Intellectual Diversity on College Campuses: An Oxymoron?

I don’t know how practical his idea is, but you’ve got to admire Del. Steve Landes, R-Augusta, for his moxie. Reports Hugh Lessig with the Daily Press:

[Landes] wanted higher education institutions to report back on policies that would ensure academic freedom in support of intellectual diversity. The reports were optional, and Landes said he wanted to tread carefully because the issue was controversial.

Committee members voted to table the bill after considering it for nearly an hour, hearing from a list of supporters and critics.

It’s a litany of political conservatives that U.S. colleges and universities are dominated by liberals and leftists. Political opinion polls of college professors tend to confirm the stereotype. (As a one-time graduate student in history at the Johns Hopkins University, I lived the bias — that’s why I bailed out with a Master’s Degree instead of Ph.D.)

It wouldn’t surprise me to find that professors in public Virginia colleges lean left as well. But it’s my impression that there is more intellectual diversity in our college campuses than in other public systems. Conservatives and free-marketeers may be a minority, but they’re not an endangered species. Conservative students can find intellectual mentors if they seek them out.

As for the history profs I was closest to at the University of Virginia, two were avowed Marxists and two were mainstream liberal. But they were superb teachers who instilled a love of learning and taught me how to think logically and rigorously for myself. Not much of their politics rubbed off, but their teaching did.

Update: This issue is of more than “academic” interest. To quote from today’s Petersburg Progress-Index:

Last week, Dr. Jean R. Cobbs, a former sociology professor, received a $600,000 settlement from the university. Cobbs, who filed a complaint in U.S. District Court in 2005, claimed she was discriminated against due to her conservative political beliefs. Cobbs has open relations with the Republican Party. In a report from the American Association of University Professors, Cobbs began reporting “repeated acts of ‘professional, political and personal harassment’” in the early 1990s.

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43 responses to “Intellectual Diversity on College Campuses: An Oxymoron?”

  1. Anonymous Avatar

    I can’t express what a bad idea it is for that temple of intellectualism — the Virginia General Assembly — to act as some kind of right-wing watchdog in academia. Thank God the bill was tabled. Talk about mixing politics with intellectual freedom! It doesn’t matter the political flavor — it is just dead wrong!

  2. Groveton Avatar

    This blog site (i.e. Baconsrebellion) seems, to me, to be a bastion of Socialism. I am shocked to hear you guys call youselves free-marketers and conservatives. You are neither.

    You constantly harangue Fairfax County for encouraging job growth. While none of the “pundits” seem to have any plan about US economic growth they know they don’t want more job growth. Instead, government should step in and impose “low growth” zoning laws. Power lines should not run through the Piedmont to bring electricity to the jobs. People should live in state mandated New Urban Areas.

    Sorry Jim but it seems like a lot of what those Marxist / liberal professors said rubbed off on you.

  3. Anonymous Avatar

    More academically minded people need to define the political spectrum more.

    So-called conservatives defend liberal radicals like Bush, while even Kristol-loving “big idea” liberals try to say they are ‘criticizing from the right’.

    What it really comes down to is a lot of confused talking heads, afraid to take a stand and not willing and able to subscribe to any particular political philosophy.

    I consider myself a “true conservative” (against foreign wars and for CONSERVing the environment) who believes Bush should be impeached (thus coming from a leftist point of view). I don’t consider myself academic, but I am amazed by how loose university lectures are these days.

    Is it any wonder we have a confused electorate, with political science being taught without students learning the classical political definitions of conservative and liberal and left and right?

  4. Anonymous Avatar

    There’s no “Bastion of Socialism” label applicable. The problem is that the Rebellion is an unusual mix of some conservative thought, libertarian ideals, Teddy Roosevelt environmental crusading and old, old GOP Progessivism al la “Fighting Bob” of Wisconsin. You are thinking Republican fat cats. The Rebellion is too bipolar for that! It defies labelling!

    An Observer

  5. Anonymous Avatar

    Oh for goodness sakes! “Liberal”? Hey the president of Virginia Tech contributed $1,000 to George Allen’s failed cmpaign for reelection…Don’t they have anything better to do than to introduce warmed over stuff from interest groups like ALEC?

    I’d call Landes “ill informed” but I am reluctant to stigmatize the ill informed among us.

  6. Jim Bacon Avatar

    Groveton, I invite discussion on this blog from a wide range of view points. That doesn’t mean I subscribe to every view expressed here. Please give me one example of how I have not consistently applied my principles of fiscal conservatism and free markets.

  7. Anonymous Avatar

    I appreciate the discussion of other topics in the news but I was wondering why nothing has been said about the Washington Post OP/ED from Sunday? I apologize if it has been discussed elsewhere but I found the article refreshing but surprising no discussion on here about its findings.

    5 Myths About Suburbia and Our Car-Happy Culture

    By Ted Balaker and Sam Staley
    Sunday, January 28, 2007; Page B03

  8. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    ouch! I’m sure JB felt that sting!


    My two cents.. I see the phrase “Compassionate conservatism”.

    I’m not sure how far away that is from Blue Dog Democrats and/or those who see themselves as fiscally conservative and socially progressive.

    These days on FOX News.. anyone to the left of knuckle draggers is a Secular Progressive and guilty of treason and other high crimes.

  9. Jim Wamsley Avatar
    Jim Wamsley

    Why has nothing has been said about the Washington Post OP/ED from Sunday?

    I don’t make a practice of replying to those who make a living by distorting the facts.

    A short discussion of the OP/ED and why it is a waste of discussion time with lots of links can be found here.

