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Market Based Madness In the Air

Time and again, America is lectured by Republicans about how the widsom of the marketplace is the solution to practically every problem we have. Schools are too underfunded to teach our kids? Implement a marketplace solution, they say. People can’t afford the medicine they need to stay alive? Implement a marketplace solution, they say. Women want to use the Morning After Pill avoid having unwanted children and prevent the need for abortions later in pregnancy? Um, don’t implement a market based solution. Like I said, the Republicans promote marketplace solutions for practically every problem we have. When it comes to matters of citizen privacy, Republicans suddenly switch tack and promote big government regulation.

But, for the sake of argument, let’s accept the motivation of Republican market groupies at face values and presume that they really do believe that market based solutions are always that best way to deal with controversy and crisis. That’s still quite a claim that they have to support. How well do their ideas stand up to reality?

Not very well, it turns out. Consider just one example: Travel. Currently, our national transportation system is constructed in alignment with market forces, and the result doesn’t create a positive impression of the supposed wisdom of the marketplace.

Right now, I’m sitting in the airport in Ithaca trying to fly to Los Angeles. Outside, the skies are sunny. The runways are melted clear and dry. Yet, my flight is delayed because of the weather. The weather problem isn’t here, of course. It’s to the east of me.

Quick geography quiz: Is Los Angeles to the east of Ithaca, New York? Go on and look it up on Google’s map search.

The rational mind sees that there is no bad weather at all between Ithaca and Los Angeles. Unfortunately, the collective mind of the marketplace is anything but rational. The wisdom of the marketplace dictates that, if I want to get to Los Angeles from Ithaca, I have to fly east, into the snowstorm.

The marketplace groupies say that this counter-rational approach to travel is necessary if airline corporations are to make profits. The thing is, though, that the airline corporations are not making profits – not even after implementing their weird, supposedly efficient, travel route.

The market based system for air travel is, in fact, so irrational and inefficient that it has required immense welfare payments from the federal government. That’s more marketplace wisdom for you – taxpayers who don’t even fly on airplanes are paying money to keep airlines from going bankrupt. Even with such welfare assistance, airline corporations are still going bankrupt.

That’s the wisdom of the marketplace, huh? Thanks, but no thanks. It seems that I forgot to read the labels carefully enough. It turns out that the marketplace actually has no wisdom. It has Wizdom – a corporate trademark for a processed logic product.

16 thoughts on “Market Based Madness In the Air”

  1. Michael Hampton says:

    You’ve made a serious mistake: that’s not a free market system. That’s yet another failed government-funded program. Get the government to stop propping up the airlines and they’ll get their acts together VERY quickly.

    As for your particular flight delay, if the PLANE to serve your flight was scheduled to arrive from somewhere in the snowed-in area, then you’re going to be sitting there quite a while, market forces or no market forces. Even the market must bend to the weather. 🙂

  2. Peregrin Wood says:

    Michael, you really miss the point. You accept the fundamentals of the market-based airline system without question. No, the airplane was not coming from a snowed-in airport. There are plenty of airplanes here, just sitting. That’s not a government decision. It’s a market-based decision.

    Still waiting in Ithaca, and the airlines are making the market-based decision not to tell us a thing about what’s really going on.

    This is a market system that has managed to finagle money out of the government. That doesn’t make it the government’s problem, although it does indicate that the Republican government is made up either of fools or of craven corporate servants.

    No, the market-based idiots own this problem. Nothing government-mandated created the system that doesn’t allow me to get from here to there, even though there’s no bad weather in between. It’s purely Republican-model economics that are responsible.

  3. Layla says:

    When foreign companies like Airbus are propped up by their governments, the only way for U.S. companies to compete is with government support. Living in a city that is the home of two major airlines, I can tell you the airline industry is still struggling to emerge from the effects of 9/11, but will do so because of the underliying economic strength of the city. The city has no problem issuing GO bonds to bridge this temporary crisis. you will see that smaller municipalities as well have taken a huge hit in the economy because of 9/11.

