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Welfare For Airborne Multimillionaires
From USA Today, an editorial about how commercial airline passengers are subsidizing the swells in their Gulfstreams:

Comparing two flights from Atlanta to Fort Lauderdale highlights the unfairness of the current situation. One is a 757 commercial airliner that is 75% full. The other is a Hawker 400, a corporate jet seating eight passengers. According to the ATA, the passengers of the commercial flight will collectively pay the FAA about $1,760, directly in ticket taxes and indirectly in fuel taxes. The passengers of the Hawker will pay just $56, mostly from fuel taxes.

...Those subsidies are one reason there are more than 17,000 corporate airplanes in the USA, twice the number of commercial airliners. At times and places such as South Florida on winter weekends or New York at virtually any time, they can cause what might be called "Lear Lock." This Monday after the Super Bowl, for instance, corporate jets left South Florida at a rate of 200 to 250 per hour, causing delays for airline passengers, according to the Air Transport Association (ATA), the major carriers' trade group.

Those jets are so numerous in part because they are paying very little in taxes to support the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Even though a corporate jet places as great a burden on the air traffic system as an airliner, it pays only a fraction of the price. Most funding for the aviation trust fund, 94% in fact, comes from a variety of airline taxes, principally a 7.5% levy on the price of each ticket. Just 6% of the funding comes from all private jets and small aircraft.

President Bush's budget, released Monday, would replace per-passenger taxes based on the price of the ticket with per-airplane taxes based on the level of air traffic services rendered. This needed change would:

•End an egregious subsidy to corporations and wealthy individuals.

•Result in lower ticket prices or, more likely, let the FAA undertake a much-needed and expensive upgrade to its system.

•Encourage airlines to substitute larger jets for smaller regional aircraft that have barely enough legroom for a child or bin space for an iPod.

The proposal would have some impact on amateur pilots, particularly if they fly around major cities. It would have a bigger impact on corporate jets that more frequently fly in these crowded corridors.

Yes, good news about dismantling the corporate welfare state. A pat on the back for President Bush!

Unfortunately, the religious welfare state is still going strong. From a piece by C. Bradley Thompson:

In the president’s faith-based initiatives, we see compassionate conservatism’s two distinctive features: the use of “free-market mechanisms” to achieve welfare-state goals; and the redirection of the welfare state toward conservative, especially religious, goals.

Compassionate conservatism’s proponents tout President Bush’s faith-based initiative as an application of free-market principles to welfare. Government-funded welfare is distributed by sub-contracting and out-sourcing the “politics of love” to private middlemen—namely, churches and faith-based charitable organizations. The Bush administration’s program aims to make “funds more accessible to neighborhood and faith-based organizations that administer a mix of love and discipline,” writes Stephen Goldsmith.23 Such “privatization” of the welfare system does give rise to a certain kind of “competition”: Protestants, Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, the Unification Church, Rastafarians, Scientologists, and various other California-style churches compete to offer the most love and the best soup—and with your money.

This political competition between churches for taxpayer money is the beau idéal of compassionate conservatism. Churches and charities compete with one another for government funding, and the recipients of this “charity” have the freedom to choose between various government-sponsored and government-regulated denominational soup kitchens. This is what compassionate conservatives mean when they advocate combining “free market” policies with religious programs for the poor. But this is an Orwellian perversion and an utter corruption of free-market principles. There is no such thing as “market competition” between semi-private charities for the favors of government bureaucrats who have the power to arbitrarily give away money that is forcibly taken from other Americans. This is sheer government coercion and forced redistribution of wealth. Worse yet, it is a violation of the separation of church and state.

Unfortunately, Thompson writes, the president has been giving a lot more welfare than he's been taking away:

Under George Bush and the Republicans, the welfare state that Bill Clinton began to dismantle has been given a second life. The Bush administration and their Republican allies in Congress have, for instance, offered a tax “refund” to 6.5 million low-income people who do not pay taxes, passed a $180 billion farm subsidy bill (welfare for farmers), supported tariffs on steel imports (welfare for the American steel industry), and extended the American welfare state to Africa by offering the people of that continent $15 billion in AIDS relief.

Then, of course, there’s President Bush’s signature welfare program administered by the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. The amount of money that the Bush administration has taken (or proposes to take) from American taxpayers for redistribution to the irresponsible and unproductive is utterly staggering: $50 million to fund mentors for children of criminals in jail, $240 million for promoting healthy marriages and responsible fatherhood, $206 million for an abstinence-only program, $75 million for the Prisoner Re-entry Initiative, $150 million for a drug-addiction program, $1.4 billion to house the homeless, $149 million to the Compassion Capital Fund (for the perpetually “needy”).

