By spring, anyone caught driving the streets of Paris without a breathalyzer in the car will face a stiff fine. President Nicolas Sarkozy added this device to the list of gadgets every Frenchman must carry under penalty of law - equipment that already includes a high-visibility fluorescent jacket and warning triangle. Europe is bankrupt precisely because its governments insist on coming up with ever-crazier regulations.
America is not immune to such folly. In 2008, California voters approved a bond measure for a "high-speed" rail (HSR) system that would travel from Los Angeles to San Francisco in 2 1/2 hours. The 53 percent of voters who supported this scheme didn't care where the then-estimated $40 billion would come from. Nor did they consider that airlines already make the same journey in 90 minutes at the cost of $60 per passenger.
Now the best guess is that this choo-choo boondoggle will cost $118 billion, with a one-way ticket price of $105. The state board commissioned to review the project's planning documents issued a blistering warning Tuesday that said, "We cannot overemphasize the fact that moving ahead on the HSR project without credible sources of adequate funding, without a definitive business model, without a strategy to maximize the independent utility and value to the state, and without the appropriate management resources, represents an immense financial risk on the part of the state of California." In a sane world, the people would pull the plug immediately, but too many remain infatuated with government-provided transportation.
A culture of dependence has gradually supplanted the traditional American values of self-reliance and individualism. One could see this at work last month as the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) insisted that the 50 states impose an all-out governmental ban on the use of cellphones behind the wheel.
Predictably, NTSB bureaucrats supplied scary anecdotes about fatal collisions involving a school bus and cellphones to argue that the government must act. As tragic as those accidents may be, emotional responses should not guide public policy. More sober analysis would consider that the number of people killed in automobiles is at the lowest level since 1949. Taking traffic volume into account, it has never been safer to get behind the wheel, despite the rise in cellphone usage.
Neither Europe nor the United States can long remain standing when its people ignore reality and turn to the government for protection from every hobgoblin. Sovereign nations, including our own, have lost their AAA credit ratings because politicians refuse to say no. Instead of prescribing the contents of trunk-mounted emergency kits, governments must address the real economic emergencies they continue to create.
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