A taxpayer-funded voucher that paid the entire cost of educating a child (not just a partial subsidy) would open a range of opportunities to all children. . . . Fully funded vouchers would relieve parents from the terrible choice of leaving their kids in lousy schools or bankrupting themselves to escape those schools.
…the public-versus-private competition misses the central point. The problem is not vouchers; the problem is parental choice. Under current voucher schemes, children who do not use the vouchers are still assigned to public schools based on their zip codes. This means that in the overwhelming majority of cases, a bureaucrat picks the child’s school, not a parent. The only way for parents to exercise any choice is to buy a different home—which is exactly how the bidding wars started.
…Under a public school voucher program, parents, not bureaucrats, would have the power to pick schools for their children—and to choose which schools would get their children’s vouchers.
Aviation is not a big industry. According to the BEA, all of “transportation and warehousing” accounts for only 3 percent of GDP, and of course aviation is only a portion of that category. Despite the industry’s small economic significance in this respect, I’ve come to believe that working on aviation policy is one of the most valuable uses of my time as a policy researcher. Consider this post a defense of my decision to double down in this area for the next year.
What aviation looks like today
When most people think about aviation, they think mainly about commercial jet transportation. They are not wrong to do so. Large passenger airlines and air freight companies account for most of the value the industry produces. There is of course marginally more to it than that—there are helicopters and private planes and a nascent, limited commercial drone industry. But by comparison, these are small potatoes.
Today’s commercial jet transportation has a few peculiar characteristics worth noting. First, it is organized along a hub-and-spoke model. If you want to fly from a small city on the East Coast to a small city on the West Coast, you will almost certainly have to connect through a major hub.
Second, despite the fact that technology exists to fly supersonically, all commercial flights today are subsonic. The Concorde retired in 2003. No new supersonic commercial planes have entered operation.
Third, commercial transportation generally operates along a “common carriage” model. There are published routes and timetables; you buy a seat onboard a flight traveling a fixed route. If there is a sudden surge of demand of people wanting to fly a particular route, the system can’t really accommodate that.
Fourth, flights are still human-piloted. In fact, autopilot does most of the work, but there are still people behind the control stick who are ready to take control in the event of an emergency. Or, as in the case of Air France flight 447, to aggravate the emergency.
Fifth, air traffic control is still done by human beings. In the United States, these human beings still work for the government. US airspace lags that of other countries who have privatized their air traffic control operations, like Canada, the UK, Australia, and New Zealand. Raymond Russell has a great piece on this in Plain Text.
Sixth, aircraft designs are stagnant. Here is one of the ways that James Fallows describes the stagnation in general aviation in his book, Free Flight:
The most popular small [general aviation] planes, the high-wing Cessna 172 Skyhawk and 182 Skylane, are basically unchanged from the models first introduced in the early fifties. In 1997 the Beech Bonanza celebrated its fiftieth anniversary in more or less continuous production. Of course there have been changes over the years, mainly in instrumentation. But to see one of these planes is to have no doubt that it is an ambassador from a much earlier age.
It is possible to view such a venerable fleet as a sign that these were products built to last. This was the spin that an executive of the New Piper Aircraft company put on the situation in the nineties: “Our airplanes are well designed and well built, often remaining in service for thirty years or longer.” But almost any product — a car, a refrigerator, a 1981 original IBM Personal Computer — could also be kept going for decades, just like an airplane, if like airplanes it were subject to the federal requirement for top-to-bottom annual inspections, renovations, and repairs.
The only parts of the world where people actually try to keep cars going for decades, except when consciously preserving museum pieces, are places like modern Havana, where there’s no incoming supply.
The reason it’s not done elsewhere is that new products are better. With enough effort, you could keep that 1977 Gremlin running — but you wouldn’t, since the new models look better, are safer, run more efficiently, have new features, and are easier to maintain.
