Amtrak: Democracy vs. “The Market”

Dave Johnson

Amtrak doesn’t “make money” so Republicans want to cut back on service to rural areas. This is America’s ideological tension: democracy serves We the People, plutocracy and markets serve the people who have money.

Of course you read Progressive Breakfast every morning to get the top news items of interest to progressives, but you might have missed this story Monday: Without federal aid, Amtrak could leave rural areas behind. The article discusses the importance of Amtrak in isolated areas,

Passenger trains have been stopping in Hutchinson, Kan., since the early 1870s. But the agricultural center of 42,000 is in danger of losing the one that still stops there every day.

“The bottom line is when you have something, and you’ve had it for so long and it’s served so many people, you hate to lose it,” said Hutchinson City Manager John Deardoff.

But Republicans say the country “can’t afford” to serve isolated, rural areas. This, of course, after decades of tax cut after tax cut for the wealthy and corporations, while doubling military spending under Reagan and then doubling it again under ‘W’ Bush. (They also say we “can’t afford” light rail in cities to help people get to work, or high-speed rail between cities to help people and goods move around.)  From the story,

In a May hearing, Rep. Jeff Denham, a California Republican and chairman of the railroads subcommittee in the House of Representatives, noted that Amtrak’s long-distance routes lost a combined $600 million in 2012.

“We simply cannot afford to continue these levels of subsidized losses year after year,” Denham said.

Democracy is We the People doing things to make all of our lives better. So in a democracy “government spending” is by definition money we spend to make our lives better. Plutocracy and its “market solutions” are about government doing things for people who have money — the rest are seen as “losers” or “takers” who are just in the way. America since Reagan has been transforming from a democracy to a plutocracy that serves the people with the cash. In this example it is people in rural areas who might have to pay the price, losing their rail service.

Interesting Comments

It is interesting to read the comments this article has received at the various sites it is published. It is not getting the usual mass of nasty, insulting, anti-government comments from the right that you expect to see following an article like this. (At least not yet). At The Kansas City Star, for example, Gregory Hinton says, “in forty years Amtrak has lost money that the military gets in 20 days.” At the Miami Herald Clifford Timecruncher Kuhl writes, “I have to wonder how much the “indirect” subsidy is for airport costs and the air traffic control system and how it would affect the cost of an airline ticket were fliers required to pay the entire cost of air service?” At McClatchy DC Prentis Brandon notes, “The government could cover Amtrak route losses for 40 years ($600 million/year) with what they just wasted with a 16 day shutdown.” At the Witchita Eagle Tax Wayne writes, “Maybe the republicans would be willing to take a few bucks out of the farmer welfare program, (you know, the one where the republicans pay the farmers NOT to grow anything) and help Amtrak out.”

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