    Tricks to look for, or articles to avoid are those who leave the realm of reasonable discussion, and instead use grouped data to prove their pre conceived position. The phrase “Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics” comes to mind. It is better to discuss things at a meaningful level. For development, discussions which group population over a whole county or town and try to find meaningful solutions will go nowhere. For transportation, discussions that ignore the number of users and trip lengths are equally useless. Those who confuse farming and hobby farming do not have much to add to the discussion.

  10. Anonymous Avatar

    JW, I appreciate the link. I agree that the OP/ED is out there in some respects (mainly the global warming sections) but I would not throw the baby out with the bathwater. There are some points made by the article that are worth addressing and discussing.

    Indeed, commuters are now increasingly likely to travel from one suburb to another or embark upon “reverse” commutes (from the city to the suburbs). Also, most American commuters (52 percent) do not go directly to and from work but stop along the way to pick up kids, drop off dry cleaning, buy a latte or complete some other errand.

    So, what impact will this have on mass transit? Do we (can we?) require people to live on an appropriate commuter line? What about errands? I don’t pretend to have answers but ignoring the questions does nothing to further the debate.

    Also, and while it is not spelled out in the article, the idea that Americans like a house with a yard and a place for kids to play will prove difficult for those advocating building higher to solve our transportation woes.

    I’m not saying you are wrong on their use of statistics but I would caution on dismissing everything they write. Discourse is not a bad thing.

  11. Jim Wamsley Avatar
    Jim Wamsley

    “Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics”
    Indeed, commuters are now increasingly likely to travel from one suburb to another or embark upon “reverse” commutes (from the city to the suburbs).
    When you increase an activity from 5% to 10% you double it. “Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics” When you ignore the other 90% you are part of the problem.

    First, if you are new to the discussion, we have not proposed tearing down anything. We are proposing that the government allow the free market to work. Invest transportation dollars in eliminate congestion instead of roads that support SPRAWL development.

    Invest School building dollars on rebuilding and enlarging schools to replace trailers instead of new schools that support large lot developments.

    We have no problem with the American that likes a house with a yard. Seventy five percent of Arlington is developed this way. We have a problem with investment decisions and zoning that distorts the market by saying that they can only be built on one to ten acre lots. We also have a problem with investment decisions and zoning that says you can only accommodate the 60% of the population that wants a two car garage with a house attached and you must ignore those citizens that want to live in a transit oriented development with high density.

  12. Groveton Avatar


    1. The insistance that tolls are not taxes seems pretty liberal to me. Perhaps in some ecomonists’ minds there is a difference but, I believe, most fiscal conservatives would say that the government is taking more money from the taxpayers under either term.

    2. The belief that government can be somehow trusted to apply the tolls to the places where they are most needed is something of a vote of confidence in a bigger, more powerful government. No? Reminds me a bit of Hillary’s health care plan.

    3. The immediate attacks on Dominion (a corporation) for wanting to put their capital at risk building power transmission lines reminds me a bit of Ralph Nader.

    For the record, I think there are good liberal ideas and good conservative so neither term is an insult in my book.

    Finally, I wonder about the absence of dialog about the low / no growth policies in some of the counties in Northern Virginia. I wonder about the lack of dialog around job creation. Maybe that’s not the focus of the blog or the people who participate on the blog. However, there is time for a discussion about the issue of apologizing for slavery but I hear no complaints about the lack of job growth in “downstate” Virginia.

    Free marketers may be right or wrong. However, the “hard core” free market people I know almost never stop looking and talking about economic growth, international competitiveness, “beating the Indians and Chinese”. They would have taken yesterday’s WaPo article on Fairfax County job growth and asked why the other 94 counties in Virginia are so far behind.

  13. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: tolls/taxes/sprawl roads

    For conservative types:

    – is the idea that you collect taxes from everyone and then let elected folks at VDOT spend those taxes on new roads rather than investing in existing roads and then when they have spent that money they come back for even higher taxes…

    Is this the type of conservatism that is advocated?

    I thought it was the other guys that were the tax and spenders…

    Because that is what you get right now from the current gas tax approach.

    Everyone pays into a fund that then is politically manipulated so that more roads are the result and almost always open up more land for development rather than reducing congestion.

    Congestion pricing is a lot like charging for a specific service at a specific time – and in return you get a trip on a real road with reasonable congestion levels instead of a line on a piece of paper that will never be built.

    People understand this. They pay and they get. With the gas tax, you pay and you don’t get or what you get are promises by folks who you cannot throw out of office.

    THIS .. is conservatism? I hope not. 🙂

  14. Groveton Avatar

    My version of the fiscal conservative view:

    1. The government already takes enough money from the people to do everything it ought to be doing.
    2. If tolls are a better way for the government to take money from the people then fine – use tolls.
    3. Since the government already takes enough money to do what it ought to do and tolls represent a way to take new money then the government should offset every dollar raised throgh tolls with an equivalent reduction in some other tax.

    Also – just curious – doesn’t the state run a budget surplus?

  15. Groveton Avatar

    My version of the free market view:

    1. People buy “McMansions” in the outer suburbs because that is what they want to buy.
    2. People endure congestion and long commutes because they value their single family homes more than the time lost commuting.
    3. Developers and builders build and develop these homes because that’s what the market (i.e. the people) want.
    4. If congestion causes people to re-consider their “commute time” vs. single family residence decision then the value of the single family residences will decline while the value of multi-family residences closer to work will increase.
    5. The builders and developers will react to the market forces described in 4. and will stop building the single family homes in the ex-urbs and will start building multi-family homes near the jobs.
    6. The market represents a self-correcting process which (furthermore) represents the collective wisdom of the people.
    7. Anybody who thinks they are smarter than the market is a self-absorbed egomaniac and should be discounted out of hand.