And finally, the difference between Democrats and Republicans?

Liberalism invokes the altruism of Marx; conservatism invokes the altruism of Jesus; and both camps are indebted to Rousseau for his emphasis on compassion. With respect to individual rights, there is and can be no fundamental difference between a secular-liberal welfare state and a religious-conservative welfare state. It matters not one whit to me whether my earned wealth is forcibly redistributed by a Hillary Clinton or a George Bush government; either way, my money is seized. The political subjugation of the individual in the name of the morality of sacrifice is the essence of both.

Posted by aalkon at February 9, 2007 11:40 AM


I'm not used to you being so credulous. You seem to have
swallowed the airline propaganda whole.

First of all, it's not reasonable to base the taxes and
the argument around a single incident (the Super Bowl) vs.
the steady-state conditions. It would be just as
unreasonable to base your normal ground traffic planning on
the car traffic exiting the Super Bowl stadium.

Secondly, there are reasons that the airline taxes are a
larger share. Airline hub-and-spoke operations regularly
create large demand for short periods of time. Airline's
scheduling of multiple departures in one direction during
"rush hours" creates en route congestion. The airlines' all
weather operations require massive infrastructure. That
includes low-visibility taxi lights, precision approach
monitor radar, ground radar, low-level wind shear alert
systems, snow removal, and huge ramps, taxiways, runways,
and parking areas. Even with all this massive
infrastructure, more (expensive) changes need to be made to
accomodate the new monster-sized Airbus.

Thirdly, the comparison between "two flights from Atlanta
to Fort Lauderdale" is specious. The typical flight of
small planes has at least one end terminating at a locale
that the airlines serve either badly or not at all.

Posted by: Ron at February 9, 2007 5:33 AM

Using the above "logic", the builders of smaller aircraft must be legislated out of business, and all passengers must be herded onto the largest aircraft available. You can take a bus to smaller cities.

If you live in LA and fly to Paris, there's be no upset at all. Those other people are unimportant.

Everyone should work for Boeing; if there are too many engineers, well, McDonald's is always hiring.

Really - this is just another hate-the-rich whine. It will get the sympathy of those people who have never figured out that being paid hourly doesn't lead to riches, and these people can then force government to get for them what they can't get themselves. It never occurs to them that their neighbors work at the small-jet plant, and on the staff that flies and rides along as support for the corporate bigwig.

Then they can blame the result of their action on George Bush.

Now - does anyone mention government bailouts of airlines?

Posted by: Radwaste at February 9, 2007 6:24 AM

You're the one who's credulous. Or just not reading very closely. Read the words "at virtually any time":

At times and places such as South Florida on winter weekends or New York at virtually any time, they can cause what might be called "Lear Lock."

Furthermore, they're polluting inordinately, taking more than their fair share of our breathable air.

Airplane travel is an amazing form of transportation -- exceptionally convenient for getting long distances in a short amount of time. But, it's also terribly polluting. We don't have another way to travel such distances so efficiently, but the really outrageous thing about people such as Laurie David and Arianna, who promote Prius travel for us plebes, is the amount of time they fly in private jets.

If you take more than your fair share of resources -- forcing many, many others to wait to take off, impairing the breathing of the rest of us, you should definitely pay for it.

As for the monster-sized Airbus -- it's comparable to a bus versus a car. It carries many, many people. I haven't done a pollution analysis, but I'd bet if you compare it to a thousand private jets (or how ever many passengers it carries), plus add the congestion those planes would cause, it wins hands down.

The public air is a commons, as is the public airspace. And just as, in the middle ages, you couldn't have your sheep eat all the grass in the public grazing area without having outrage directed at you, it's unfair, in modern times, to suck all the peace and quiet out of a public space with your cell phone, or to pollute and crowd our airspace more than need be without paying for it.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at February 9, 2007 6:29 AM

Staying away from the airplane debate, aside from saying that I agree with Amy on getting irritated by stars who lecture me on global warming and then take private jets, I'll have to, erm, disagree a bit with the description of the $15Bln in Africa as "welfare." If that's welfare, then so is the billions we give to Egypt in return for them not babbling on about the "evils" of Israel, and so is the development aid we've given get the idea. I certainly think you can debate whether $15Bln for AIDS in Africa is a wise idea - though I personally think there's much to recommend it, and would rather my tax dollars go there than to the Bridge to Nowhere and a new rail line in Mississippi - but I wouldn't describe it as an expansion of the welfare state.