Finally, between being forced to use overcrowded major airports and suffering the indignities of TSA inspection, the experience of air travel is fairly horrible. Many of us are pretty good at working within the current system—I have gotten from my front door to my airport gate in 16 minutes—but there is significant room for improvement.
How aviation could be better
The discussion so far suggests several margins on which the aviation industry could innovate. First and foremost, our uses of airspace aren’t scratching the surface of what’s possible. Airspace is a dramatically underused platform for innovation. In addition to humans ferrying humans and cargo around for long distances on giant tubes, we need (at least) drone delivery, 24/7 drone sensing and broadcast platforms, and “flying cars,” or in Uber’s words, “on-demand urban air transportation.”
But even regular air transportation has a lot of room for improvement. It could be made better with an emphasis on point-to-point travel instead of today’s spoke-and-hub model. Imagine countless direct flights on smaller planes using more convenient airports, with routes coordinated by software. Open your app, tell it where you want to go, and a service matches you with any other passengers traveling to the same city and a plane that’s exactly the right size. Of course, to make this vision scale and be affordable, the flights would need to be autonomous—there aren’t enough pilots in the country to fly all the point-to-point routes Americans would demand.
Human air transportation should be supersonic. Imagine flying to London in 3 hours instead of 7, to Tokyo in 6 hours instead of 11, or to Sydney in 7 hours instead of 15. That is all possible using known technology—Boom is trying to do it. If their Mach 2.2 jet were allowed to fly over land, you could cross the US in under 2 hours as well.
And, to be a bit greedy, Mach 2.2 is only the beginning. NASA and other science agencies are studying hypersonic (greater than Mach 5) concepts that would make anywhere on Earth accessible in under 4 hours. (Gratuitous sidebar: I like laser propulsion.)
To coordinate heavier and more heterogeneous use of our airspace, we would need smarter, more automated, and ultimately decentralized air traffic management. Aircraft should be able to communicate and coordinate separation with each other, whether they are manned or unmanned vehicles. Better air traffic management pays dividends with lower operational cost and more intensive use of the airspace.
And finally, we need to find a way to bring more dynamism to aircraft engineering. Cars today are radically better than cars of the 1960s. Why are aircraft not similarly improved? If aircraft had experienced the kind of transformation that autos have in the last half-century, we would be having a different conversation right now.
The bottom line is that flight of all kinds could become cheaper, faster, and more convenient. These improvements would have real benefits in terms of quality of life. Three times in the last two months I have taken 24-hour business trips that entailed a night away from home and my family (Austin, Denver, Waterloo). If aviation were better in the ways I am discussing, I could easily have made these into same-day trips. And with faster, cheaper same-day trip availability, I would be more willing and able to meet and talk to more people.
Imagine the benefits of being able to commute a much longer distance in less time through the air. Labor markets would become more efficient as we would all have wider job search radiuses.
Finally, as aviation brought the world together, more people would have the opportunity for significant international travel. Instead of going to Chinatown, more Americans could visit China. The benefits of these foreign cultural experiences are possibly substantial, providing a broader perspective for average people.
How do we get there?
To be sure, there are some technological hurdles to overcome before this vision of next-generation aviation comes to fruition. But a large percentage of the hurdles are regulatory. Here are some of the necessary policy reforms as I see them.
First, air traffic control privatization is probably necessary if we are to experience any significant modernization. As discussed above, other countries have privatized their air traffic management systems with great success. A proposal to privatize US airspace passed the House Transportation and Infrastructure last year but stalled because the Senate version of FAA reauthorization didn’t include it. The issue is almost certain to return in 2017.
Second, commercial drone operation is limited by regulations more than by the technology. The FAA is gradually relaxing the restrictions on drones by first granting waivers to certain elements of the rules and then slowly rolling the formal rules back. This process is likely to take years if the current approach isn’t challenged by Congress, as it should be.