    I don’t say the free market view is right. But there are plenty of free market proponents who believe what I just wrote.

    Jim – How would you describe the “free market” view on this (without regard to whether that view is right or wrong)?

  16. E M Risse Avatar

    Anon 12:59 and 3:11 re the Sunday Op Ed.

    You can see there are two interlaced stings here.

    I plan a column on the topic.

    In the meantime, Jim W is right on but there is more to it that I hope to get into soon.


  17. Anonymous Avatar

    Looking forward to the column… I do think the OP/ED brings up some issues with mass transit which makes for great discussion. All cars or all mass transit obviously will not work. It is just what kind of ratio is more appropriate (spending-wise). I’m in agreement with others on this site that the thinking needs to be more outside the current box (i.e. changing work schedules, telecommuting, etc…).

  18. Ray Hyde Avatar

    I suppose that leaning one way or another may mean you have thoght hings through and decided that right or left is better. Surely we can think of persuasive voices either way, people of stature, who express their opinions well, whether we agree or not.

    On the other hand, for many, it may just be an excuse for not thinking. For myself, I figure if you turn either left or right, all you will do is go in circles.

  19. Ray Hyde Avatar

    “If congestion causes people to re-consider their “commute time” vs. single family residence decision then the value of the single family residences will decline while the value of multi-family residences closer to work will increase.”

    I think Groveton is right. This is a self correcting process. When the value of multifamily homes go up enough, commuting will look more profitable again.

    Round and round we go. I’ve been accused of being self serving for suggesting that we need to make open space more valuable, rather than less. I think that is the best way to protect it.

    Jim Bacon suggests that the way to make the town center concept more popular is to make it more profitable. Instead, we take the profit out by requiring a certain number of “affordable units” for example.

    Same goes for open space. If we want to protect it, then we can’t allow it to be up for grabs for the infrastructure of the day, nor can we legislate it into uselessness.

    Either one of those tactics will be rendered useless by the market, so the only way this can work is by allowing the market to make valuable what it is we want, and that might mean helping it along in order to make up for non market values (social values).

    Is that socialism? No, not if the society is paying for what it gets.

  20. Ray Hyde Avatar

    I think we are missing the point when we try to distinguish between hobby farmers and farmers. According to the farm census, there is not a single farm, statistically speaking that is making money, in three counties surrounding me.

    The South Carolina Department of Agriculture would tell you that it is impossible, based on local land prices. Recently, a large farm near here was sold for an astronomical price. It previously sold for a high price to a conservation buyer. Eventually, he cuoldn’t stand the cost, or had other more profitable priorities, and he sold.

    One of my farmer neighbors remarked, accurately, “Well, at that price it isn’t going to be farmed.” On the other side of the coin, when Mrs. Johnson bought the Salamander property, she remared, accurately, “Well, when you spend $9 million for a property, you expect to do something with it.”

    If we limited farms to only the real, profit making, commercial farms, then there might be 60 of them in the three county area. There are around 6000 hobby farms. And, the large farms get much of their profit from farm subsidies: the hobby farms are paying their own way, and more.

    So, let’s get real about this. It is no different from people tht refinish furniture for a hobby, and make a little money. Or build cars for the drag strip, or anything else.

    I’m a hobby farmer, but the farm makes a real contribution to my expenses. As long as I don’t count the land value, I break even or make a little on the farm operations, and I’m building equity in terms of equipment, and farm structures.

    The years when I take a loss, are covered by my off farm job, as are my living expenses. But the farm has been ramping up for the last 15 years. When I retire it will become my full time job. Will it still be a hobby then?

    All those “hobby” farms supply an enormous boost to the local economy. I’ll concede there are various levels of activity and intent for commerce going on, but I think that dismissing hobby farms as not being a real contributor to the community is ignorant and snobbish.

    At present, we don’t need all the land we have for farming. It isn’t economically profitable. I can rent land in Georgia, and hire someone there to grow watermelons, and truck them to Virginia, cheaper than I can grow them here.

    I can fly flowers in from Columbia, cheaper than I can grow them here. But, I can grow hay here for a profit, because it is hard to ship long distances. (There is a market for compressed hay cubes which are exported to Japan, but we have no processing plants here.)

    Sailboats are a hobby, too, but there is an entire industry built around them.

    Let’s not pooh, pooh the hobby farms any more. When my wife was young, this farm was larger, and there were fifteen people working here. That isn’t possible now. But it is possible for one person to work a smaller portion, and benefit himself and others.

    We have had some discussion here about the costs of supporting disperse houses. Without the hobby farms, the cost of supporting the reamining sites would be even larger. We should recognize that the costs of supporting many of these places is small, at the margin, because much of the infrastructure would be here anyway.

    As old as the farm is, the road in front of it is even older. Does that mean that 180 years ago the founder of the farm was taking advantage of the people who paid to build the road? Does it mean that even then, road building was primarily for development rather than transportation?

    I don’t think so. Do I think it would be better if all the hobby farms were actually making money? Of course I do.

    That’s why I can’t subscribe to the idea that they “ought” to be paying 10x what they are. Let’s look soberly at what we’ve got, and try to make the best of it, instead of putting down the hobby farms, and wishing we had something that we can’t have.

    Now, if the ethanol subsidy gets big enough, then maybe I can afford to invest in corn. If enough of my hobby neighbors do the same, maybe we can co-op a combine.

