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Congestion Pricing: Ryan Avent Takes Slate and Matt DeBord to Econ 1 School

Why oh why can't we have a better press corps?

This is, I think, yet another example of the global Slate failure: they tried to copy Michael Kinsley's early New Republic trick of attracting readers by being contrarian and edgy and counterintuitive. But when Kinsleyism worked--which wasn't always, and which got rarer and rarer over time--the primary source of its success wasn't that it was contrarian and edgy and counterintuitive, but that it was smart. And Slate has found that it is a lot easier to be contrarian and edgy and counterintuitive if you are also really dumb--and is, here, clearly taking the line of least resistance.

Ryan:

Reduced Congestion is Good for Drivers: I don’t know what’s most strange about this Matt DeBord post... his insistence on making every policy discussion into a tribal battle between Team Car and everyone else, his bizarre suggestion that drivers have no problem with congestion, or the ludicrously hyperbolic assertion that using pricing to cut congestion will mean that “we just won’t be able to do the car thing anymore”.

Congestion pricing really isn’t that hard. Congestion is a classic negative externality. When a driver gets on the road, he doesn’t have any reason to think about the additional traffic he is creating, and since the same is true for everyone using scarce, valuable road space, drivers opt to drive until traffic grinds to crawl. We confront problems like this all the time.... The idea is to allow cars to use the road as intended, at appropriate speeds, predictably and efficiently. If driving falls below the level at which congestion is a problem, you drop the [congestion] price. In the meantime, we cut out the billions in annual losses due to time and gas wasted in traffic. DeBord writes as though climate control and a radio station eliminate the pain of sitting in a traffic jam. As far as I can tell, no sane person actually think this.... A pleasant side effect of pricing roads is the revenue, which can be used to fund additional transportation capacity.... If congestion pricing offers drivers a guaranteed smooth commute and, at the same time, enables the provision of high-quality, reliable transit, why would anyone in their right mind think that’s a bad thing?

Cars are useful inventions insofar as they make for effective transportation. Traffic-choked roads are not effective.... [I]t’s sad for Matt DeBord (and embarrassing for the Big Money) that he can’t conceive of the issue outside some drivers-versus-utopians nonsense frame.

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