The scum are free to ride it

By Vin Suprynowicz
web posted November 1998

I do not know why I was so blessed -- because we show up on some list of "helpful daily newspapers over 100 000 circulation," I assume -- but recently I received an unsolicited query from M.M., who identifies herself as an undergraduate at Rutgers:

"My name is (M.M.), I am currently a senior at Rutgers University in New Jersey. I am researching how to get funding for a hypothetical grant proposal. I am proposing that a monorail be built at Rutgers University so that the student congestion can be relieved between classes.

"I am curious as to who would be willing to spend the money, currently I am looking into Federal Government funding, because Rutgers is a state funded school.

"If you have any helpful advice or web pages, please feel free to relay it onto me. ..."

Though I usually ditch the "Our third grade class is doing a report on your state" inquiries, this time I replied:

Hi, M. --

Why don't you approach a private railway or trolley company, to ask what the cost of building such a system would be. If no one else comes to mind, try calling Disney World in Orlando; I believe they have some privately-built "people movers." They might even be willing to estimate what the cost of debt service would be, if one were to sell private, corporate bonds to raise enough money for such construction. Presumably, one would want to pay off construction costs, plus the cost of debt service, in 20 or 30 years.

Then, by a simple process of mathematical calculation, one simply takes the projected ridership, divides that number by four (experience shows that most advance ridership estimates will err by at least that much -- they did when Los Angeles, Washington, and Miami recently built their mass transit systems), and solves for the fare which you would have to charge to recover your costs within 20 to 30 years ... plus a profit, of course. Few firms are going to be willing to invest the time and money in such a project unless both they and their bondholders make some money.

Of course, you now face a new problem. Your initial ridership estimates were probably based on the notion that riding this system would be free, or perhaps would cost a quarter.

As the fare increases over $1, and then over $2, student ridership is likely to drop off. Fewer riders mean you have to charge a higher fare. Eventually, the folks who graph such fare-versus-ridership equations refer to a point on the graph where ridership "drops off the cliff."

If you go past that point, you may have to face the possibility that no one will invest the requisite sums to build you such a system.

But then, your original inquiry didn't mention "investment," did it? It mentioned a "grant."

What does that mean, precisely? That the federal government should send you money taken from the paychecks of workers all over the country to build your system ... which no private investor will fund, and which no student would actually pay anything to ride? You do know, I hope, that if people refuse or find themselves unable to pay those taxes, the IRS will garnish their paychecks and seize their bank accounts, leaving them unable to buy groceries, pay the rent, or take their children to the doctor.

Perhaps federal taxation can be justified to fight wars against ruthless foreign dictators, or to fund courts where people can find justice. But to build a monorail to endlessly circle the campus of Rutgers University? I have just reviewed Article I Section 8 of the Constitution, which lists all the permissible things on which the U.S. Congress may spend money. It only takes up 431 words, if you can believe it. It says the Congress is allowed to "establish post roads." I suppose you could try to convince the Congress that the campus mailman would like to ride a monorail. Otherwise, I fear you may be out of luck, there.

Though that shouldn't mean you can't complete your assignment. Have you considered writing: "Why No Private Investors Are Likely to Willingly Fund a Monorail Proposal at Rutgers, and Why It Would Be Morally Wrong to Ask the Taxpayers to Fund a System Which is Thus Revealed by the Free Market to Be a Bad Idea"?

Alternatively, have you considered bicycles?

Best Wishes ...

Within hours, young M.M. at Rutgers responded:

"you are the biggest <censored> i have ever come in contact with. I am a mere 22 year old and i am simply researching a hypothetical monorail to relieve the congestion on the roads of New Brunswick ...

"thanks for all your help, jerk.


Suspecting by this time we were onto a live one, I wrote back:

Hi, m. --

You contacted me, as I recall (and pretty much "out of the blue"), to ask my advice. I took time out of a busy workday to send you a polite reply. I don't remember using any abusive language.

If a "mere 22-year-old" isn't responsible to consider the moral and ethical concerns which arise from proposing a "government grant" to fund a fancy train, at what age will you be ready to start considering such things? And are we safe in assuming you won't be going to the polls and voting until you're old enough to start considering such things?

And how old do you consider you would have to be, before it would be incumbent on you to assume some moral responsibility for the looting of the paychecks of others, to fund the government programs you "hypothetically" propose?