Third, there needs to be a regulatory framework in place for autonomous flight. The drone portion of this is relatively straightforward. The hard part is rules for autonomous aircraft carrying human cargo (i.e., flying cars). The FAA should begin right now to draft rules, create test sites, and work with innovators to find out what kind of guidance they need. Flying cars seem like a fantasy, but we already have a pretty good idea in principle of how they might work. There aren’t any massive missing pieces. Consequently, now is the time to start working on a regulatory framework that would allow them to operate.
Fourth, we should legalize supersonic flight over land. As Samuel Hammond and I explain in our recent paper, “Make America Boom Again,” the ban on supersonic flight should be replaced with a sensible noise standard for sonic booms. In addition, the FAA should use its leadership role at ICAO to push for economical takeoff and boom noise standards globally, so that supersonic R&D is able to have the benefit of a global market.
Fifth, aircraft type certification needs significant reform. It takes years for an aircraft to work its way through the FAA certification process. In part, this is because the FAA insists on using government employees to do all the certifying. In contrast, NHTSA, the automobile regulator, allows sophisticated car companies to self-certify that they meet regulatory requirements. This self-certification is combined with more direct agency oversight when cars reach the market. As a result of this less restrictive regulatory model, cars have experienced dramatically more improvement than aircraft have in the last 50 years. FAA should immediately move to the NHTSA model—they already have legislative authority to do so, but they just simply have decided not to.
In the long run, there are other models of ensuring that aircraft are adequately safe without requiring detailed regulatory oversight. One possibility that I want to explore is that of requiring the manufacturer to carry a large amount of insurance for its products. If this requirement were in place, insurers could substitute for regulators in a competitive, decentralized way to ensure that aircraft designs are efficiently safe. I think this sort of policy would lead to a flourishing of aviation engineering relative to the status quo.
Sixth, the FAA should allow greater experimentation for kinds of air transportation other than traditional airlines. Unfortunately, the FAA currently considers any air transportation that you can book online to be a common carrier, regulated in the same, heavy-handed way the airlines are. This has limited experimentation with forms of “flight sharing,” taking rides with private pilots who need hours in their plane to keep up their licenses. A case involving FlyteNow, a flight sharing service the FAA shut down, may soon be taken up by the Supreme Court. While I hope the Supreme Court rules for FlyteNow, nothing is stopping the FAA from lightening up on its common carriage definition on its own, and nothing stops Congress from defining common carriage less restrictively.
Seventh, it’s past time to legalize what is known as cabotage. You know how Europe has super cheap regional airlines that use smaller airports? What if they decided to expand to the US market? Wouldn’t that be cool? Turns out, they can’t, because it’s illegal. The US (and many other countries) ban foreign carriers from flying domestic routes. This is a strictly protectionist measure that enriches corporate interests at the expense of consumers. It’s ridiculous, and the ban should be repealed.
Even with this limited subset of issues that I’ve highlighted, I have my work cut out for me. There are many billions of dollars in economic welfare on the line here, and almost no one outside of the aviation industry is working on these policy issues. The industry is hampered by their need to play nice with their regulator, so they are not the most ready messenger for the obvious conclusion that we need a fairly significant regulatory overhaul. My goal is to produce good evidence for most or all of these reforms by the time Congress reauthorizes the FAA in September. Wish me luck, or if you are a public interest policy wonk, join me.
A lot of people in this country feel like this right now:
Or even this:
I feel ya.
It’s a lot to take in. President Trump. The guy who said all those things over the last 18 months is our president, and the most powerful person in the world, for the next four years. Four years is a long time. At the end of which, there will be another Donald Trump campaign. This is someone we’re going to have to get used to.
A lot of people are scared right now, for a lot of reasons.
But at this very moment, there are also a lot of Americans who feel like this:
Those people aren’t scared about what happened last night—they’re elated, and relieved, and grateful.
And though it probably feels unintuitive to most readers of this blog, it turns out that there are just as many people who are thrilled by last night’s election as there are people who are devastated by it. For every single American who voted for Hillary yesterday and who watched last night’s events unfold in horror, there’s another American out there who rejoiced. It’s a 1-to-1 ratio.