    I don’t think ethanol is the answer, any more then EMR does, but it beats a poke in the eye. Or, if I could find a market for Elanthia trees, I’d be golden.

  21. Ray Hyde Avatar

    “Invest transportation dollars in eliminate congestion instead of roads that support SPRAWL development.”

    That is nice talk, but how are you going to do that? The places with the most congestion are also the places with no more room for roads.

    Maybe you are suggesting that we tear down some things, just as they are about to do for the ICC.

    I find it hard to imagine that kind of road construction will ever pay for itself. That’s on the same level of craziness as expecting the farm to make enough to pay the land rent. Not gonna happen.

    Downtown Houston is 75% streets, and it still isn’t enough. So, whats the answer?

    Use tolls on auto drivers to pay for transit. OK, what happened to user pays? Or is this just another version of thrwoing money in the pot, to be spent willy nilly?

    What’s the other answer? Build more roads someplace else, and populate them with job centers and homes. Horrors! Road construction for land use? No way!

    Aren’t we SUPPOSED to link transportation and land use?

  22. Jim Bacon Avatar

    Ray, You suggest that my idea is impractical because “The places with the most congestion are also the places with no more room for roads.”

    If you apply a Return on Investment analysis to where you build/improve roads, you need two pieces of information: How much congestion will the project mitigate and how much will the project cost? If the cost of right-of-way acquisition is too high because it’s in an urban area, then the project has a low ROI and doesn’t get funded!

    Not complicated.

  23. Jim Bacon Avatar

    Groveton, in response to your remarks of 4:ll p.m., listing examples of how I supposedly do not hew to free market principles.

    1. The notion that tolls are not taxes strikes you as liberal. Here’s why tolls are not taxes: Nobody compels you drive on the road and pay the toll. It’s a voluntary transaction in which you get a service (access to roadway) in exchange for your money. If you don’t want to pay, you take a different route. By contrast, there is nothing voluntary about paying income, property or sales taxes.

    Indeed, I would say that you hew to the socialist ideal — the idea that people have the right to something (roads) for free. Of course, nothing is ever free. Someone must pay to build roads. So, your way is… what? You don’t want to pay higher taxes. You want someone else to pay for them? In my book, that’s socialism.

    2. The belief that government can be trusted to apply tolls to the right places. I agree that government can use tolls in abusive ways — as in using revenues from the Dulles Toll Road to fund the Rail-to-Dulles project, which is something that I have consistently criticized.

    No, there must be strict guidelines on where tolls can be put into place and what can be done with the money. I have been very clear on this point: Any money derived from congestion tolls should be reinvested to improve mobility within the congestion corridor, or congestion area, that the money came from. Otherwise, it’s just government theft as usual.

    3. Attacking Dominion for wanting to put its capital at risk to build a transmission line. Unfair characterization. I have not “attacked” Dominion for wanting to build a transmission line. I have simply asked whether there are alternatives. I believe there are, and I believe that Dominion has been vague in stating its justification for the project.

    I spent the better part of a 30-year career in journalism covering business, praising entrepreneurs and promoting economic development. Just because I love the free-market system doesn’t mean I support everything that every business tries to do — especially when it involves condemnation of peoples’ land. You see, free markets are built on private property. The Loudoun landowners’ property rights would be abrogated by Dominion for the “public good.”

    There are many areas of the economy where “free markets” do not prevail. The hand of government in Virginia is heavy. Those with power use their money and influence to stack the legal and regulatory odds in their favor. Does the fact that I am not knee-jerk “pro business” mean that I’m not for “free markets.” Au contraire, the fact that I am pro “free markets” means that I’m not always “pro business.”

  24. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: Grovetons views of the Free Market.

    I pretty much agree with the caveat that there are subsidies present that distort the market.

    The two major ones are:

    1. – The mortgage subsidy which drives people to seek single family dwellings that serve as both housing and an investment – subsidized by folks who rent.

    2. – Transportation – expansion of roads that are over capacity at rush hour are paid for by people who do not use those roads much less use them at rush hour.

    If you ..

    1. – removed the mortgage subsidy

    2. – did not widen roads for rush hour OR did so but allocated those costs to the folks who need the rush hour capacity.

    You would then have a true free market of sorts – at least more so than we currently have.

    What we have right now is not a free market .. and folks who believe the status quo IS a free market and therefore the way that housing “works” IS the free market.

    I’ll admit that any true “free market” is already on a slippery slope in terms of absolute purity but I don’t buy the mantra that what we have right now is a free market that should be left alone.

  25. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    ” The government already takes enough money from the people to do everything it ought to be doing.”

    How does this philosophy address ADDING subdivision streets to the VDOT Budget that all taxpayers will have to pay for in terms of maintenance – even those who do not live in subdivisions?

    AND – how does conservatism address the concept that maintenance costs for roads rise every year because of inflation and that by 2010 – every penny of the current gas tax will be consumed by the maintenance budget?

    If we already pay more than we should and have a budget surplus what would conservatives support in the years where this is no budget surplus and the costs of maintaining roads continues to rise?

    There are not “unfriendly” questions.

    What I am trying to understand is how do we maintain roads and build new ones without raising taxes.

    So WHAT is the Conservative approach to this?

    This is why I support Congestion/Variable road pricing that gives to those who CHOOSE to pay a quid pro quo service – mobility and reduced travel time.

    From a Conservative point of view, WHY should Government be involved in this equation at all and vying for existing and future budget money?

  26. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    The Pilot Online in an editorial this morning

    “No way to build regional roads”

    is … hmmm.. amusing….

    They’re wondering out load how a Regional Transportation Plan can “work”.