    With the increased use of computers for data mining, researchers are even starting to relate abortion to crime rates. In the U.S. crime rates went down 20 years after abortion became legal. In some eastern European countries crime rates went up 20 years after abortion stopped with the fall of communism. The theory: unwanted children are more likely to commit crimes.

    Progressives cannot afford to downplay economics. The next time you’re stuck in an airport, try reading some of the illustrations of the power of the market in Miller, et al, “The Economics of Public Issues”. It will even tell you all about sex, booze and drugs.

  4. Peregrin Wood says:

    Layla, you say that “Progressives cannot afford to downplay economics.”

    I say that Republican right wingers cannot afford to downplay the stupidity of their ideology of market worship. You are talking pie in the sky theory, more pointy-headed elitist Republican books that say what SHOULD happen under certain circumstances.

    You make your predictions all you want. I’m telling you how things ARE. Because of Republican economic theory, I’m stuck in an airport, with a plane that’s been waiting for me, right outside the window, for six hours. There are no weather problems where I am, no weather problems where I want to go, and no weather problems in between. All that stands in my way is a stupid system designed by theorists who fail to take into account certain little details such as that flying into a snowstorm in the middle of the winter is not economically beneficial to anybody.

    These economists need to start subjecting their beloved theories to reality, and not just the anecdotes of success that they have built their systems upon.

  5. Layla says:

    maybe your pilot showed up for work drunk

  6. andy says:

    Sorry – not a comment on the post. I have looked for an email address to no avail so am using comments.
    Can you please sort out your RSS feed? All I have been getting for the last week or so are comments – no posts…

  7. Jim says:

    Andy, thanks for pointing this out. We just upgraded our software and, unbeknownst to us, the RSS structure changed when we did. The new way to get a feed for all the posts is to subscribe to this RSS feed:


  8. GopherGrace says:

    Your ‘understanding’ of the the airline situation is once, again driven by your
    own madness, hubris, and general inanity. I agree with you completely on your
    main point; that is that a market-based solution is of course NOT the best model
    to use in every circumstance. That much is true indeed.

    However, when you start trying to imply that you know so much about the issue
    of air travel that you feel qualified to label our efficient and cheap airline
    system as ‘irrational’, you display your ignorance of how systems really work.

    This makes your whole example fall apart on those grounds. I still agree with your
    point; you just don’t know how to justify it, based on your example and comments.

    I’d like to fly from my driveway to my mother’s driveway, about 500-odd miles away.
    Can I please have a $200 round trip ticket to do that? I can’t? Why not? That level
    of travel convenience doesn’t make economic sense, one might say? Gee, but that would
    be so easy for me. I wouldn’t have to drive to an airport, wait for a plane or a connecting
    flight, and then have her come pick me up or have to rent a car at the airport. Why don’t we have that
    level of air travel convenience?

    You may not like the hub approach to air travel, but the ‘plain’ truth is, this is a model that works
    for many types of travel, buses in cities, satellite communications, etc. I can’t pick up a bus and
    take it directly to anywhere I want either. I might have to transfer. And I don’t get my cable signal
    directly from the broadcast booth to my house. It is relayed up to an orbiting satellite ‘hub’ and from
    there sent to many other places. This is the basic economics of providing a service to a large number
    of people who are in some way greatly separated. Cars and bicycles are made for direct point-to-point
    travel; airplanes are not.

    Ithaca? How many people are flying from that remote place to Los Angeles each day?
    What if you want to leave at 7:00am and the flight out isn’t until 10:00? Should they
    make a special flight for you? I assume that some of the people on your flight might have
    been going to Atlanta, London, Tokyo, San Diego, Seattle, etc. Do they each get their own
    direct flight? This is so ridiculous of an argument that I question how you could be so
    ignorant to even use it as a point.