The farm subsidy bill? Outrageous corporate welfare. The steel tariffs? Same. Funding of programs intended to, maybe, reduce the risk that kids of criminals will break into my house or that criminals will re-offend? Not sure about that. I take issue with the religious angle there, but not with the idea that investing some money in these things NOW might allow us to forego housing these people at state expense in jail later, with all the attendant costs therein. The War on Poverty programs have created a semi-permanent underclass with highly dysfunctional typical family structure and life choices, and I agree that something needs to be done to try to address this, if only because I'm a self-centered middle-class-er who doesn't want the members of this underclass breaking into my house or stealing my purse. I just wish more effort were being put into, say, school vouchers.

$1.4 billion to house the homeless? Sigh. The only thing that's really going to help the homeless, IMHO, is re-institutionalization. I'm in favor of that, but it has not a chance in hell of ever getting passed.

Posted by: marion at February 9, 2007 6:50 AM

Sounds like a "let them use buses" argument.
(Here's your anti-small-plane argument with minor wording changes
but the logic intact)

At times and places such as South Florida on winter weekends
or New York at virtually any time, private cars can cause what
might be called "Grid Lock."

Furthermore, they're polluting inordinately, taking more than
their fair share of our breathable air.

Motor vehicle travel is an amazing form of transportation...
But, it's also terribly polluting.

If you take more than your fair share of resources -- forcing
many, many others on buses to wait to reach their destinations,
impairing the breathing of the rest of us, you should definitely
pay for it.

Posted by: Ron at February 9, 2007 7:59 AM

Buses are, indeed, preferable to private cars in terms of pollution per passenger and overcrowding of the roads. In New York or Paris, where there's adequate public transportation, taking a bus is a viable alternative; in fact, with bus lanes, it may be speedier than a private car. In Los Angeles, taking a bus can add an hour or HOURS to your transportation time. Each way.

We have a viable way to get great distances speedily, without polluting unnecessarily -- the commercial aircraft.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at February 9, 2007 8:32 AM

You are so brutal with these obscuring words: fair share, unnecessarily...

Posted by: Crid at February 9, 2007 9:40 AM

Yes, eactly - thanks, Crid.

Let's approach this from another angle. The direction
towards the most freedom means the ability to travel where
you wish, when you wish. All other considerations aside,
isn't that a good thing?

That's why cars are so popular, despite their many
drawbacks and costs. They get you to and from your
destination at your schedule. Where it's cheaper or more
convenient, people will still choose public transit.

For longer distances, car travel can be impractical.
Thus, flying to your destination can be the best way. For
flying from one big city to another, a scheduled airline can
be cheaper and easier (though that may apply less after our
government outlawed an entire state of matter on planes).
For flying some place not served well by airlines, some
other type of flight may be desirable. If you want the
ability to carry something to drink or a pair of pliers, you
might eschew the airlines despite their other advantages.
How much is it worth to skip the whole frisking business and
just get on and ride? It's a personal judgement, and some
will judge the difference to be worthwhile.

Back to the main point, in terms of costs. Note that
trucks and buses pay way more in taxes than autos, despite
their efficiency. The reason for this is because they, like
airlines, demand more from the infrastructure. The roads
and bridges must be designed to handle the far heavier
weight and taller clearances of trucks and buses. These
vehicles also cause more wear to the roads. If the trucking
companies argued that cars should pay a larger part of the
cost, I wouldn't expect to see the same kind of passion for
their argument.

Posted by: Ron at February 9, 2007 10:40 AM

The point made by Ron above is that that fees paid to support common infrastructures need to reflect the degree to which the payer of these fees places demands on that infrastructure. A bus or a tractor-trailer pays more than a car for the reasons he describes. In aggregate, however, I would imagine that cars contribute the largest portion of fees, which (if true) is fitting, because this aggregate places more demands on our roads than those of trucks and buses.

With regard to planes, the same logic can be applied. The issue, then, appears to be whether the current structure of fees that support the FAA and cover airport expenses or an alternative (perhaps the one suggested in the main article; perhaps another) best approximates the demand the plane places on airports, air-traffic control systems, and the environment. In the example above, the 757 pays about 31.5 times the fees of the corporate jet. Is this fair? I don't know, but considered in this way, I think that it is possible for those with access to better data to determine whether this is fair or not.

