There was once a time when the United States, and California in particular, were looked upon as global leaders and innovators. We had the most advanced technologies, the most efficient economy, the most modern forms of transportation. Our 20th century economic accomplishments were due in large part to that reputation, attracting investment and skilled workers from around the globe.
But if a nation wants to remain prosperous, it has to adapt to the changing times. When one country refuses to change, even when the need to do so is clear, others WILL catch up. In the 1970s this was made clear when Detroit automakers insisted on gas guzzlers instead of innovating as the Germans and Japanese were - and the result was devastating for the nation's economy.
It may also be true today, as the rest of the world begins developing high speed rail lines while we in California continue to delude ourselves into thinking the 20th century hasn't ended. A simple Google News search on any given day turns up numerous reports of global HSR projects, such as:
- A proposed link between Abu Dhabi and Dubai
- Brazil is soliciting bids for a line to connect Rio de Janeiro to São Paulo, to be tendered in February 2009
- Taiwan's high speed train is now turning a profit after just 15 months of operation, shattering ridership projections
- Scottish politicians are reviving calls for HSR link to London
- A Turkish HSR line is nearing completion, to connect Ankara to the central Anatolian city of Eskişehir, as the first phase of a link to Istanbul (thanks Rafael for that update)
- And nations as diverse as Iran, Vietnam, and Morocco are all in the various stages of planning HSR.
It's not just that this should embarrass Californians. It should also concern them. HSR is key to a 21st century economy, providing green jobs and sustainable transportation free from the vagaries of oil prices. In an era where our economy is truly global, and companies can choose to set up shop in SF and LA, or Shanghai and Beijing, or Madrid and Barcelona, or Rio and São Paulo, it won't help California's case if we have sky-high transportation costs because we still rely on oil to get around. Moreover, the cost to our businesses and workers of high fuel prices makes us even less competitive and prosperous.
HSR isn't a cheap initial investment, but $10 billion isn't going to break anyone's bank either. And considered against the cost of doing nothing, HSR is clearly the more affordable and fiscally responsible choice.