    They’ve got some points but if you read it in terms of how Regional Cooperation might work (or not) for any cooperative effort.. you get the idea that they don’t know about current Regional Authorities that do “work” including several hundred MPOs nationwide including the one in NoVa AND WashMetro.

    They’re basically troubled by what happens if one jurisdiction or even a majority of jurisdictions decide to do or not do something.. i.e. make a decision that is not unanimous that it .. “violates” an individual jurisdictions right to not participate if they choose not to.

    And they give a fine example of a road that is useless if it ends at a jurisdiction who was opposed to a decision.

    Following the Pilots logic … MPOs should not exist because their decisions may not be fair to individual member jurisdictions.

    Anyhow.. I’m not sure why they continue to NOT SEE the existing Federally-sanctioned MPO as the authority that it is because no transportation plan can go forward until the MPO approves it.

    On the issue of governance, I’ll be honest.. I’m not sure if membership is mandatory but what I suspect is that localities that refuse to join can have any project in their jurisdiction that uses federal funds … stopped.

    Similar to how compliance is achieved via EPA Air Quality regs.

    Virginia COULD do the same thing.

    Dangle a carrot… and play hardball because when push comes to shove the gas tax is a STATE tax and not a local tax and the STATE can indeed decide the rules for allocating.

    thoughts? Comments?

  27. Anonymous Avatar

    My, my, what a meandering mess this blog has become. There seems to be a lot of confusion over political labels and it’s prickling a lot of feelings. First, why is it such an insult in Virginia to be called a “liberal?” And when you stubbornly claim to be a “conservative” what kind of conservative are you anyway?
    Reminds me of my college years at a very liberal Northeastern school during the early 1970s. I used to spend hours at night listening to well-fed, well-provided for kids from the rich suburbs of Boston and New York argue about whether the Young Socialist Alliance was “Trotskyite.” What a waste!
    Ditto economics class. Keynes was it. Any dicussion of Uncle Miltie Friedman and the Chicago Boys was heresy.
    Fast-forward 15 years. Ronald Reagan, that conservative darling, ends up being the most budget-busting Keynesian in years while “liberal” Bill Clinton actually balances the budget.
    So, I am beginning to wonder whether it is a real waste of time in this blog to argue endlessles about who deserves the “liberal” insult.

  28. Groveton Avatar


    First things first – I really like your web site / articles / blog. In most cases, I agree with you too.

    However, I wonder why you think that being a fiscal conservative or “free market” adherent is some kind of litmus test. I really hope America moves to more of a middle ground between conservatism and liberalism. Morality, love of freedom and tolerance are all good litmus tests. Liberal or conservative is not. And, frankly, I do not believe that the opinions you express on this site are consistently fiscally conservative or free market oriented. Good for you. You don’t fit one mold (even if you say you do).

    Perhaps I should have added one more reasonable litmus test – logic. I think it should be applied whenever possible.

    Your argument about people using roads for “free” lacks logic. As you correctly point out – nothing is really free. The real question is how to pay for roads – by taxes or by tolls.

    You also say that the use of roads is optional – if you want to use a road, pay the toll. If you don’t -don’t. Not really. The question should be whether there is sufficient competition in the provision of transportation to allow consumers to exercise free choice and favor (with their wallets) efficient providers. There is no such free choice. Roads are an essential part of the public infrastructure. They are required for the national defense, for commerce, for education and for the provision of emergency services. In fact, they are so critical that governments can exercise eminent domain in taking the land needed to build the roads. True free market thinkers know that government has a legitimate role in the guarantee of the critical infrastructure required to make the economy work. Free market thinking is not being a libitarian or an anarchist.

    And please remember that government pays for nothing – taxpayers pay for everything.

    I am fine with tolls being used to finance roads. As long as every dollar collected from tolls is matched by a dollar reduced from taxes. The state runs a surplus. Why should it take in more money by making tolls additive?

    Finally, I’ll bring up a point to which you have never responded – schools. If you want to institute usage fees, I’d start there. Why should people with no children pay to educate mine? Why should parents who send their kids to private school pay for public schools? And, most strikingly, why should the general public subsidize some rich, preppy dingbat’s attendance at the University of Virginia? Usage based pricing for schools is pretty straight forward. You have a kid in the school – you pay tuition.

    Where is your hue and cry for usage based pricing for public schools?

    Larry Gross thinks people shouldn’t pay for roads in subdivisions unless they live in those subdivisions. Does he also think that people shouldn’t pay for schools unless they have kids in that school.

    Where do you draw the line, Jim?

    And … you absolutely attacked Dominion. In fact, you stated (as a fact – Fact #3 as I recall) that conservation could not dampen demand sufficiently to obviate the need for the new power lines. Then you went on to ask whether the lines were needed. First you voted for the war, then you voted against it. Where have I heard that before?

  29. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    “please remember that government pays for nothing – taxpayers pay for everything.”

    … “schools and roads”

    Groveton, it’s great that you understand that taxpayers do the paying.

    So the next issue is why should some taxpayers pay more than others for less services or services they don’t use.

    A TRUE Conservative would be opposed to taxpayer subsidies – right?

    A Liberarian would favor paying for what you use.

    What is the difference between Roads and Schools in terms of taxpayers being taxed?

    Let me use an example.

    What if you got as many tags as you needed for cars for one price.

    Or you could buy as many cars as you wanted for a single fee?

    Do you think that people would buy more cars this way?

    The difference between roads (transportation, mobility) and schools is this.

    People do not have more kids so that they can take get more for their taxes than what they pay.