    It’s not ‘theory’ to show that this hub approach to air travel is, if not the best, at least a the best.
    It is constantly being refined, and that is being driven partly by the market. Don’t expect me to argue that
    this is the best way to run schools; as I said at the opening, I agree with your point that one
    should not apply that concept to everything. That’s making everything look like a nail when all
    you have is a hammer.

    Consider this: When I first started flying routinely for business maybe 25 years ago, a ticket from
    my small city to another small city cost about the same in the dollars of that period as it does today,
    with no consideration for the value of today’s dollar being adjusted for 25 years of inflation. And
    we know the cost of pilot’s salaries, planes, maint., fuel, etc, all cost much more due to inflationary
    pressures. Yet what I pay for my ticket still costs me about the very same as it did then. That is
    really truly amazing, in terms of improved efficiency. Yes, the airline I might have used 25 years ago
    went bankrupt, but all organisms die eventually anyway. Yes, deregulation of the industry has made air
    travel so much less ‘special’ than it was then. It’s a lot more like bus travel than the feeling you used
    to get, even in coach, of being specially treated. I’ll give that pampering up gladly.

    Your contention that because you see an airplane outside your window, and it’s not being used, therefore
    it should fire up and take you to LA, ‘cuz damnit, you hate waiting and YOU’RE ready, is just stupid.

    I wish you could make a good point (and the premise was a good one) without displaying your
    ignorance, anger, and general lack of understanding of how a particular system works.

    You argue that the ‘theorists’ who designed the air travel system should bend it so YOUR reality
    is more justified. That’s complete h_rseSh_t. I’d love to see how you would run an airline with
    certain flights half-empty and turn a profit. And if you think they should all be government-run
    and therefore non-profit, fine, just try and run them efficiently at the lowest cost to the taxpayers.

    The problem with your line of thinking is that you present a ‘problem’ (which is really just whining
    about waiting in an airport) and you use it improperly to apply to another point outside of that
    issue altogether. Yet, as is so typical, you don’t present a valid solution to anything. You don’t
    propose how ‘your’ system for running airline service would be so much better. You’re reduced to
    just throwing stones at a system you obviously understand little about. That’s so sad, since it
    takes a lot of the punch out of your overall assertation about government, which I tend to agree with.

    Peace! and friendly skies to you!

  9. Peregrin Wood says:

    Sorry to be so inane, but the whole point is that a market-based approach to our national transportation system is NOT working.

    Not working includes flights not running, even when the destination is clear and the place of embarcation is clear, and all territory in between is clear.

    You, as the other commenters here, are not able to escape the market-based mentality. You’re presuming that our transportation system has to be centered around profitability, and not function. Your comment, “I’d love to see how you would run an airline with
    certain flights half-empty and turn a profit” shows that you’re missing the point of everything I’ve written.

    I know I’m stricken by madness, hubris, and inanity, but I’m imagining a national transportation that is focused on getting people where they need to go in an orderly, reliable way. That’s not what we have currently. What we have right now is focused so much on profitability that reliable function has gone out the window – and these corporations still can’t squeeze a profit out of it.

    As long as you presume that the system has to be profitable, you’re operating in the marketplace cult. I’m asking us to think bigger here.

  10. GopherGrace says:

    Good for you. I’ll give you a system right now that will do what you want. I’ll place a medium-sized
    helicopter, with pilot, in the back yard of each person. Or, if you live in an apartment, you can have
    a heliport on the roof.

    Then, whenever you want to go anywhere, at any time, just give the directions to your pilot,
    throw your bags into the storage bin, and Off You Go!!!!

    What’s wrong with this picture? Well, to make an obvious point, it might be rather expensive.

    I chuckle tremendously when you castigate the other writer for “pie-in-the-sky” theory (I assume, that
    as when I said ‘plain’ truth, that there was no pun intended) when what you are suggesting is exactly that.

    I also did not say that the systems needs to be profitable. I give you the benefit of choosing for
    a state-run, public approach. What I did say, was that it at least had to be run at the lowest possible
    cost to the taxpayers who pay for it. That’s a point you seem to miss.

