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September 13, 2009


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Hrmm. This is actually what I've been thinking when reading your so-called failure modes. Time and time again, legislation gets stuck in the Senate. But how serious of problems are they, really? How much of it is temporary?

Sure, Bush didn't get immigration reform or social security privatization. But he did manage to get other policy goals through Congress. So how much of the failure on health care reform, financial reform, and global warming under the current administration is is a systemic flaw, and how much of it is just a weak president?

Put another way, say we get President Huckabee in 2012. Will he have the same problems with deadlock in Congress?

As a brief followup, I should note that a lot of judicial and administrative innovation in the last few decades has been a response to Congress's failure to tackle any of the problems. How major of an issue that is is unclear; do we really need a government mandated asbestos settlement? But it's worth thinking about.

One veto point that I haven't seen addressed here is I think a greater threat than any mentioned so far: a combination of NIMBYISM and bureaucratic inertia that makes things getting done happen in a time frame of decades rather than years. So, for example, California's high speed rail is going to take eons to complete because of environmental assessments, local interest groups battling tooth and nail to keep track from going through *their* locality, etc. Various urban governments here in Central Texas have approved a commuter rail corridor to run from north of Austin down to San Antonio. It's all well and good, but several years on, none of the governments have managed to appropriate any money for this project. Meanwhile, the commuter train that Austin finally has built, that from Cedar Park to downtown, is a year and a half behind schedule for opening, and doesn't appear like it will open any time in the near future.

We need lots of nuclear reactors and we need them yesterday, but it's simply impossible to build them in America because of NIMBYism and government sluggishness.

Indeed, if the voice of God were to announce tomorrow to humanity that the Hubbert Peak is here now and must be addressed, it would still take over twenty years to get viable non-automotive transit even started because of all the environmental assessments, surveying, need to find property and appropriate funds, etc.

I'm not sure what this veto point could be called (I favor "Bureaucratic Constipation"), but it's the most severe veto point that threatens the U.S.

I agree that Nimbyism seems like a big problem. What I'm not so sure of is whether it is actually a problem.

Frex, the U.S. has managed to triple its natural gas pipeline capacity.

Or many urban areas continue to build freeways out to the horizon. Texas, Arizona, the growth is impressive. Meanwhile, many of the slow projects (like, say, the Green and Blue line extensions in Boston) are slow for funding reasons, not environmental reviews. That's also the problem with the CHST, much more so than route issues, most of which have been ironed out.

Finally, as for nuclear, bureaucracy is not behind the delays. Rather, it's finance. The projects rarely make sense, even at current prices.

None of this is to argue that Nimbyism isn't a problem. But it is to say that I'd need more proof before I'd conclude that it is a systemic problem in the United States.

Are Texas and Arizona appropriate examples, though? They do have plenty of land. I think Boston, or NYC's aging subway system, are better examples.

OTOH, consider the rapid proliferation in wind energy the past few years.

(Is actually going to do a note topic on green LULUs).

I will note that I think the government's rapid passage of the stimulus bill, TARP, the 9/11 victim's fund, etc. do suggest in a serious emergency that Congress can act.

US fortunately does not have the Liberum veto (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liberum_veto) that brough down the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Imagine every member of Congress having the power to veto legislation.

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