    Your view seems to be that if someone lives in a fancy, exclusive subdivision with 3 homes to the mile that this is a legistimate use of other taxpayer funds who live in townhouses.

    You seem to think that the guy that chooses to not commute on expensive commuting-grade infrastructure should have other taxpayers help pay for that infrastructure even if they CHOSE NOT to commute but instead took a local, lower paying job.

    My point is that ANYTIME the government ( really taxpayers) provide a service for which there is an uncapped demand – that the taxpayers who are frugal are penalized by those who are not – in essence charged by other taxpayers for being frugal.

    I would think a true conservative would subscribe to this logic.

    The government, in fact, should NOT be in the business of providing ANY service for which there is a supply and a demand that would normally be self-balancing if a price were attached to useage – as most goods and service have in any normal economy.

    When I hear “conservatives” make the case that the roads are “public” therefore we should all pay for them AND we authorize the State to take land from others for the public good – I have a very difficult time trying to understand why that brand of conservatism is not really socialism.

    Tell me where I got off track.

    Oh.. and don’t you also have a double standard for TOLLS and TAXES?

    In your view… if folks paid for their own subdivision roads they should receive a “compensating” tax rebate equal to what they pay?

    Wouldn’t that mean that the folks who had the longest subdivision roads would get the biggiest rebates?

    Sorry.. somewhere I missed the point about conservatism…

  30. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    “…conservation could not dampen demand sufficiently to obviate the need for the new power lines”

    Isn’t it just simply AMAZING that the word Conservation and Conservatism have the same roots – CONSERVE but part company almost immediately when we talk about the why and how?

    Why would anyone CONSERVE whether they be “green” (or like the idea of viewing themselves as “green”)?

    Most normal folks don’t conserve energy for green credentials. They do so to conserve MONEY – that belongs to THEM.

    So what Dominion is saying in essence is that in order for them to CONTINUE to provide CHEAP energy to customers that they are entitled to TAKE property from private individuals.

    Now… I find it very hard to believe that this particular concept is politically or philosphically “conservative”.

    If Dominion were:

    1. – REQUIRED to obtain land as willing seller/willing buyer


    2. – REQURED to buy it


    3. – REQUIRED to ONLY use existing public rights of way

    AND THEN incorporated that cost into the price of electricity

    THEN we’d have a true conservative solution without relying on a socialistic hammer.

    Here’s the deal. I strongly suspect that “Conservatives” for the most part are – not.

    What they are, in fact, in my view, in cases that involve emminent domain, in favor of conserving their own funds by evading costs that can be put on others.

    Now we all know that those dang liberals are this way already – right?

  31. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: “public” schools and conservatism

    If one starts with the premise that the purpose of public schools is to afford each child an equal opportunity and that each of us contributes a fair and equitable as part of our civic duty.

    We could also approach this from a purely selfish point of view in that for ever kid that ends up without an education becomes a tax burden on others…

    Be that as it may – from a CONSERVATIVE viewpoint – I would think that what we are paying for is THE education that kids needs to become viable taxpayers when they grow up.

    So – the CORE service is education.

    It’s not buses. It’s not French. It’s not the Governor’s School. It’s not the Football Team.

    It NOT quite a bit of the schools current bloated and wasteful budgets.

    A true conservative might say this:

    Parents who can afford to – pay for the “extras”.

    Taxpayers pay for the core programs.

    I absolutely love it when I see “true” conservatives carrying the torch that says “FULLY FUND education” or advocate VOUCHERs.

    Why would a “conservative” advocates vouchers and how would that advocacy contrast with their view on public education as a taxpayer-supported function?

    Is this is what is meant by “small government”?

  32. Groveton Avatar

    With respect to people living in three house / mile subdivisions vs. townhomes:

    The single family homes (in any given area) are assessed at a higher value than the townhomes – on average. Therefore, these homes generate a higher number of real estate dollars.

    The people in the low density areas have to drive more. Therefore, they generate more dollars of tax revenue through the gas tax.

    Finally, I am a bit amazed that the “low density” argument is always applied to the outer suburbs. How much money is spent “per mile driven” to maintain rural roads?

    Do people have more children because the schools are “free”? Of course they do. Parents regularly consider the economic consequences of having more kids. Do people drive more beacuse the roads are “free”? Of course they do. Beyond that – your arguments center on the injustice of people paying for roads in low density subdivisions where they don’t live. Yet, somehow, this argument about justice does not apply to people paying to educate children they didn’t have. The argument about poorly educated children becoming a burden for us all is true but incomplete. First, the public schools are largely failing with regard to educating low income students so your argument is flawed in its assumption that “free” public education is working for low income people. Second, you fail to relate economic need to the “free” publci schools. Poor people get subsidies – welfare, etc. Not enough in my mind – but they get subsidies. The subsidy for poor people would have to be increased to let them pay for schooling for their children. However, there would be no subsidy for middle income and up people. If they want to have kids, they pay tuition. They can afford it – especially since the real estate taxes would be lowered as the tuitions for public schools was raised. You also miss the point of infrastructure being a catalyst for economic growth and economic growth creating jobs. Good infrastructure creates jobs and jobs cure unemployment. Why does this not apply to people’s “choice” to drive just as it applies to schools?

    Finally, let me be sure that I understand the REAL basis for this love of road tolls. Please confirm or refute:

    We are talking about instituting road usage tolls for ALL verhicles driven on ANY road in the state of Virginia. The tolls for that area will be set in order to recover sufficient funds to both maintain the existing roads and build new roads (or other transportation capability) where necessary. In other words – if I am consuming roadway in Fairfax County – I am paying a toll. If I am consuming road way in a rural county in southern Virginia – I am paying a toll. If the true cost PER MILE DRIVEN in Fairfax County is higher than in southern Virginia then the tolls will be higher PER MILE in Fairfax. However, if the true cost PER MILE DRIVEN is higher in southern Virginia then the tols will be higher in southern Virginia.

