Another Thing We Don’t Have

Subtitle: Another thing to blame the government for.

Some of us may have been around to see when futurists sincerely believed that jetpacks would become common and popular. A common joke today is to complain, “Okay, it’s the future. Now where’s my jetpack?” It’s 2010, right? This was supposed to be a year of tremendously advanced technology. In fairness, it is. Many predictions simply proved infeasible. Consumer jetpacks are likely never to be a reality.

Today though, I was reading one of those old predictions. It can be found through this link. It was published in 1961 on July 22nd and it is entitled “Will Life Be Worth Living in 2,000 AD?” As per usual for many of these things, the predictions tend to be wrong. It predicts jetpacks also. A few things though it gets right. “Mail and newspapers will be reproduced instantly anywhere in the world by facsimile” stands out as a pretty good description of the internet. “There will be machines doing the work of clerks, shorthand writers and translators. Machines will “talk” to each other” is another one that I feel we can say has come true, and had come true as of 2000 (though in a less refined form).

What really jumped out at me though was a prediction that didn’t come true, though it could have. “There will be moving plastic-covered pavements, individual hoppicopters, and 200 m.p.h. monorail trains operating in all large cities,” boasts the article. I don’t know what hoppicopters are, but we could have had moving pavements and monorails easily. Monorails especially. Moving pavements always seemed a little clumsy to me. I know an airport or two that has implemented them and… yeah, rather clumsy things. But monorails, we could have had. We have the technology. It’s expensive, but not unthinkably so. Many environmentalist groups are advocating for government funding. I want to present a little exercise in an alternative present.

Imagine if the government didn’t fund the highway systems so extensively, leaving them up to the states, and likely having many of them fall into disrepair. Trains would still be popular. Downtown areas would still have thriving centers around train depots like they used to. Trains are much more efficient than cars. It wouldn’t require massive government subsidies to prop up what little rail travel we have. (It doesn’t require that now; those rails should be allowed to live or die on the markets, but I digress.) And if rail travel was a way that people really got around, there’d be demand to improve it. Without so much money going to the highways, billions of dollars more would have been in the hands of the private market over the many years since the various highway expansion programs, billions of dollars that would have helped develop our capital structure over the years, making us richer. With the profits of the railway systems and a desire to ensure that they stayed competitive against each other and against alternative transit methods it seems very probable that we would have not just 200mph monorails but 500mph maglevs. Perhaps even better! The technology would be farther along today than it is. It would be cheaper. It would be wider used. It would be better tested. And indeed, it would be faster. All of this without a cent of government money. This alternate future would be better for the environment, better for the economy, and better for the American people.

We don’t have those nice things today. There are many other nice things we don’t have because government, bureaucracy, central planning, and make-work projects ate our money and gave us nothing useful in return. Shall we continue doing this, wasting the resources of today and tomorrow, that our children should be disappointed the same way? I hope not.

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