Thursday, November 15, 2007

Candidate of Choice

Dale Francisco ran for Santa Barbara City Council as a pro-choice candidate; that is, he wants public policy to support private transportation. In short, he's a car guy, and he doesn't want Santa Barbara in the business of encouraging people to walk, bike, or ride public transit. People have chosen cars, he reasons, and government should respect that choice. Now that Francisco has beaten the odds and Brian Barnwell for a seat on the City Council, I'm compelled to make a few common-sense points to help ensure that his argument to support cars in the 21st century doesn't gain traction in Santa Barbara public policy.

First, people's personal choices are defined by public choices. Calling the choice to own and drive a car simply a matter of "personal" choice ignores the public choice to invest enormous resources in roads and parking and suburban sprawl. The infrastructure is set up for cars. That I and nearly every adult in Santa Barbara chooses to own and drive a car is possible only because of tax-supported infrastructure. How many of us would invest tens of thousands of dollars in personal transportation if roads were unpaved and parking non-existent? How many would choose public transportation if enough money were invested in it to make it more convenient than cars?

Second, the public choice to invest in personal transportation has never been a simple matter of democracy in action, never a simple reflection of Americans love affair with the automobile. Powerful corporations with vast sums of money at stake, notably General Motors, pursued calculated policies to cripple public transportation, eliminate competition, and leave people with no other option but to purchase a car. Los Angeles is probably the most tragic result of this effort. Blessed in the first half of the twentieth century with the largest streetcar system in the world, boasting a per capita ridership exceeding current-day San Francisco and New York, LA now famously suffers from the horrors of auto-dystopia: asphalt jungles, traffic nightmares, vacant downtown, smog, endless commutes--and on and on.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the choice to invest public money in personal transportation, which may have made some sense in the first half of the twentieth century, makes no sense today. The Average Man has pointed out to Dale Francisco the green reasons for public transportation, which I think are obvious and I fully support. I'd also like to point to the, dare I say, emotional benefits of public transportation. For sure, cars can be fun and, perhaps more so than any other commodity, bring real pleasure. But maybe getting out of our cars and interacting with our neighbors is even more fun. As Francisco himself has said, "I originally came to Santa Barbara partly because this is one of the world's best places for biking and hiking, and because it has a walkable downtown. If I never had to drive a car, I'd be delighted." Well, then, why not support public policy that fosters the choice for such car-less joy?

15 comments:

First District Streetfighter said...

No Joke:

Francisco several times during election season has justified that personal, single-occupancy cars for everyone everywhere is just fine because those cars soon will be powered by better technology, biofuels, solar power, etc.

Apparently he also means that a Star Fleet transporter and cloaking device also are part of that new technology to reduce traffic congestion.

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Elena said...

You say that "people's personal choices are defined by public choices." There is certainly an interaction between public and personal choices, but I would like to suggest that the interaction is in fact the reverse; in a democratic political system, the public choices are an aggregate of the personal choices of voters, who determine either how much funding goes into infrastructure directly, through voting on propositions and bills, or indirectly, through voting in candidates who support such initiatives.

Dale Francisco was voted in by such individuals, and therefore he represents their interests. By supporting personal use of cars, he is following through on the platform which got him elected by a majority of voters, which is surely the mark of a more honest than average politician. His personal preferences are irrelevant; if he would prefer to walk, that's fine, but he's not representing his constituency properly if he fails to take their driving preferences into account.

Furthermore, public policy does support a choice; the same roads must be maintained to the same level of function if buses and bicycles are to use them, instead of individual vehicles.

yeahright said...

There are also some practical limitations to public transportation imposed by other choices. Public transportation works very well, say, in New York city. There the commercial and residential density allow a single transit stop to serve thousands of riders daily. This scale assists in making public transit more economically realistic. Those kind of densities are not going to occur here within our lifetimes, and certainly not within Mr. Francisco's term of office. I think he is just being realistic.

jqb said...

"I would like to suggest that the interaction is in fact the reverse; in a democratic political system, the public choices are an aggregate of the personal choices of voters"

If you were to actually read and comprehend the post on which you are commenting, you would realize that your suggestion is wrong. There are no facts or logic supporting your fantasy version of how society works.

"Dale Francisco was voted in by such individuals, and therefore he represents their interests. "

That does not follow. People have a variety of reasons for voting for an individual, many of them rooted in ignorance. I've talked to a lot of people who have no idea what policies Dale Francisco favors, but think he's a nice guy and wanted a change in city hall -- any change. These people are as fuzzy headed as your non sequitur.

Elena said...

Ignorance, or dare I suggest, even stupidity, are not a reason to discount the choices that a voter may have made. If someone chooses not to educate him or herself on an issue or on a candidate, and then votes without understanding, the public policy will reflect that choice; an aggregate of ignorance will appear in the laws.

In this case, considering what an incredibly small number of Santa Barbara residents actually bothered to vote, I am making an assumption that at least many of those voters knew what they were voting for. Besides which, it's difficult to avoid knowing at least something about a candidate here - there were only a few of them, and plenty of information available.

As far as Dale Francisco's representation of his constituency, the same argument applies.

I'd just like to suggest, in closing, that jqb both read and comprehend the phrase "ad hominem attack," along with its meaning: a logical fallacy which discounts the argument it supposedly supports.

jqb said...

Elena, a) you are assuming your conclusion -- that's a fallacy of petitio principii.
b) Your "meaning" of "ad hominem" is quite wrong. A fallacious ad hominem argument is of the form "[some fact about a person] implies the person's claim is false" -- and I did not employ that fallacy.

There are numerous online references where you can learn about fallacies so you can stop committing them and falsely accusing others of committing them.

jqb said...

P.S. There's another fallacy here, a subtle one, and that's a misapplication of Leibniz's Law. Just because people choose a candidate doesn't mean that they've chosen the candidate's decisions. To say "the public policy will reflect that choice; an aggregate of ignorance will appear in the laws" is sophistry when used to support the claim that "the public choices are an aggregate of the personal choices of voters". Clearly, if people want good public transportation but, through ignorance, elect people who don't pursue policies that produce good public transportation, there's a conflict between these "choices" people have made and their preferences, and that's what's being discussed. To claim that people have chosen not to have good alternatives to cars because of their choices in the ballot box is ridiculous. As the original article said, "the public choice to invest in personal transportation has never been a simple matter of democracy in action, never a simple reflection of Americans love affair with the automobile". This is a point that Elena simply failed to address. Sure, public policy is a causal consequence of the decisions of the entire population, but that doesn't tell us anything interesting or relevant, it's just a rationalization of the status quo.

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