Can fair be used like this, or is it still an obscuring word?

Posted by: justin case at February 9, 2007 1:14 PM

> Can fair be used like this

Listen, if you want to talk about printed, political, sane metrics, we're all behind you. But if you imagine that there was a golden number BTUs affixed to your birth certificate by God in Heaven on the day you were born, it's going to be a problem. And 'feelings' about fairness are all I hear behind Amy's environmental rhetoric... A distinctly American presumption that if we all just sit down in a jury room and roll up our sleeves with Henry Fonda, we can decide what's right.

So far, the best possible system for distributing energy (and knowledge/food/healthcare/residence/etc) is, who's got the money to best pay for it?

Sux but true.

Posted by: Crid at February 9, 2007 4:42 PM

So far, the best possible system for distributing energy (and knowledge/food/healthcare/residence/etc) is, who's got the money to best pay for it?

Agreed. But the system gets mucked up a bit when information about relative costs is unclear. Market-based systems and assumptions that people are rational actors are based upon good information. This is where carefully considered metrics come in; to the extent that there are serious hidden costs, we have a problem, because people then are making decisions based upon information no more reliable than feelings.

Posted by: justin case at February 10, 2007 9:34 AM

Right, so let's have a little faith that people can do what they need to do without Al Frickin' Gore signing off on it.

It amazes me that at comfort, nutrition, liberty and literacy have continued a steady march through the global population, people don't think we have any tools to deal with the environment. The economy is transparent! That is so wack.

Posted by: Crid at February 10, 2007 10:38 AM

*AS* comfort etc...

Posted by: Crid at February 10, 2007 10:39 AM

"We don't have another way to travel such distances so efficiently,..."

You have to play with the term, "efficiently" quite a bit here. I don't see you taking a train to NYC to minimize the air pollution going from LAX to LAG. And where is the lamentation that any big jet is allowed to fly with empty seats?

If you have a minute and a charge card, you can hire a Lear or Gulfstream to get you to Paris at any time, and you won't be strip-searched. Companies (who participate in aircraft "pools", BTW, because they're expensive) use these jets because "efficiency" means "getting where they need to be when they need to be there" - not "when and where the airline flies". Again: this is just an "I hate the rich" whine. Their idea of "efficient" is exactly what yours is - not waiting around when they have somewhere else to be.

What, now, is the difference between your wanting to take a jet (not a train and ship) to Paris or wherever and some bigwig wanting to do the same thing?

By the way, modern jet engines are quite a bit cleaner-burning than you think. It's just that their considerable horsepower output is happening in that part of the atmosphere where effects are worst and show soonest.

Posted by: Radwaste at February 10, 2007 11:20 AM

Our economy would go down the tubes if we all took trains or buses when it takes considerably more time than it does by plane or car. I'm not suggesting people spend an extra four days taking a train across the country, or an extra two or more hours each way taking the bus across Los Angeles. I'm talking about when there's a comparable system available -- like flying first class commercial or taking a bus or subway in Paris or Manhattan.

The market removes jets with empty seats. Gregg's red eye direct to Detroit was just suspended. When we flew there a few weeks ago, we had to stop in Minneapolis in the wee hours and change planes.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at February 10, 2007 11:44 AM

Amy, the wiggle word in that comment is "comparable " By what criterion? Comfort? Existing distribution? Present cost?

Posted by: Crid at February 10, 2007 12:23 PM

"Our economy would go down the tubes if we all took trains or buses when it takes considerably more time than it does by plane or car."

And so would the businesses of companies who gain extra competitiveness by being able to arrive anywhere quickly. Unless, of course, restrictions were universal, in which case the economy would adapt.

The market also determines how many Lear Jets fly, and to where. You have just named the solution - which doesn't involve whining about assorted "bigwigs" riding in something you don't.

I see people admiring Europe's mass-transit systems without realizing why they're that way: they didn't have the Teamsters working a deal with Eisenhower, they did have something called "B-17 Urban Renewal", they don't have a problem living close to work (Americans won't) and they do have high fuel prices. Try 2-3 times what it is here.

And you can get on the Metro without being eyed by a gang of thugs. Not so on MARTA - where the problem is officially "invisible" because the thugs are black.

Posted by: Radwaste at February 12, 2007 2:53 AM

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