I understand it's very pleasant to attend a campus which is funded by taxes, and enjoy many other tax-funded benefits, without actually having to be the person who puts on a uniform and a gun and evicts a family from their home and puts that house up for auction to pay "back taxes." Perhaps such threats don't seem real to you, because you've never had a mortgage payment to make, and a paycheck which didn't quite cover everything, and then faced the trauma of losing that job and that paycheck -- while the taxes still have to be paid. If not, then I suppose you are fortunate, in some ways. But do you really think your good fortune will hold, forever?

At some point, we must all consider what we are asking those armed government agents to do for us, in our names, and whether we can forever safely assume that we don't incur any moral or ethical culpability for what we authorize them to do (every time we go to the polls), so that all our nice "grants" will still be available.

Unfortunately, m., you are far from (to use your words) "the biggest <censored> i have ever come in contact with." In fact, I do understand that you are only a small, insignificant, trainee "ass - - -" ... well, perhaps It'll be okay if I just say "redistributionist." But while you are relatively young, you still have an opportunity to consider these matters, before the habit of living off ill-gotten loot become too ingrained to break, with all the long-term jeopardy that represents.

Why is it, by the way, that proposing you contact private railroad companies for cost estimates on your "hypothetical" monorail, made me an <censored>? Because you realize no private firm would ever be likely to fund such a project, because it isn't likely to ever be profitable?

Have you studied no economics there at Rutgers, at all? It used to be a fairly good school. Has no professor ever suggested to you that the free market helps teach us which endeavors it's wisest to spend our time on -- that is to say, which will most benefit our fellow citizens -- by dictating that those projects which fulfill a real demand can be done at a profit, while those for which there really isn't much popular demand, cannot?

I find it strange that this concept causes you to take so much offense. Or did you go off to the university in hopes of never confronting any new facts or opinions which would disturb your established world-view, and economic assumptions?

Best wishes, at any rate, on your continuing education. ...

I guess sometimes we just live right, because the next response from M.M. was more than I could ever have hoped for:

"ok, so maybe i have been fortunate and maybe i am a naive poor little rich girl, who hasn't taken any economics classes. But, i hardly consider telling me that my idea is stupid and that building a monorail at this school is stupid ... polite ... by any means.

"I asked more along the lines of Global Defense Commission money ... something along those lines. the current bus system that we have is dirty, unreliable, and the scum of New Brunswick are free to ride it.

"Not only that but, we have to hire people to drive the buses (and let me assure you that all the bus drivers are lunatics).

"The Rutgers monorail would be set up so that only Rutgers I.D. carrying students could ride. And it would be electric so, much of the pollution pumped into this city on a daily basis, would be eliminated.

"I still maintain that you are an <censored>, due to your initial demeaning response. But, maybe we are getting somewhere now???


And to think that I sometimes consider turning my hand to fiction. But who could invent as perfect a character as Ms. M. of Rutgers, the superannuated undergraduate who "hasn't taken any economics classes"?

She just gets better and better.

She wants help turning up a "government grant" -- or perhaps now even some kind of U.N. eco-extremist grant (what the heck is the "Global Defense Commission"?) -- to fund a monorail boondoggle so she won't have to lug her pamphlets (it doesn't appear likely she carries or reads any actual books) around her bloated, already subsidized government campus.

And why can't she simply hop a city bus? Because, she now reveals, "the scum of New Brunswick are free to ride it"!

Oh, this is just too good. Having once hung around with campus socialists, I know they justify their self-centered demands with high-falutin' rhetoric about their solidarity with "the workers" and "the people," when in fact it is only on a giddy dare that they will stoop to rub shoulders for more than an hour or two with your actual, sweaty, beer-swilling Archie Bunkers of the working class.

But to come right out and say it -- she wants a new government-subsidized boondoggle, with access limited to "her kind," because the problem with the old tax-subsidized boondoggle (the bus system) is that they let the peasants ride it!

A "woman of the people" to warm the heart of our late Comrade Trotsky, if no one else.

And the monorail would be electric, mind you, thus creating no pollution in posh New Brunswick. No, the pollution would instead be created by the operation of a coal-fired electric power station in some dirty, low-class community miles away, down near Trenton, probably ... you know, the kind of slum inhabited by filthy tax-paying workers, who wouldn't know clean air if
they stumbled on it!

My cup runneth over. She restoreth my soul. And yea, we shall dwell in the ivory tower of the socialists, forever.

Vin Suprynowicz is the assistant editorial page editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Readers may contact him via e-mail at The column is syndicated in the United States and Canada via Mountain Media Syndications, P.O. Box 4422, Las Vegas Nev. 89127.

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