I came up with this comparison while engaged in a discussion about India railways on YouTube. India railways employees 1.4 million people, making it one of the largest non-military employers of the world. Because India railways is operated essentially to create public sector jobs, it is grossly inefficient. Only 5% of their routes use automatic block signals. The rest of the network uses manual block control with people on phones talking to each other at the end of each block. Outside of the main urban areas, crossing gates are opened and closed by a human and switches are thrown by hand, not even using pneumatic remote switches which the Pennsylvania railroad started using in 1920.
For those who think Amtrak should become a European like rail system, the Indian system is the ultimate expression of dependence on railroads for passenger transport. You can pretty much go from anywhere to anywhere in India by riding a train. You may not have air conditioning, the train may be packed with lots of smelly people, lots of people die – but they run 20,000 trains a day carrying 8.2 billion passengers a year, paying an average fare of around $1. Passenger service loses around $0.33 per passenger/km. There are 70 billion dollars worth of unfunded necessary projects, some of which have been on the drawing boards for 30 years.
So why is Amtrak a failure outside of the Northeast corridor? One of the most potentially viable routes used to be from New York City to Chicago. Now Amtrak can only muster one train a day, and it is shared with cars going to and from Boston. How did this happen? And why?
The 1939 world's Fair set things in motion. The recently-formed General Motors painted a vision for the future of America in which people owned automobiles and drove where they wanted when they wanted. Americans would have freedom, albeit with the price of a monthly car payment. People with decent incomes could move out of the dangerous smelly cities full of immigrants speaking strange languages. So we bought cars, built suburbs, created malls, and had the ability to go where we wanted, when we wanted, without requiring government oversight and permission. Increased air travel became another option, although not as free.
So podcasts are doing the same thing to radio that automobiles did to trains, and Netflix is doing to television. It is very compelling to be able to listen to or watch what you want, when you want. No government agency is telling Netflix what products it has to produce and forcing consumers to buy it.
Unfortunately, in the past few days, President Trump has crossed over a very dangerous line. He wants the FCC to be involved in content on the internet, regulating "unfair" actions by folks like Facebook and Twitter. With the exception of obscene material, the FCC has assiduously stayed out of content decisions. Unlike Canada, the FCC does not declare that a city has too many country music stations, so they force a station to change its programming.
It is not a long distance between regulating Facebook and telling The Washington Post what they are allowed to print. We are really starting to live in dangerous times. the irony is that it was the Democrats who wanted the FCC to treat the internet like a common carrier and start micromanaging in the name of fairness.