5-9-15 Hodgepodge

Saturday, May 09, 2015

What Killed Streetcars

An article at Vox puts a popular conspiracy theory to bed. A big part of the problem was that the consequences of rent-seeking on the part of many streetcar companies came home to roost:

Eventually, many of them contracted with city governments for the explicit right to operate as a monopoly in that city. In exchange, they agreed to all sorts of conditions. "Eager to receive guarantees on their large up-front investments, streetcar operators agreed to contract provisions that held fares constant at five cents and mandated that rail line owners maintain the pavement around their tracks," writes Stephen Smith at Market Urbanism. [link in original, format edits]
The streetcar companies thus ceded control of the rates they could charge and partially subsidized their new competition, the automobile, in the form of good streets -- which the cars filled enough to cause streetcar delays.

Incidentally, the company often blamed for deliberately killing off the streetcar companies was involved only about one time in ten.

Weekend Reading

"The growth and maintenance of self-confidence must be ongoing, and cumulative." -- Michael Hurd, in "Yes I Can -- No I Can't" at The Delaware Wave

"Instead of resenting their child for feeling entitled, [some parents] actually assume she's entitled to everything -- forever." -- Michael Hurd, in "Childhood Is Not a Lifetime Debt" at The Delaware Coast Press

"The key issue is whether drug companies can tell doctors truthful information about their products that pertains to 'off-label' uses (i.e., for applications not already explicitly approved by the FDA.)" -- Paul Hsieh, in "Drug Company Amarin Stands Up for Free Speech Against FDA" at Forbes

Speaking of Trolleys, ...

... I enjoyed a set of "Lesser-Known Trolley Problem Variations" I ran across recently at McSweeney's.
There's an out of control trolley speeding towards four workers. Three of them are cannibalistic serial killers. One of them is a brilliant cancer researcher. You have the ability to pull a lever and change the trolley's path so it hits just one person. She is a brilliant cannibalistic serial killing cancer researcher who only kills lesser cancer researchers. 14% of these researchers are Nazi-sympathizers, and 25% don't use turning signals when they drive. Speaking of which, in this world, Hitler is still alive, but he's dying of cancer.
Given the irrelevance of "ethical" questions such as the Trolley Problem to real life, the problem -- although not ethics per se -- is being entertained with about the seriousness it deserves here.

Update: Leonard Peikoff fields two similar questions, one on the Trolley Problem. His answers are worth hearing and remembering as they very economically demonstrate what is wrong with the kind of "reasoning" such questions involve. (HT: John Shepard.)

-- CAV


5-10-15: Added link to Leonard Peikoff Q&A regarding the Trolley Problem. 


Andrew Dalton said...

Have you seen this even more convoluted version of the Trolley Problem?

John Shepard said...

Gus, if you've not listened to this response by Leonard Peikoff on those trolley car ethical dilemmas, you might enjoy it. (I enjoy reading your thoughts most everyday. Your daily blog posts are one of the first things I read each day. Thank you.)

If five people are in an emergency room dying, and one healthy person in the waiting room could save them all if we used his organs, is it morally permissible to do this even though he’ll die? (Date: May 26th, 2008; Duration: 03:07):


Gus Van Horn said...


That's great! Thanks for passing it on.


Thanks for the kind words and the link. I'll listen to it later, when my son's nap is over.