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This tweet from Joe Weisenthal:

Reminds me of a thought I had the other day.

I had this thought when driving from DC to northern Florida, which Mrs. Rooted and I do in a single day when we visit the in-laws, partially because it means we can bring this guy:

i'm sunning

But also because it’s cheaper. And when you’re chugging along 95’s least-compelling stretch for hours on end you think a lot, especially about cars, and especially about how much longer we have to wait until our promised jetpacks arrive. A good amount of attention has been focused on the long-term consequences of self-driving cars for intra-metropolitan transportation, but less has been focused on inter-metropolitan travel. But this is at least equally fertile ground for a major shake-up.

Speed limits are fairly high along southern 95, mostly 65 or 70 mph. It gets even higher out west where things are flat and straight, and there’s a patch of Texas where you can legally go 85 mph. But that’s still pretty slow – less than a fifth the speed of an airplane. But self-driving cars will likely be able to (barring congestion or poor conditions) go much, much, faster. And that can make a huge difference.

When we drive to my in-laws, we drive 774 miles, mostly along I-95, which at an average speed of 70 mph plus just an hour for various breaks is still a 12-hour door-to-door journey. When we fly, the flight is only 2.5 hours to the nearest large airports (Orlando or Jacksonville – they’re much closer to Daytona but flights to that airport are fewer and often more expensive in our experience). But the trip, as Joe points out, is actually a lot longer. If we want to get to the airport with at least 45 minutes to spare before takeoff, we have to leave at least that long before the flight, and that’s if we’re leaving from the closest airport to our home (DCA). Once we land, it takes roughly half-an-hour before we’re in the car heading to our destination, and then it’s at least another hour before we arrive. Adding it all together, the trip is more like six hours, not two-and-a-half. And that’s assuming the plane leaves on time.

To go 774 miles in six hours you’d have to go 130 mph. That’s really fast. But in a world where cars are doing the driving along highways especially designed for that purpose, it’s totally plausible. And what that means is that once self-driving cars are universal they will demolish short-haul flights. So long as road capacity accommodates, flights under two hours in length will likely vanish, and flights under four hours will decline markedly. Shoot, at 200 mph, if no driver needed to be conscious you could leave DC at 8PM Eastern and sleep most of the way across the continent, arriving in San Francisco at 7AM Pacific. Even at 15 mpg and $5/gallon, that’s a < $1,000 trip, which if you’ve got more than two people in the car, is quite competitive; if you imagine that self-driving cars will be much more efficient than that, it’s a almost a no-brainer for personal travel.

This gets us back to the promise in the title of the post. If self-driving cars really do displace short- and even medium-haul domestic flights, a once-scarce resource becomes suddenly plentiful – airport capacity. Assuming energy scarcity is not a crippling obstacle (and if it is we have bigger problems), this should mean a much greater volume of international flights, especially flights across the ocean. If our cars can drive us from New York to New Orleans, then we have more planes, pilots, runways, and fuel to take us to New Delhi.

The other day I wrote two post on the same day, one that went like this:

If you were a potential candidate running for office in one of two districts, and District A had a middle-class incumbent and District B had a rich incumbent, you might be more inclined to run in District A. And I think you’d be right. But probably for the wrong reasons…[rich pols are] in politics strictly for the game. And because all their upside is on staying in office, they might fight a lot harder and a lot nastier to stay in office.

And one that went like this:

Unsurprisingly, many GOP governors have chosen the latter path, especially those who might be running for re-election, even those who were conservative darlings before hand. So instead of just one big Dolchstoss from Roberts, we now have a running clown car of conservative Dolchstosses across America and a big juicy political target for Democrats.

Yet I did not sum one and one to compute the mythical “two” until Dave Weigel wrote this:

When Florida Gov. Rick Scott buckled and said he’d support Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion, I urged caution, because the GOP-run state legislature would get a say on this. It could always reject the expansion “and make Scott seem—for the first time in recorded history—like a centrist” as he faces a 2014 re-election campaign…Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker also preside over reasonably-safe Republican legislatures, which might have blocked expansion anyway.

Tom Corbett and Scott Walker come from not-uncomfortable middle-to-upper-middle-class-itude; but Rick Scott has a personal net worth in the nine figures and that’s after he blew eight figures seizing Florida. So think about it this way – if Corbett and Walker get re-elected they’re Presidential candidates; if not they’re sitting pretty on wingnut welfare or corporate boards and getting rich. Rick Scott is already rich, and probably doesn’t care about running for President. He wants to stay in the statehouse and is willing to buck his own party strategically to do it.

Obviously this isn’t a deterministic or even primary factor, but I think we forget too often that politicians are people and are looking forward to their own possibility trees.


voting is such a dangerous business that mistakes that come from kindness are the very worst.

I had a back-and-forth with Dave Stroup yesterday about how to best use one’s vote in the upcoming At-Large DC election. Of course it seems like he’s currently in a position where he’ll tend to make arguments that lead people to vote for Bryan Weaver. But beyond that I think he touched on an interest facet to the whole issue of whether to strategically vote.

Voting is a public exercise of civic responsibility and power, not a form of self-actualization or idealistic expression. Ergo, you should vote in such a way that creates the best possible outcome. So if I were a voting Floridian in the year 2000 I would have voted for Al Gore rather than Ralph Nader even if I preferred Nader’s issue platform (and clearly arguments that losing their left flank would force Democrats to move to the left in response have not been borne out by events). But the assumption underpinning that decision is that my impact is knowable – I would have a pretty high degree of certainty that only Gore or Bush would have been president come Jan 20 2001; that the election was close enough that it would depend on the preferences of a handful of swings states; and that one of those swing states was Florida. And that’s because polling, in the aggregate, is pretty good at predicting electoral outcomes, esepcially as Election Day nears.

But in the upcoming election here in DC there is a vast amount of uncertainty. Polls have been few and far between, and their reliability is very uncertain as this election is probably going to have low turnout and the electorate is pretty hard to model. With a small group of high-information voters, endorsements (like WaPo’s endorsement of Patrick Mara) could have outsized impact. And this electorate is small to begin with – in last year’s very heated and closely contested Mayoral Democratic Primary, fewer than 135,000 votes were cast. In the only past special election I could find (May 2007), fewer than 15,000 voters showed up in each of the two wards that were up for grabs, meaning there could be well under 100,000 ballots cast on April 26th. So in this case it seem like strategic voting could be a lot harder to do, increasing the utility of simply voting for your preferred candidate unless a clear choice comes into sharper relief as election day nears.

As for the issues in the campaign itself, I think by far the most important determiner of which candidate to prefer for any voter ought to be how they would fill DC’s $300 million budget gap. And as someone who thinks the situation calls for even more progressive revenue increases than the mayor proposed, it seems from debates that Weaver is the best candidate on that score, though he doesn’t lay that out explicitly on his website.

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