialism in practice," and an unfortunate symptom of the government's incongruous behavior since independence (1973).

Much more could have been written about the gross political mismanagement at the farm, in particular the difficulties suppliers have had obtaining payment. Last year, for example, a Bahamian boat loaded with supplies for Hatchet Bay was seized by the Port Admiralty Marshall in Miami until a $15,000 debt owed a Florida firm was settled.

Conditions have gotten so bad that the government's own health department inspector has warned the farm will have to close for health reasons if major repairs are not made. Among other items, he cited the high bacteria count in the milk, which turns sour very quickly. The farm once produced 600 gallons of milk a day, but now produces at best around 50 gallons of very watery milk.

The method by which the government came to acquire the farm in 1975 is an instructive lesson for investors. The former owners, whom Bartlett correctly stated made only small profits, put the farm up for sale after the government refused to allow them to bring in expatriate management. The government then refused to allow foreigners to buy the farm, saying farming was reserved for Bahamians. The government was then able to buy the 2,500 acre property at the knock-down price of $3 million.

Hatchet Bay is not the government's only enterprise. In the last few years it has also purchased hotels, casinos, fishing boats and so on, and now wants to own a dog track.

Despite these unfortunate experimental excursions into socialism, the Bahamas is by no means as bad as is sometimes made out. The government, indeed, has in many ways matured a lot in the past couple of years and investment is beginning to return. In areas such as tax-haven and off-shore banking business, the Bahamas remains a highly attractive, stable location.

Vincent James
Bahamas Dateline
Albany, G A

Oops! This will correct the error in my letter on page 11 of the January issue. Inadvertently, I referred to the Socialist Workers Party instead of the U.S. Labor Party.

Shelly Waxman
Chicago, IL

Warning I read Jeffrey Smith's review [January] of Gerald K. O'Neill's The High Frontier: Human Colonies in Space and bought the book. It was a disappointment. It consists of a poorly arranged narrative description of his ideas with excessive repetition, and O'Neill is fond of quoting Robert Heilbroner, that delightful socialist economist who thinks he should be one of the elite in control. After exposing his ignorance of economic and political facts, e.g., inflation is demand exceeding supply and "the pursuit of happiness" is a phrase from the Constitution, O'Neill is then skeptical of a professional crossing over into another discipline. Smith could have provided a few caveats.

Brian J. Monahan
Evergreen, CO