10 votes

New York’s Penn Station shows how progressives have made it too hard for the government to do big things

12 comments

  1. [7]
    vord
    (edited )
    Link
    This article works awfully hard to gloss over a major point: The governmental process established by progressives would have worked fine, if Republicans hadn't taken every opportunity to defund...

    This article works awfully hard to gloss over a major point: The governmental process established by progressives would have worked fine, if Republicans hadn't taken every opportunity to defund and/or block improvements.

    The piece is literally proposing that unchecked authoritarian power and private interests are preferable to the will of the majority.

    Perhaps if the transportation was properly owned by the local government and properly funded, this would be a non-issue.

    19 votes
    1. [5]
      Loire
      Link Parent
      I would posit, and I have no real citations for this so just take it as a discussion piece, that the majority has no will. That "the people" generally don't have the ability to organize big...

      The piece is literally proposing that unchecked authoritarian power and private interests are preferable to the will of the majority.

      I would posit, and I have no real citations for this so just take it as a discussion piece, that the majority has no will. That "the people" generally don't have the ability to organize big projects like this because the masses can rarely unify. You have NIMBY's, and "Why are we paying for this when we have x amount of homeless people", and "We don't need this the old one is just fine" types, and Republican bad actors, and "That's too expensive, just cut this corner and this corner and this corner and it'lll be fine" types to contend with. Even when you have the people's support, it's fleeting. Four years into a big project and suddenly the mood has shifted and the same people that supported it or now inexplicably against it.

      If we had listened to the people the U.S. never would have gone to the moon. Big projects are simply incompatible with the will of the masses irregardless of whether they are progressive or conservative. The benefit of democracy is not that the people get to flex their desires on every decision, it's that they elect a leader to lead, and should he do a bad job the people can replace him bloddlessly.

      Government is, for the length of its term, authoritarian by nature. That's by design. Republicans being able to easily destroy everything progressives put in motion is a failure of democracy.

      8 votes
      1. skybrian
        Link Parent
        This reminds me of Edmund Morgan's argument in Inventing the People. He argues that "The People" are essentially a legal fiction used to legitimize their supposed representatives. It serves the...

        This reminds me of Edmund Morgan's argument in Inventing the People. He argues that "The People" are essentially a legal fiction used to legitimize their supposed representatives. It serves the same purpose as the divine right of kings, except this is our legal fiction.

        He was not arguing against democracy (and neither am I) but I think it's reason to be skeptical of leaders who claim to speak for the people or the community, much as we should be skeptical of religious leaders who claim to speak for God.

        Representation will always be imperfect because the people almost always disagree. There is more than one way that a democracy can represent the people, and we should assume that our way of doing it can be improved.

        7 votes
      2. [3]
        determinism
        Link Parent
        I think the bit that is missing from your statement is the temporal aspect of majority preferences. I don't think it's accurate to claim that "the majority has no will" because it changes. That's...

        I would posit, and I have no real citations for this so just take it as a discussion piece, that the majority has no will.

        I think the bit that is missing from your statement is the temporal aspect of majority preferences. I don't think it's accurate to claim that "the majority has no will" because it changes. That's like saying an object has no velocity as it accelerates. We take snapshots of the public will in elections, referenda, polls, etc, and it consistently changes on certain issues but is also pretty stable on others. Some of those measured changes are due to errors in the data collection method or in the framing of the question; projection from a high-dimensional space down to a single-spectrum or a single issue.

        If you want to track a moving object, you need lots of measurements and a predictive model that can describe its trajectory. With the goal of predicting the will of the people, that means more referenda, more input from the public at a higher frequency using methods that respect the complexity of their perspectives (such as ranked choice or score voting). This will allow us to minimize the number of expensive projects that are started with a false mandate only to have public support collapse under the first hint of adversity.

        4 votes
        1. [2]
          Loire
          Link Parent
          And if those projects are important? Required even? What then? To say a project has a "false mandate" is ridiculous. You act as if the average person knows what they want or thinks things through...

          This will allow us to minimize the number of expensive projects that are started with a false mandate only to have public support collapse under the first hint of adversity.