Hillary supporters are going to go through a bunch of stages of grief before they finally reach acceptance. I’ve already gone through about nine stages myself—and I’ve come out of them with two main thoughts:
1) This is not as bad as it seems.
2) This is a moment for reflection.
Let’s discuss #1 first. Reading the internet throughout the night, I saw Hillary supporters saying a lot of pretty dramatic things, and I think we all need to take it down just a notch. Some examples of things I’m seeing:
“I’m moving to Canada.”
You and I both know your ass isn’t going anywhere. First of all, Canada doesn’t want you. Secondly, this is still a great country you should be proud of. More on that in a bit.
“She won the popular vote. This system is so fucked.”
Yup. The system is dumb. But if Hillary lost the popular vote and won the electoral vote, you’d be fine with it. You can’t protest a system only when you lose.
“We’ll never have a female president.”
I don’t believe that for a second and I don’t think you do either. Hillary didn’t lose because she’s a woman. She lost because Hillary is bad at campaigning and because Trump had a message that resonated with a lot of people and she didn’t. The country is unbelievably ready to elect a woman as its president and I wouldn’t be surprised if it happens in the next election or the one after. And it’ll be so awesome whenever it happens.
“Trump has no idea how to be a world leader.”
He sure does not. But think of it this way: the US executive branch needs to have expertise in about 1,000 things, and no president comes into office as an expert in more than a tenth of those things. The president’s job is to bring in a large team of experts to fill in the 90% that he or she doesn’t know about. For Trump, maybe that number is 98% instead of 90%. But our executive branch will be run by a large group of people, not just Trump, and as a whole they’ll have all the expertise of any other administration. Sure, the president has a lot of say and does have a significant amount of individual power, and that’s mildly terrifying when it comes to Trump—but I’m encouraged by both his experience running a large, complex company and his surprisingly adult choice of Pence as a running mate. I’d predict that President Trump is all about surrounding himself with experts who know very well how to run the executive branch.
“Holy shit the Supreme Court.”
If you care passionately about socially liberal values, this is a fair thing to be super upset about. But it’s also kind of an expected reality. Bush Sr. appointed two justices. So did Clinton. So did Bush Jr. So did Obama. And it’s historically unusual for one party to hold the White House for more than two terms, so history shows that we’re kind of in line for a couple conservative justices. There will be another liberal in office before too long who will appoint more liberal justices. Yes, the whole Merrick Garland thing was maddening if you’re a social liberal, but overall, the fact is that you live in a democracy where half of the people are socially conservative—so this is reality. Look at the bright side—Trump isn’t especially socially conservative, so his appointees may not be either.
America didn’t die. In fact, what happened last night is America being very much alive. Half the country felt ignored and angry and disenfranchised and they wrested control of the government from the people they felt ignored by. That’s how democracy works. It’s an uncomfortable compromise where half the country is appalled by who the president is at all times. Obama’s elections made tens of millions of people feel the same way.
Now granted, this is an unusual case. Trump is extra appalling. So much so that much of his own party is appalled by him. That’s unusual. But it’s not unusual where it counts—he got about the same number of votes as Hillary and ended up winning pretty big in the electoral college. That makes him no less legit a president than anyone in the past.
Secondly, a bigger point: no one person has the power to RIP America, no matter what they do. America is bigger than you or me, and America is much, much bigger than Donald Trump. America is a 320-million-person melting pot, run by a government made up of thousands of people working within a twisty, convoluted set of branches, ruled by a 240-year-old instruction booklet that specifically makes it impossible for any one dick to ride a wave of populist anger into a position where he can RIP America. America is un-RIP-able, at least by the hands of any president.
America survived a civil war, slavery, two world wars, a handful of crippling recessions, 9/11, and a whole lot of really shitty presidents—and it’ll survive Donald Trump.
“But Trump can still do a huge amount of damage.”
