Are Trains An Example Of Socialism?

Every so often one comes across another statement by those supporting the Republican Party which raises questions not only about their intelligence but about their knowledge of American history. George Will, an intelligent man and one versed in history, wrote a column condemning President Obama’s request for high speed trains as an example of Socialism in action because it furthers the concept of “collectivism.” I assume Will means forcing people to use the same means of transportation. I assume George Will is familiar with actions by that noted, “Socialist,” Abraham Lincoln to fund construction of the inter-continental railroad in order to allow the West to be settled and assist individual farmers in getting their produce to market. Of course, little did western farmers realize by using railroads instead of getting in their wagons and driving their crops to market they were simply agents of SOCIALISM! One can understand opposition to construction of high speed railroads, but when knowledgeable people like George Will write this type of argument, it makes one wonder if all Republicans have gone stark raving mad.

I was raised in New York City, which like Chicago or San Francisco or a dozen other cities had subways and trolleys to convey people. Little did we know by using these means of transportation we were being denied of our right to drive a car and further individualism in America. Is stupidity a disease which can only be caught by card carrying members of the Republican Party?

  • twv

    The last line can easily be answered: No. I’ve seen “stupidity” everywhere, and the partisan spin at the end is silly and not merited by the preceding.

    Perhaps a key to understanding the critics of trains who now cry “socialism” can be found in the recognition that, in many cities, early last century, the trains were put in by private enterprise, and run by same. Later, most were taken over by cities, who support them with varying mixes of taxes and fees.

    Socialism is variously defined, but usually as public/government ownership of the means of production, run for the benefit of “all.” Of course, the “all” is always a bit slippery. The maxim of the old socialists, “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs” applies to government run outfits, when charge per services rendered plays little part of the revenue of the outfit. Thus, the higher the subsidy from taxation, the more socialistic it is.

    The local PUD, where I live, is only half socialistic. It gets its revenue from fees (capitalist), but is publicly owned (socialist?) and has a monopoly grant on electricity distribution.

    It’s worth noting that many 19th century train lines were government “internal improvement” projects, examples of public/private “partnerships, and that Lincoln was a railroad lawyer, fatting his bank account in the characteristically Whig manner. But one transcontinental railway did not use land grants extensively, and proved it could be done without all the politics. (Though, in a sense, in cases where private property hadn’t been established, government politicking was inevitable, given the nature of “territory” as understood at that time.)

    Generally, “socialism” is overused, I grant you. But the more a government-owned enterprise is subsidized by taxes, not fees, the more socialistic it becomes. It’s a matter of definition. Still, there’s a sliding scale, you might say.

    Not all trains are socialist. Not all need be. But many are, at least to some degree.

  • Anonymous

    Freight railroads are owned by private companies, and unlike our public road system, all of their infrastructure is maintained with their own private funds.  They don’t get any money from the government.  That’s about as far from socialism as you can get.

  • Fred Stopsky

    The transcontinental railroad in America consisted of an investment of $300,000 by businessmen and an expenditure of $200,000,000 by the Federal government.