Thursday, October 22, 2009

Are There Editors at The Oregonian? A Dave Lister Howler

I nearly fell off my chair...really.

The apparently irony-proof Dave Lister decided to use Sea-Port Airlines as his shining example of the glories of free enterprise in an Op-Ed in today's Oregonian. Come again?

[Note: perhaps wisely, the inept folks that run the OregonLive site have not posted the Lister Op-Ed]

Sea-Port Airlines, you may recall, exists for no other reason that it is the beneficiary of an enormous amount of government subsidy!

This from the September 14th Oregonian: "...the flights remain heavily subsidized. In the first six months, [Newport and Astoria] have spent more than $1 million of the grant money to support the airline, while the flights have generated just $213,000 in revenue."

The point is of course that Sea-Port is precisely the opposite of an exemplar of the wonders of free enterprise. It would not exist without heavy government subsidy, not even close: its Pendleton routes, for example, cost about $3 million a year and were projected to earn about $1.5 million in revenue. So it is with an amazing amount of gall that (equally irony-proof) Kent Craford, one of Sea-Port's partners, says that the misguided decision to expand the federal government by creating the TSA created this wonderful free-enterprise opportunity that he and his partners exploited. What they exploited is taxpayer largesse and to not acknowledge that is outrageous.

So let's follow the logic: the government is bad because it does not make use of the free market for airport security, but we don't mind if the government subsidizes our operations and allows us to take home fat paychecks. Priceless.

The biggest question is why doesn't The Oregonian exercise a little editorial judgement and not publish this inane drivel, it is not at all hard to figure out that this is utter nonsense?

There are a couple of very interesting public policy questions that arise from this little misfire:

Is it appropriate that the vast majority of American taxpayers, those that live in urban areas, should subsidize rural living so heavily? Is air service that important. Their Astoria and Newport routes apparently average about 2 people per flight. So is not particularly environmentally friendly - I suspect a car would be much greener.

Was the creation of the TSA a sensible way to overcome the clear principal-agent problem involved in having private for-profit companies handle airport security? If not, what other ways would be better.

Good questions for my public policy analysis class next term, but interesting questions like this are not apparently what The Oregonian is interested in.