    This is what you’re saying – right>

  33. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: “Therefore, these homes generate a higher number of real estate dollars.”

    No – the issue is do they generate the taxes necessary to maintain the subdivision road or do others also have to pay?

    In gated communities they DO PAY.

    So what you have is subdivisions whose roads are maintained by other taxpayers who may even live in an apartment AND because their taxes are used for subdivision roads, there is no money for other roads that much of the public uses.

    This is WHY VDOT has no money.

    400 new lane miles a year of subdivsion roads paid for by folks who live in apartments, townhouses, farms, etc.

  34. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: “Parents regularly consider the economic consequences of having more kids.”

    you know – this is really bogus.

    Of course they do.. because of the OTHER costs.

    They do NOT have Kids because the education if “free” – believe me.

  35. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: “This is what you’re saying – right>”

    absolutely not.

    What I am saying is this.

    If all of the current gas tax money is committed to maintance – WHERE should new money come from?

    And what I am saying is that folks who drive 15000 miles a year in rush hour traffic verses folks who drive 15000 miles a year in Farmville are incurring different costs.

    Farmville can go a long time without toll roads.

    But when commuter roads max out and need to be upgraded – are YOU avocating that those upgrades be paid for by folks who don’t use commuter roads at rush hour?

    Is this a conservative ethic?

    Isn’t your view really socialist?

  36. Groveton Avatar

    “If one starts with the premise that the purpose of public schools is to afford each child an equal opportunity and that each of us contributes a fair and equitable (sic) as part of our civic duty.”

    If one starts with the premise that the purpose of public infrastructure is to afford each citizen an equal opportunity to participate in the country’s economy and that each of us contributes a fair and equitable amount as part of our civic duty.

    Where’s the difference?

    “We could also approach this from a purely selfish point of view in that for ever kid that ends up without an education becomes a tax burden on others…”

    We could also approach this from a purely selfish point of view in that every citizen who is unemployed becomes a tax burden on others …

    What’s the difference?

    “So – the CORE service is education.”.

    So – the CORE service is realizing economic opportunity including the need for effective education and effective infrastructure.

    What’s the difference?

    “It’s not buses. It’s not French. It’s not the Governor’s School. It’s not the Football Team.

    It NOT quite a bit of the schools current bloated and wasteful budgets.”

    It’s not low density subdivisions. It’s not gated communities. It’s not the Pocahontas Highway. It’s not tolls vs. taxes.

    It’s NOT quite a bit of VDOT’s current bloated and wasteful budgets.

    What’s the difference?

    “A true conservative might say this:

    Parents who can afford to – pay for the “extras”.

    Taxpayers pay for the core programs.”.

    A true conservative might say this:

    Citizens who can afford to – pay for the “extras” like paying more dollars in gas tax by living further from their jobs.

    Taxpayers pay for the core infrastructure.

    What’s the difference?

    “I absolutely love it when I see “true” conservatives carrying the torch that says “FULLY FUND education” or advocate VOUCHERs.

    Why would a “conservative” advocates vouchers and how would that advocacy contrast with their view on public education as a taxpayer-supported function?

    Is this is what is meant by “small government”?”

    I absolutely love it when I see “true” conservatives carrying the torch that says “FULLY FUND transportation” or advocate TOLLs.

    Why would a “conservative” advocates tolls and how would that advocacy contrast with their view on critical transportation infrastructure as a taxpayer-supported function?

    Is this is what is meant by “small government”?

    What’s the difference?

  37. Groveton Avatar

    The true colors of this argument are finally coming to the surface:

    “And what I am saying is that folks who drive 15000 miles a year in rush hour traffic verses folks who drive 15000 miles a year in Farmville are incurring different costs.

    Farmville can go a long time without toll roads.

    But when commuter roads max out and need to be upgraded – are YOU avocating that those upgrades be paid for by folks who don’t use commuter roads at rush hour?”

    You really don’t want to localize road costs to the people who incur those costs. If you did – you’d want to asscoiate ALL costs (including maintenance and repair) to the users.

    No – you want to associate new road building costs to the people who needs new roads while continuing to allow general tax subsidization of places where the state has already over-invested by building under-utilized roads.

    And – is there ANY doubt that (in total) Northern Virginia TODAY subsidizes the rest of the state. In other words, if I add up all the taxes taken by the state from the citizens of Northern Virginia and then subtract the money that the state spends in Northern Virginia would I have a positive or negative number? You know and I know that it would be a positive number. The state of Virginia takes far more money from Northern Virginia than it spends in Northern Virginia.

    That, my friend, is the definition of a welfare state. Or, maybe more accurately, a “welfare downstate”.

    And all of these tolling proposals are really plans to make the “welfare downstate” even bigger.

    Jim Bacon asked about Apologizing for the Welfare State. I think that’s a good idea as applied to the “welfare downstate”.

  38. Groveton Avatar

    Like a bad computer program, attempting to de-bug the logic of these recent posts is time consuming. That’s because, like a computer program, the logic should be defined at the high level and then have detail added. These arguments are defined at the details level and then a search for high level principles is undertaken.

    High level logic:

    1. It is unfair for people to be asked to pay for things they do not use.

    2. New road construction respresents ONE EXAMPLE where people are being asked to pay for things they do not use.

    3. There is a mechanism (i.e. tolls) to match the payment for new road construction to the people who needs the new roads.