    Where’s your suggestion? Do you have anything constructive to offer, other than merely throwing
    stones at the current system? Do you have really any appreciation for the complexities involved
    in moving large amounts of people regularly to far-away places? I don’t think you do, or you’re too
    lazy to think of alternatives.

    Tell me, what’s wrong with the personal helicopter idea? It will obviously meet the needs you express.
    If ignoring the costs of such a system is your proposal, then I will have to stick with something
    ‘market-driven’, if what that really means is a system that has some concern for the cost/value ratio.

    I don’t care if you have direct flights scheduled every 10 minutes from Ithaca to every other airport in the world.
    (just think what a colossal waste of fuel that would be, plus it would make the airports about 500 times largeer)

    You’ll still be at the mercy of the weather for some of the flights some of the time. The current system might
    be more susceptable to weather, as it was in your particular case, but by using commuter flights to large hubs,
    it is FAR more cost efficient. The costs of jet fuel, salaries, and many other factors have hurt the airline’s
    profits. (of course, their pensions are a large factor too. Should we have them arbitrarily eliminate that
    worker benefit?) They cannot just raise the price of a ticket to make more profit, that will drive people
    away from them to other forms of travel. It might be faster to fly than go on a trip of 500 miles, but it’s
    usually cheaper to drive.

    If you don’t think a transportation hub concept works, propose a better one. It’s so easy to p_ss and moan
    about something you can’t grasp the concept of. It’s so easy to be an ‘outsider’ and blame the people
    who have developed something, when you can’t or won’t do better yourself.

    The system we have today, looking at it with a larger canvas than your particular experience leaving
    Ithaca, really does work very well. You had a problem leaving there even though the weather was clear
    to the west. Try leaving New York to LA this past Sunday; I know someone who tried. Having a direct
    flight to LA wouldn’t have helped them.

    Keep on throwing stones instead of proposing an improved solution. Fly on a state-run airline in China,
    if you think our zeal for profits are the only problem. Keep on whining about things you don’t understand.
    I only wish you could have made your valid point about the misapplication of market-driven techniques
    without resorting to bitching about air travel and sounding like a buffoon. It’s too bad.

  11. Peregrin Wood says:

    I’m not throwing stones, GopherGrace. I’m asking for a reliable transportation system.

    You’re trying to set me up as a straw man, and it’s a pretty pathetic attempt. I never asked for a transportation system to deliver me wherever I want to go on a whim, yet you’re pretending that I did. Let’s keep this honest, shall we?

    I think it’s pretty revealing that when Americans ask for a transportation system to be reliable, you accuse them of “bitching” and “whining”. You say that they “piss and moan”. You call American travellers “buffoons”. You say that Americans travellers just “don’t understand” the wisdom of the profit-driven system that keeps them stranded for hours on end in clear weather.

    Your disdain for the average American caught in the current disfunctional system is pretty clear. It seems that you believe that we ought not to complain when the market-based system fails us, consistently, time after time.

    You continue to base your defense of the current system through an appeal to profit over function. I’m rejecting the presumption that lies at the base of your defense, and all you can do is suggest that China’s system is the only alternative.

    I’m calling for more creative thinking here, because the American system is literally bankrupt. It doesn’t work financially or functionally. Why are you so opposed to reform?

  12. GopherGrace says:

    First chief, I didn’t call the ‘American travellers’ “buffoons”. I merely said you sounded like
    one. If you are a traveler in America, I guess that’s just a intersection of sets.
    Let’s keep it honest, shall we?

    Our transportation system DOES work. It is the best in the world, at least in terms of air travel.

    All human-based systems have flaws. It is presumptuous to think that all flaws can be removed.
    Our air travel system is dependent on weather conditions. Do you really think that a air system
    can be devised with today’s aviation technology that won’t be subject to the whims of weather patterns?

