The Five Year Plan Makes Its American Debut

The central planners have you and your lifestyle targeted for change. They draw on a long historical tradition -- just not an American tradition.

Pyatiletka (пятилетка): A five year plan as pioneered by the Soviet State Planning Authority, GosPlan. The state planning committee developed these plans based on the Theory of Productive Forces. This theory was one of the general guidelines of the Communist Party for economic development. This planning methodology was adopted by Communist China among many other bastions of liberty and emulated by Nazi Germany in preparation for WWII. Centralized planning was in force in the Soviet Union between 1928 and 1991, when the Soviet Union collapsed.

"The power which a multiple millionaire, who may be my neighbor and perhaps my employer, has over me is very much less that which the smallest functionaire possesses who wields the coercive power of the state, and on whose discretion it depends whether and how I am able to be allowed to live or work."
 - F.A. Hayek

On March 11, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced a new policy directive: Transportation policies will no longer favor motorized transportation, i.e. cars and trucks.

On May 21, LaHood told reporters at the National Press Club that his department has formed an Interagency Partnership for Sustainable Communities with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Housing and Urban Development.   

He said the partnership was designed to "coerce" people out of their cars. When asked to respond to the complaint that the partnership would intrude in people's lives, he replied, "About everything we do around here is government intrusion in people's lives. So have at it."

The following excerpts from The U.S. DOT Strategic Plan FY 2010 - 2015, referred to in this essay as the Five Year Plan (FYP), provide a guide to the extent of the intrusion.

President Obama has made place-based policy a key component of his domestic agenda and has challenged all Federal agencies to coordinate and innovate around this goal in an unprecedented way. Fostering livable communities - places where transportation, housing and commercial development investments have been coordinated so that people have access to adequate, affordable, and environmentally sustainable travel options ...

The FYP is replete with similar "we're from the government and here to help" rhetoric that attempts to mask the coercion alluded to by Sec. LaHood. Under six "livability" principles -- "Safety, State of Good Repair, Economic Competitiveness, and Environmental Sustainability" -- the FYP justifies the assaults on liberties that, until now, have been taken for granted: housing choice and mobility.

Justification for restricting access to automobile travel can be found in the "Safety" section of the FYP.

Discretionary/recreational travel is considered much riskier than necessary travel for work and family obligations. It places motorists behind the wheel for longer lengths of time and during all hours of the day and night. ... DOT will continue its ongoing efforts to develop new and innovative strategies in the pursuit of safe and livable communities ...

One of the "innovative strategies" suggested by LaHood, and reported in the Washington Examiner, is that people be taxed for every mile driven: "We should look at the vehicular miles program where people are actually clocked on the number of miles that they traveled." As the Examiner pointed out, that would require tracking people's movements. The White House press secretary quickly announced that the president did not endorse LaHood's innovation.

The FYP complains that U.S. transportation spending "has contributed to the prevalence of low-density, scattered, auto-dependent communities and disinvestment in many of our Nation's core urban centers."

This trend was amplified by single-use zoning that separated housing from shopping, work, and schools. Such zoning emphasized wide streets, ample off-street parking, and large front and side yard setbacks... This kind of development is energy-intensive and contributes to a dependence on fossil fuels and a tendency toward high carbon-emissions; it has been correlated with increasing rates of obesity in the U.S. and higher transportation costs for American families ...

DOT now resolves to "give the same priority to walking and bicycling as is given to other transportation modes." In other words, funding that would otherwise go to roads and highways will now be diverted to walking and bicycling paths -- with traffic congestion and accidents to follow. On its face, this seems ridiculous, but it turns out to be no laughing matter. The Heritage Foundation reports that Highway Trust Fund money is being diverted to pay for the FYP.

The planners know that most Americans will reject the FYP. However, as with the Affordable Health Care Act, the objections will have to be overridden.

Community and institutional resistance to change-such as the change in transportation norms that will be needed to build Livable Communities-can be strong and pervasive. Obstacles to change include skepticism about the benefits of change, lack of knowledge about how the change would affect individuals or the community, lack of community pressure to change, and lack of sustained leadership in the direction of change. ...  

Since Americans are obviously too uninformed to know what is best for them, legislation will be required to overcome their "resistance to change."

Current law and associated DOT guidance ... do not give priority to or require grant recipients to expend funds on projects which are intended explicitly to improve the livability of our Nation's communities. DOT will seek authority for new approaches to improve the livability of our Nation's communities as part of the reauthorization for Federal surface transportation programs ...

"Livable/sustainable communities," interchangeable terms in the FYP, is government-speak for high-density urban enclaves where people ride public transportation to work and walk or bike to destinations that meet FYP criteria. The old system of local and state governments making decisions about land use and transportation based on local needs and preferences will have to go. Along with the federal grants to states and communities come the ties that bind to FYP goals and priorities.

As others have commented, the FYP is long on generalities and short on specifics. If experience is a guide, the specifics will be revealed in legislation and regulations, after they become law.

Cited among the problems that must be overcome is that "communities and the transportation system have been built to move automobiles, not people." Apparently some other lifeform is riding in those cars. The real problem is that Americans resist giving up the privacy and convenience those automobiles afford, or the quality of life they make possible.

Christopher Dodd's Livable Communities Act* would help to solve that "problem" by "connecting housing and employment locations of workers." Anyone who thinks the "connection" would be voluntary is not paying attention. Please refer to an earlier American Thinker article entitled "The Livable Communities Act" for an excellent analysis.  

A companion bill, HB 4690, the Livable Communities Act of 2010*, is making its way through the House. One section of the bill provides incentives for lenders to make, and homebuyers and homeowners to participate in, energy-efficient mortgages and location-efficient mortgages. A paper issued in 2001 by Resources for the Future raised objections to this concept. The validity of those objections has been amply demonstrated.

Since we find no demonstrable relationship between location efficiency and the probability of default, we would argue that making low-down payment loans available to borrowers in location efficient areas is tantamount to making such loans available to a random sample of borrowers and will have the same impact: It will raise default rates.

It all seems like the plot of a bad movie, prompting some to say the FYP is so unacceptable to the majority of Americans that it cannot be implemented. There were probably people who thought that was true of the Affordable Health Care Act, too.  

*Sen. Christopher Dodd's Livable Communities Act passed the Senate Banking Committee on a party line vote and is now headed for the Senate floor.

**On 9/23/10, HB 4690 was heard by the House Financial Services Committee.

Marcia Sielaff writes for What Would the Founders
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