    4. Therefore, tolls should be implemented to raise the money needed for new road construction.

    What’s missing in the prior posts is the recognition that new road construction costs are ONLY ONE EXAMPLE of where people are asked to pay for soemthing they will not use.

    The illogic is trying to make the reverse case. To wit:

    1. If we implement tolling to pay for new road construction costs then we can associate the costs of new road construction to the people who need the new roads.

    2. If we get the people who need the new roads to pay for the new roads we will have increased the level of ecomonic justice by associating the costs of the new road building back to those who need the new roads.

    Not necessarily true. In the case of Virginia – not true at all.

    This reverse argument requires you to believe one of the following things:

    1. The injustice of making people pay for things they don’t use is restricted to new road construction. All other subsidies are irrelevant. Therefore, solving the new road construction injustice solves the injustice.

    2. New road construction is the only injustice whereby people pay for things that they don’t use. Therefore, if you solve this injustice you have (by definition) achieved justice.

    3. New road construction costs are the only case where the injustice of people paying for things they do not use is lop-sided. There may be other cases where people pay for things they don’t use but these cases “even out”. Therfore, if you eliminat the one lop-sided injustice the other injustices net to zero.

    Please stop using the justice argument. Is logically flawed unless you believe one of the prior three points.

  39. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Actually the folks in Farmville should pay for the maintenance of their local roads JUST LIKE they ALREADY do in most cities in Va AND Henrico and Alexandria.

    Let the local folks decide what roads to maintain, etc.

    If new roads are desired by a locality and/or a Region – then who would you expect to pay for those roads?

    Would you expect folks NOT in those localities and Regions to pay for those roads?

    How would that work Groveton.

    Would I pay for your roads and you pay for mine?

    Or would you tell me to give my gas tax proceeds to you.. and then you’d give me an IOU while you went and spent the money on YOUR roads?

    You made a good point about taxpayers.

    Now accept the reality that taxpayers pay for roads and that fair and equitable means we get back what we paid for – not less and not more.

    Give Farmville the proceeds of the gas tax that their citizens paid – to maintain their roads.

    For new roads… localities, Regions and the State should ask at each level if:

    1. – they want a new road
    2. – how would they like to pay for it.

    What you are advocating is the old “everyone pays into a giant slush fund – and then unelected folks in VDOT allocate it out NOT in proportion to what localities paid into it but rather using an unknown and undefined process that generates an IOU for localities that don’t get the roads their money paid for.

    This is NOT conservatism is it?

    This is, instead, socialism – right?

  40. Groveton Avatar

    I believe that all taxes raised in a county by the state should be spent in that county by the state.

    If the county has too much money – they should provide a rebate to their taxpayers.

    If the county has too little money they should start an economic development program to broaden their tax base or they should learn to live within their means.

    I don’t know if that’s conservatism or socialism. I guess I really don’t care.

  41. Groveton Avatar

    As an aside, I would probably be willing to “invest” some of my tax payments in areas outside of my county in the interest of achieving further economic development in the US. However, I’d like that “investment” to be made on the basis of potential return. And I feel no more attachment to the Americans living in “downstate” Virginia than I do to the Americans living in “upstate” Idaho.

    Show me a plan that uses the taxes I give you to create job growth and my money can go to you. Tell me that you just don’t care about economic development or that you’re too dumb to come up with an economic development plan and you can go to …. well, you know where.

    And you know what that is? Capitalism.

  42. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    I don’t believe that a locality or it’s taxpayers can “create” jobs.

    If that were true.. higher and higer taxes for economic development would be THE way to go!

    I think businesses create jobs by exploiting opportunities in the marketplace and that localities compete for them.

    Further most businesses want a readily available supply of the right kind of workforce and because of that they gravitate to areas where that need can be accommodated.

    The need for undereducated workers for assembly and manufacturing jobs has transferred away from rural Virginia and Idaho and to places where that labor is cheaper.

    There is little that rural Idaho or Virginia can offer, even with taxpayer incentives to attract many types of companies.

    Even the outer fringes of the NoVa Region cannot outcompete NoVa itself for a business venue.

    Fredericksburg has, like Loudoun a ton of highly educated workers making twice the local salary and would seem to be the ideal place for a new NoVa-type business but alas, Fredericksburg attracts about 1/10 of the jobs as NoVa does so it’s not a lack of economic development per se that is why.

    Now you tell me.. what can a place like Fredericksburg do to attract those jobs you seem to imply that they don’t want?

  43. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Wouldn’t it make sense though to consolidate government functions in the interests of productivity, efficiency and fiscal reasons?

    For instance, your approach to license plates, DMV, statewide database info accessible by all jurisdictions.. especially those the law is after.

    Also wouldn’t you prefer to have regional jails rather than a multitude of local jails.. each with separate administrative costs and each having to maintain a CIP for upgrading the jail?

    Wouldn’t you agree that there are plenty of cases where it really makes little sense for the counties to maintain their own duplicative and wasteful versions of something the state can actually deliver for less money with greater functionality?

    Finally, you say that you would be “interested” in some of your tax dollars being spent on things you support but you imply that you should retain the right to withold your taxes from the things you don’t support.

    I’m curious. How would you implement this in a Democracy.

    Would each taxpyer be given an enormous list of State services at tax time – each to be checked off – and then the state keep track of what you checked off so that if you attempt to use those services later – they’ll know that you are not a “paying” customer?

    If we went that way, would you agree that if you needed services that you would not pay for initially that there be a substantial penalty for signing up later?

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