    So, the only thing you’ve really stood on is that YOUR plane could have headed West, when it was scheduled
    to fly East, into inclimate weather. While it might have saved you THIS particular time if your plane had
    flown directly West, it wouldn’t work under all circumstances. And if that point is all you really have to
    offer, that’s what is weak. What’s your solution? Move the hub airport for Ithaca from an eastern city,
    like New York to Philadelphia, or Chicago, which is more West? What would that do? Other than this particular

    If you don’t like a hub-based approach at all to air travel, then I will brand you a fool; nothing
    personal, just an observation. Does my home have phone wires connecting it to every other home I might
    call? Of course not. It is another example of a hub-based system. It is EFFICIENCY that drives
    this type of system. Profit-based systems of course do derive value from efficiency; that is their nature.

    But efficiency and profit are not the same thing. A non-profit system of anything can still be run efficiently.
    Why would you want to destroy efficiency? Our system does function well and efficiently. A non-hub-based system
    of air travel would not. If you want to debate that fact, you’d better have some radical new technology or systems
    to offer, otherwise you’re just blowing hot air. (or hot electrons or photons, as the case may be)

    If weather is what was the root cause of your delay, then changing the system you bitch about will not solve that.
    Weather factors will always be there. Why do you ignore that? It’s the root cause.

    I guess that’s the basis of your problem. You observe a problem that’s based on a weather condition,
    and somehow, you must find a way to blame the Republicans for it. Gee, it must be their profit-motivated
    systems, not the weather, that’s to blame. One could start quibbling that they’ve picked the wrong hub city
    for you, because it’s routinely ‘weathered-in’, but that would be just a fine-tune of the system, which they
    do of course perform routinely.

    Again, you haven’t offered anything of substance to suggest alternatives. That’s why I say you’re throwing
    stones, while you maintain “..I’m just asking…”. Suggest an actual avenue of “reform” as you put it, and
    I’ll gladly comment on it. As it is, you’ve offered nothing but a complaint, and a vague suggestion that
    we “reform” the system. That’s why I offer the tongue-in-cheek proposal for a backyard helicopter.
    It’s about as useful as anything (which is actually nothing) that YOU’VE so far proposed.

    The very fact that you complain about a problem that has a hub-based technology at the root of it shows
    your lack of practicality in your thinking about this. I still maintain that you should stick to what
    your main point should have been: Market-based thinking isn’t appropriate for all circumstances.

    You could have been correct had you stopped at that one-liner. Your example hurts your expression.

  13. Peregrin Wood says:


    This storm was seen coming three days ahead of time. In a rational system, flights could have been rerouted to get a majority of passengers to where they needed to go. I’m not just talking about my plane. I’m talking about all the planes that were stubbornly kept pointed right into the storm even when a majority of their passengers were not headed in that direction at all – and there were a large number of such planes. There were huge numbers of people stranded in cities that the snowstorm didn’t even hit, people who didn’t even want to go into the storm. They were stranded because the system didn’t have any way to meet their needs.

    The American transportation system does NOT work. A huge number of airlines are in or on the verge of bankruptcy, even after getting huge bailouts from the government. The system fails time and again to react to weather, and has huge delays set up as part of the system. Anyone who ever travels through O’Hare airport is aware of this problem. So-called weather delays there happen as a matter of routine, whether or not the weather is fine. Flights are overbooked all the time, so that passengers can’t get where they wanted to go, and other flights are frequently canceled because there aren’t enough fliers. Economic competition keeps these fliers from being put on a single airplane that could get them to where they needed to go. You seem to think it’s no big deal, because transportation is worse in some other places. I say that’s an awfully low bar for measuring success.

    You have cited “basic economics of providing a service to a large number of people” as the criterion of success many times. My point is that economics shouldn’t be the dominating factor. The airline industry is economically unsustainable anyway. Why not accept that, and then go ahead and create a system that actually functions well, adapting to changing conditions with a more reasonable level of flexibility?

    Why doesn’t that happen? Well, it’s because a lot of people are stuck in that market-worship ideology, and just couldn’t stand to ever see the airline industry run by anything other than private corporations. It’s not a rational stand for them – just knee jerk revulsion against non-market solutions.

