Column: Capitalism not the ideal we want

By David Solana

The railroad made America strong. The iron horse linked all parts of the country. It led to the expansion of the population away from the eastern seaboard to strengthen the economies of many parts of the United States. But along the line it became pass‚. Flying is quicker, and commerce requires that people move quickly to generate ever-greater profits. The lack of importance given to vacation time in America forces quick trips – we have to get somewhere instantly and then get back in time to show up for the next nine-to-five shift.

The train is just too slow for that lifestyle. So it was pushed aside in mainstream-American travel. The car, while around before the airplane, is fatal for the passenger rail industry because it allows for swift travel over short distances. The combination of planes and cars kill the commuting value of a railroad system. Why, then, is it important the government subsidize railroads?

America is the bastion of capitalism. If an industry cannot survive, why should public funds be used to help it? It should either find a way to make itself more competitive or go bankrupt like so many other enterprises. The White House’s current line of thought is Amtrak, and received $1.2 billion this year, will either find a way to survive by cutting services or fail. In its place, a new company should rise and serve only the places from which it would be able to gain a profit, according to CBS Minneapolis affiliate WCCO.

But Amtrak subsidies fit into our nation’s capitalistic premise as well as all other government subsidies. Farmers and artists both receive subsidies even though in true capitalism they shouldn’t be able to exist without demonstrated, self-generated profit.

The airline industry has received $15 billion from the U.S. government since suffering terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, according to The Travel Insider. This amount was given freely, with no stipulations, whereas Amtrak has been forced to show much-needed responsibility in operating to retain a hope of further funding. This is a necessary stipulation, but it doesn’t fit when competing industries get free money.

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    This is a scary policy – favoring one business over another. It really isn’t a surprise to see unwarranted favoritism in politics. Cutting Amtrak funding while maintaining huge subsidies for airlines and keeping highways up to snuff effectively ignores the transportation needs of Americans without cars or the means to pay for air travel. Even while using those Americans’ tax dollars continues to support industries they will never be able to use.

    The problem arises from the difference between political ideologies and realities. There wouldn’t be such a fuss about a train company if it were properly run. It wouldn’t be such a huge issue to help Amtrak fix itself with public funds as a crutch if there weren’t so many idealists in power.

    Sure, it’s nice to believe Ayn Rand was on to something when she wrote about the benevolence of capitalism in The Objectivist and Atlas Shrugged, but capitalists never seem to demonstrate that compassion in reality. Somewhere along the line people lose their heads, strive simply for ever-greater profit margins and forget their employees. Rand was an emphatic believer in the good those employees received from their capitalist employers. But when that good doesn’t exist, there is nothing left for the workers except the government. That’s not very reassuring.

    The problem arises when businesses control the government and through political power destroy each other at public expense. Amtrak is a poorly run enterprise whose life depends on government aid. It has public value and should therefore be kept afloat while it fixes itself. But when competing companies receive disproportionate public aid, one must question the integrity of the government and whether it is still playing the role of citizen protector or whether it is simply playing with its citizens.