Yes he can. And that sucks. But every president can do a lot of damage, and many of them do, and we’re still standing. And remember, the president is seriously limited in what he can do without the approval of other parts of the government, so he’s unlikely to be able to carry out anything that crazy.
On the plus side, it’s a little simplistic to assume that every idea Trump has is terrible. Trump has some good ideas and some refreshing ideas. He may be very good in some areas. He’s nerve-wracking for sure, but let’s look at the full picture.
“Easy for you to say, white male blogger. I’m brown and I don’t feel safe here anymore.”
Here’s what I’ll say to that:
This country had your back yesterday and it’ll have your back tomorrow. America isn’t the president and it’s not the government—it’s 320 million people, and those people haven’t changed. Almost every ethnicity of American was at some point in the role of unwelcome immigrant, and I think there’s a deep ethos of acceptance that pervades everything—an ethos Donald Trump can’t touch. Sure, there are plenty of racists and xenophobes—the US is a troubled place when it comes to race, religion, and ethnicity—but I don’t see Trump’s election as proof that there’s some growing people-phobia trend happening. Which reminds me of another thing I keep seeing:
“I hate everyone who voted for Trump—those stupid, racist, xenophobic fucks.”
Again, that’s a pretty simplistic way to look at things. This election was about much more than the really nasty things Trump said during the campaign. First of all, Trump won in areas where Obama was strongest among white voters—i.e. people unracist enough to vote for a black president. Secondly, Trump did surprisingly well with Latino voters. This isn’t as simple as the media portrays it to be. Trump did say shameful things, and he definitely won over some very hateful people by doing so. But he also stood for a lot more than just those things. In many people’s minds, he stood for hope and change—the same exact thing Obama stood for for millions of voters in 2008.
People vote for hope and change when they’re in pain. When I watched the election last night, I didn’t see a bunch of assholes voting to be hateful, I saw a bunch of people going through a lot of suffering hoping for something better.
Which is why, if you’re a Hillary supporter, in addition to this being a time for disappointment and frustration, it should also be a time for reflection. Half your country voted for Trump. Over 50 million people—people with kids and parents and jobs and dogs and calendars on their wall with piano lessons and doctors appointments and birthday parties written in the squares. Full, three-dimensional people who voted for what they hope will be a better future for themselves and their family.
So yeah, we’re gonna have to look at Trump’s face a lot for a bunch of years, and that sucks. And he might do some really shitty things. And it’s fair to be really upset about having a guy like Trump representing you in the world and worried about how the country will fare under his administration. But if we want to make the best of this, we need to ask a question: Why did those 50 million people vote for Trump?
Trying to get to the bottom of that question will help us learn from the past and get better.
And remember—this is hardly the first time half of America has been apoplectic about the lunatic they just elected as their president. And we’ve always survived. And we will here too.
No. This is not okay. This is not politics as usual. It's not that the wrong candidate won, it's that he's a horrible despicable person and the country voted for him anyway. This piece, while written with good intentions I'm sure, seeks to normalize something that is distinctly abnormal. Not okay.
As all or most of you know by now, Prince has passed away. I don’t listen to him nearly as much as I did in the eighties, but songs such as “When Doves Cry,” “Dirty Mind,” “Glam Slam,” “Starfish and Coffee,” and (most of all) the acoustic, CD-single version of “Seven” still stick in my mind, among others. I think his “dirty little secret,” if you will forgive the pun, is that once you get past the first album he wasn’t much of a true Dionysian, but rather a playful polyglot who assumed various poses. Most of all I was impressed by his urge to create, and how strong and how internal that drive seems to have been.
Essentially, the DTMC [Detroit Threat Management Center] has done what libertarians like Murray Rothbard and David Friedman have long been saying could be done: They have turned the provision of public safety into a profitable business model, and they have done it in some of the worst neighborhoods in the country. The results have been incredible: According to Brown, crime has dropped dramatically in the areas where they work, and all without the loss of life to their staff or anyone else.