    You can keep on insulting me, calling me a “buffoon” or “chief”, but your insults don’t change these basic facts.

  14. GopherGrace says:

    And once again, you offer no constructive solution.
    So typical.

    It’s really getting funny when I sit back and think about it. You still display a huge ignorance
    of the benefits of a hub-based technology. Drawbacks? Sure, there are some. Yet, you offer
    nothing to improve upon it.

    Now, it’s beginning to become more clear. You let it slip with the comment about the airlines “ by
    anthing other than private corporations…”

    OK, so you want them run public. I don’t care; I’m fine with that. You still are left with the realities
    of a system that needs to run EFFICIENTLY. I’ve ridden Amtrak many times. I seem to remember something about
    that leaving the bounds of “private corporations”. And I can’t begin to tell you the problems with their
    system. In fact, it’s never delivered on time or anything close to in at least the 20 years I’ve been using it.

    And weather doesn’t have much of an effect on them.

    Overbooking? An evil policy by corporate torture-mongers? Or just a response to the “basic fact” that many
    people cancel at the last minute (especially business travelers) and do not show up for their flights?

    I’ve never been bumped in almost 25 years of commercial flights due to overbooking. Yes, I’ve come close, but
    I’ve sat on a lot more flights that have been half empty than those that I’ve been almost bumped from. The
    airline average for persons denied boarding by overbooking is less than one person per 10,000 people! For
    some, like Northwest and United, I’ve seen it as low as less than one-half a person per 10,000 people.
    That’s 0.0049% or in other words 99.9951% of the people do NOT get bumped! That’s a ‘basic fact’ not a
    feeling; people who have been inconvenienced in traveling tend to overjudge. You neglect to consider
    that airline travel has more than doubled in air miles over the last 20 years. It’s a huge number
    of people moving quickly, safely to their destinations. All trouble-free? Nope, but where is your planned
    improvement coming from?

    Travel=Business=Republican=Bad I love this logic. Stick to your main issue, and leave air travel out
    of it. (and how is “chief” an insult I wonder?) It’s not an insult to say your ideas (or lack thereof
    of concrete ones) just plain suck.

    Good Day!

  15. Peregrin Wood says:


    You’re working on building me into a strawman again, with this weird “Travel=Business=Republican=Bad” equation that you suggest that I’ve created. YOU made that up, not ME. I’m travelling on business. I work for big businesses, but I recognize that business is not the solution to everything.

    You insult me by calling me a buffoon, so fine. I’m a buffoon. And now I “suck”. Fine. At least I’m not distorting your argument or putting words in your mouth. Time and again, you’re using really nasty language against me, suggesting that you’ve got some weird emotional agenda here. What’s your problem with even considering an alternative to the current unworkable situation?

  16. GopherGrace says:

    So sorry that you are upset personally.

    Stick to the argument.
    I didn’t say “you” suck; I only said your ideas (in this context) suck. If you are so fragile-skinned
    to think that all your ideas must be wonderful because they come from you…. Well, there’s a word
    for that, but I hesitate to mention it for fear of further offending you.

    I’ll repeat again: You’ve given us not a lick of suggestions on how you are to “fix” the
    so-called problems you state are there. Give us something concrete to talk about, instead
    of just vague stone-throwing at the problem, and I’ll be glad to consider any alternative.

    However, YOU have not offered any alternative. Where have I missed it?

    And please, don’t get cutesy with your claim that I’ve put words in your mouth.

    The equation is a clear summary of your logic.
    You’re using the example of air travel. You refer to the phrase “republican market groupies”.
    And you speak in unfavorable terms of the system “they’ve” created. You say explicity that
    the “ based system for air travel is irrational…” I think it’s safe to say
    that equals bad. I’ve summarized your blurb in 4 words, quite simply.

    I’m ready and open-minded to hear your ideas for a better air travel system.
    Where are they?

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