          And if those projects are important? Required even? What then?

          To say a project has a "false mandate" is ridiculous. You act as if the average person knows what they want or thinks things through rationally. A new train station may be popular one year and unpopular the next, with the very same person, for no reason other than they read a negative news article on the matter. The average person is not a rationale thinker, the average person is a (small r) reactionary. Without strong leadership to make the hard or unpopular decisions nothing gets done. No amount of fine grained modeling will change that.

          5 votes
          1. determinism
            Link Parent
            Who can decide if a project is important or required? If I understood your comment, you were essentially saying that mandates don't exist or that they should be ignored because they are...

            And if those projects are important? Required even? What then?

            Who can decide if a project is important or required?

            To say a project has a "false mandate" is ridiculous.

            If I understood your comment, you were essentially saying that mandates don't exist or that they should be ignored because they are meaningless? From that premise, wouldn't you conclude that all mandates are "false mandates"?

            My meaning was that a "false mandate" is one that is assumed from insufficient data about what the public actually thinks or one that doesn't account for measurement variance. One improvement would be to measure the sensitivity of public opinion to certain variables like cost and time to implement. From that, you could predict the odds of various outcomes for a project and be able to quantify which decision would be most likely to maximize public satisfaction.

    2. skybrian
      Link Parent
      In America at the federal level we have to assume Republicans exist and have significant political power, though in the future who knows. In NYC this seems not to be the real issue since the...

      In America at the federal level we have to assume Republicans exist and have significant political power, though in the future who knows. In NYC this seems not to be the real issue since the Democrats have been in power so long, though federal support does help.

      Sometimes it's nice to think about what you might do if you were in charge though, like in SimCity.

      2 votes
  2. [4]
    nothis
    (edited )
    Link
    Plenty of "progressive" governments do fine taking on projects like this. Basically, the whole article reads like "but right-wing forces refused to budge for so long, progressives might as well...

    Plenty of "progressive" governments do fine taking on projects like this. Basically, the whole article reads like "but right-wing forces refused to budge for so long, progressives might as well give up".

    Also: A week after the article was written, Amazon announced they're coming to NYC, anyway, even without the tax breaks, kinda contradicting a real jewel of their argument.

    18 votes
    1. [3]
      skybrian
      (edited )
      Link Parent
      That story is paywalled so I don't know if it covers it, but this seems to be a change in plan. Apparently Amazon is expanding in Manhattan (at Hudson Yards) and the original plan used preexisting...

      That story is paywalled so I don't know if it covers it, but this seems to be a change in plan. Apparently Amazon is expanding in Manhattan (at Hudson Yards) and the original plan used preexisting tax breaks indended to promote redevelopment of some waterfront property in Long Island City. That property remains undeveloped and it seems there is still a lot of political dispute over what to do with that property.

      Until we see what happens to that property, the long-term consequences of making Amazon move elsewhere seem pretty unclear? We don't know if it will be better or worse for most of the people involved.

      And in some ways we might never know since it's basically an alternate history scenario.

      1 vote
      1. [2]
        nothis
        Link Parent
        One more snarky comment: The article also provides an alternate history scenario.

        One more snarky comment: The article also provides an alternate history scenario.

        1 vote
        1. skybrian
          Link Parent
          Yep. It's hard to avoid for big political questions. There is some fairly detailed history in there too, though.

          Yep. It's hard to avoid for big political questions. There is some fairly detailed history in there too, though.

          2 votes
  3. skybrian
    Link
    From the article:

    From the article:

    The story of Penn Station’s halting redevelopment comes in three separate waves of effort that rose up to replace the current squalor—and then, in the first two cases, crumbled into nothing. Pundits and editorials have tended to blame a rotating cast of characters for the rot—the railroad that owns the station, the state bureaucracies that have neglected it, the private real estate interests that have hemmed it in. But Penn Station has actually languished at the hands of another simple reality: No one has the leverage to fix it. The sad state of America’s most important train station stems more from a failure of power than a failure of leadership. And shockingly enough, that’s not by mistake—it’s by design.

    2 votes