Friday, July 24, 2009

The Metro Boondoggle

Barry Klein of the Houston Property Rights Association has calculated that the average household in Harris County pays nearly $500 a year to Metro in sales taxes:

Assuming three million people in the Metro district and assuming the Metro household size reflects that of Harris County, and assuming 2.8 persons per household, we can conclude that there are 1,071,429 households in the Metro taxing district.

Dividing that into Metro’s $520 million yearly sales tax income produces an average annual household payment to Metro of $485.
As Barry points out, this does not include federal and state money sent to Metro, which would raise the figure even higher.

I previously wrote that Metro has been a complete failure and continues to violate the rights of all Houstonians:
Government should not be in the transportation business. Like every other improper government activity, public transportation is inefficient, expensive, and fails to deliver on its stated goals. It requires taking money from some individuals to pay for the transportation of others. It requires seizing private property to build roads and rail lines. In short, it violates the rights of individuals.

There may be some individuals who enjoy "contributing" to the boondoggle that is Metro, but I am not one of them. I earn my money and have a moral right to spend it as I choose, as is true of all tax payers.

City officials regularly beseech us to use public transportation, and continue to rob us of more and more of our money in a vain attempt to attract more riders to Metro. When that proves ineffective, they simply take more of our money and engage in more of the same failed activities. If a private business did such a thing, it would go out of business. But since Metro is armed with a gun and can reach into the tax payer's wallet whenever it chooses, it can continue to merrily skip along.

A private business carefully monitors the success of its products and services. Its motivation is not manipulating consumers to act as it chooses; its motivation is to make a profit. And it does this by providing the products and consumers that consumers desire. When a product or service is not successful, it is pulled from the market.

Despite what Metro and government officials tell us, most Houstonians do not want light rail. They aren't using it. A private business would have gotten that message a long time ago. Government officials however, are unconcerned with such facts--they conflict with their vision for the city.

Those who do want light rail should be free to pursue their utopian vision by raising money privately and building a rail system. If they are correct in their assessment regarding the demand then they will benefit and make a ton of money. If they are wrong only they and their investors will suffer.

Of course, that would require them to actually trust their own judgment and put their money where their mouth is. That would require them to actually offer something that consumers independently judge to be worth paying for voluntarily. That would require them to have confidence in their plan. But since they insist on using a gun to force others to pay for their schemes, we can only conclude that they do not have the strength of their convictions. They would prefer to resort to coercion rather than pursuasion.

It is not that difficult to concoct grandiose ideas for making the city better. It is another thing entirely to develop ideas that require the consent of all involved--both investors and consumers. It is another thing to allow individuals to be free to pursue their own values. And that is my vision for Houston--a city in which each individual's moral right to his own life, his own liberty, his own property, and the pursuit of his own happiness is recognized and protected.

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