Special interests shouldn’t have veto power over change

By Phil Power
Syndicated columnist

Ann Arbor – Travel often gives you new ways of looking at things … and  that is certainly true of travel to China. My wife Kathy and I just got back from visiting our son, who lives and works in Shanghai.

We were there for 10 days, and it’s good to be home. But even through the fog of jet lag, the trip gave us plenty to think about.

And the main thing that hit me is what the Chinese are doing with their infrastructure. The trains are amazing. Our run from Beijing to Shanghai ran silently at a posted 303 kilometers an hour (that’s 187 miles per hour!) on an absolutely smooth rail bed.

Seats felt like the first-class section of an airplane, with attendants bringing lunch and good views from wide windows.

The roads were wonders to behold, especially in Beijing, where virtually every one had trees, flowering roses and shrubs planted alongside, all well maintained and weeded. The expressways were well designed and in good shape. Traffic congestion in the cities was worse than anything we see here — which isn‘t surprising, since automobile ownership in China is growing at an enormous rate.

The contrast with what we have here at home could not have been more striking. We’ve basically strangled our railroad system.

Sadly, we get delighted at news that the rail line between Detroit and Chicago will be improved enough to run at 60 mph. And, as anybody who drives in Michigan knows, our roads are still a mess.

So what’s going on here?

Naturally, we need to consider that it’s easy for the Chinese to build roads and railroads: The government doesn’t have to worry about private ownership or public opinion. It controls all the land, and ordinary people don’t have much say in an authoritarian regime.

China also has lots of cash to invest in their infrastructure — which, sadly, isn’t the case with us anymore. And when you have a dictatorship as they do, it isn’t hard to make serious political decisions and get them done quickly. Meanwhile, America’s politics are so gummed up these days that it’s hard to get anything done.

Part of the problem, clearly, is that our system is set up so that many varied interest groups are so deeply embedded in the political system that they can veto just about anything they don’t like.

Think Ambassador Bridge owner “Matty” Moroun and his so-far successful efforts to prevent building the New International Trade Crossing over the Detroit River, a bridge virtually everyone else in the business community says is vitally necessary. Think Detroit, where politics and unions are hobbling efforts to implement the consent agreement that might save the city’s finances.

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