In which I respond to The Economist. With a little bit of slow-burning fury.
The Economist explains: Why don’t Americans ride trains?
Despite the title of this article, the question isn’t fully explored. The primary reasons provided in this article are (1) America is bigger (than the other regions being compared, such as Europe), (2) American trains are more frequently delayed due to sharing lines with freight trains, (3) road travel is subsidized. While these are undoubtedly significant factors, probably the most significant, I think there are also many others at play, some of which may have more of a bearing on everyday decision making. I’ve been in Europe close to two weeks now, and I’ve watched how traveling by local trains is absolutely normal for people of all walks of life. Adults heading to work, children heading home from school, tourists, etc. In the U.S., public transit tends to be more widely used by people of lower socio economic status, for whom owning a car isn’t a feasible option. Additionally, many local rail lines aren’t particularly convenient and rail stations in some areas may be considered very dodgy. So in addition to little economic incentive to take rail, there are also some class and social issues at play as well.
Farming as rocket science: Why American agriculture is different from the European variety
While this article doesn’t outright say “American farming is better,” it does paint America’s agro-industrialism with a flattering brush, denigrating alternatives (such as smaller organic farm systems) in its comment about the difference between American and European subsidies. “EU taxpayers often pay to keep market forces at bay, preserving practices which may be quaint, green or kindly to animals but which do not turn a profit.” Though subtle, this is yet another example of serious ethical values being placed on a much lower level than economic prerogative. It seems very American, to me, to want to totally separate these spheres–moral and economic–and it also is typical of us to undervalue the more qualitative aspects of life. This article efficiently connects the education of rural children to the route of development pursued by many American farms, but it fails to offer any kind of analysis of this effect. What is blatantly missing here is that many 4H children are no longer living on working farms. While we may have a few farms with more technological advances, we do not have many people making a living from farming regardless of technological innovation. In fact, many up-and-coming farmers are pursuing much different models for financing their production, such as selling CSA (community supported agriculture) shares directly to consumers, and are conscientiously prioritizing the quality and variety of their product over quantity. While a difficult route, this is proving successful for many people. Culturally, we need to move away from being blinded by science.