Monday, March 3, 2014

Thoughts on Capitalism

Since the age old debate about capitalism and socialism is rearing its head again, I thought I would take some time and document my thoughts on the matter.

First, I will acknowledge a fundamental injustice of capitalism, born out of an Anarcho-Socialist line of reasoning.  The fundamental maxims of this understanding are as follows:

- The Non-Aggression Principle:  No person has the right to initiate force, threaten force or commit acts of fraud against another person.

- Every person has the right to life; no person may be denied the things that are needed to sustain life.

If we accept that man is born into this world with fundamental needs, necessary for survival, such as food, water, clothing and shelter, and another man may lay claim to ownership of the things that are neccessary for survival, then a man in need could be subjected to a relationship of unbalanced power whereby he is subjugated to the man with property.  It is for this reason that Anarchists of the 'left' pursuasion feel that the crux of Capitalism, private property, is theft.  No matter what, a person must perform services for another before his needs are met.  These fundamental elements of survival are held hostage in this scenario.

I accept the Non-Aggression Principle.  However, there are other considerations of injustice to be taken into account.  Nature does not provide in adequate abundance the neccessities of life.  Today, these are met by the development of capital and resources to provide these elements.  For example, purified or potable water is rarely produced in nature.  Someone must harvest the water, transport it, provide  it with the chemicals or systems for purification, and then deliver it to it's end user.  To claim rights to the product of another person without a just exchange of value is to enslave that person.  It is another kind of subordination of one man to another, though in the minds of many, it's better to afflict those who have rather than those who do not.

It begs the question in an Anarcho-Socialist scheme, who will create the systems for the delivery of water without an expectation of returned value?  In a Communist State, this matter is easily dealt with through the use of force to allocate manpower and resources to the needs of the many.  A person made a farmer to supply food to the masses may want to be a ballet dancer, but in the eyes of the state, one has greater value than the other.  In a truly free society of a communitarian arrangement, how is this problem overcome?  In a Capitalist society, the farmer may be equally denied the opportunity to be a dancer, but at the very least, there is compensation for his loss and his efforts.  Is it wrong to assume that a person would not be drawn to an activity that by its very nature subjugates him to the will or desire of another person?  It might be a slippery slope argument, but logically it seems that the lynchpin of this scheme is the goodwill of individuals who elect to enslave themselves to the community for the betterment of the community.

Deciding between these two opposing positions is largely a value decision.  More often, I think , the apologies are to the left, in an appeal to humanity and empathy for those less fortunate.  Let me then be an apologist for Capitalism, by comparison of these injustices.  The labor theory of value was set out to highlight the exploitation of labor in a capitalist scenario.  The thought is that if a laborer supplies x value, and the entity that owns the means of production receives X+n, then the laborer actually provided an abundance of labor for the given value, or thus was under-compensated, and thus exploited.  In the perfect communist scenario, each laborer would provide exactly the amount that is needed, and nothing further.  This would eliminate the exploitation of labor.

It is my opinion that this understanding of labor and value is shortsighted.  When we pay for a good or service, we are not merely paying for the sum of the goods assembled, and the labor to assemble them.  We are also paying for advertising, shipping and market space, as well as the ability to buy more of these items in the future, perhaps better items.  A communist sees profit as exploitative.  A capitalist sees profit as a motive and an instrument to improve capital for the future.  This is the paradox of capitalism as an exploitative system.  In the aforementioned description of the injustice of capitalism, the injustice exists only so much as we have a right to exist.  In the estimation of a communist, a right to exist is well short of a right to thrive.  Beyond the provision of value needed to procure those things that we need for our survival is not exploitation, surely these activities become voluntary.

The failure of statist communism can be attributed to a desire to not make the improvements to capital that make labor more efficient and valuable.  Why would any communist seek to improve the means of production, if they represent an indignity to man?  In the United States, a hybridized system of social programs and free markets, great wealth has amassed.  The interesting thing is that we have well transcended mere needs in this country.  The percentage of time dedicated to the absolute minimum amount of labor necessary to meet our basic needs is small, and shrinking fast.  There may be fundamental injustices at work in our society, but this system is endeavoring to constantly reduce these injustices as they approach zero.  This is especially important as we enter a time when the New York Times sees virtue in subsidized health plans as a means to not work.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Still Think The Rules of the Road Are For Everyone But You?

A cyclists has plead guilty to Vehicular Manslaughter in an accident where a pedestrian was struck and killed by a cyclist who failed to yield the right of way to pedestrians and crossing traffic at an intersection.  The most common complaint I hear from motorists who do not regularly cycle is that cyclists don't obey traffic laws, and to be fair, there are several who do not.  They blow through red lights and stop signs, ride the wrong way up roads and sidewalks, cruise in center turn lanes, and the list goes on.  A common rebuttal by those cyclists is that a cyclists is not likely to cause harm like an automobile, so really the rules shouldn't apply.

Well, we now have not one but TWO documented cases where bicycles operating in the street have struck and killed pedestrians.  Leaving aside other one-off incidents like the one on the Katy Trail a few years back, there was something in common with both:  They failed to obey traffic laws that apply to vehicles including bicycles.  And in these instances, the results were tragic.  Is it time, in light of these events, to recognize that the rules of the road should apply to cyclists?  It would seem that disobeying the rules of the road have ensured that we take the rights, the right of way, from another group of people.  As a class of vehicle, the complaints of cyclists that others will not share this common means of travel seem to be totally forgotten as an other class of travelers are crowded out selfishly.

Bicycles are vehicles.  The rules apply so that we may share and maximize access to our public roadways.  I can't speak to the state of mind of these two cyclists, but from an outsider's perspective, what these two did seems selfish and self-centered.  'Pedestrians be damned, I have a commute to think of.'  Isn't that the exact kind of thing these scofflaws call for motorists to stop thinking?

What's sad is that there is a group of cyclists who do actually believe that the rules of the road should be obeyed, and in spite of their best advocacy efforts, they are Mau-mau'ed by city bicycling planners or often by the largest advocates for cycling.  Maybe it's time for a refreshing look at those ideas, that vehicles, cars, pedestrians and the rest can share the road safely.  Safe travel doesn't teach itself, and one wont learn through osmosis by operating in the street.  I cannot say with certainty that education would have prevented these accidents, just as education and licensing of automobile operation doesn't entirely eliminate dangerous or aggressive drivers, but maybe it would have in these instances.  Maybe these two people, confronted with the humanity of travel in the street, would have made a different choice.  Maybe others who today flaunt the law would alternatively become good ambassadors to the activity of cycling.  Maybe the perception of animosity on the road would decline.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Safe Passing Done Right! (Almost!)

So the city council of Dallas is set to pass an ordinance for the safe passing of bicycles by car drivers. The language reads as follows:

The proposed ordinance would require the operator of a motor vehicle to: (1) vacate the lane occupied by a vulnerable road user when passing, and reenter the lane occupied by the vulnerable road user only after passing at a safe distance; (2) not turn right in front of a vulnerable road user unless safely clear of the vulnerable road user; and (3) not throw items at a vulnerable road user. A vulnerable road user includes operators of bicycles, hand cycles, unicycles, and other human-powered wheeled vehicles on a street or highway. A motor vehicle operator violating the ordinance may be subject to a fine not to exceed $500. The motor vehicle operator is provided a defense if the vulnerable road user was not complying with laws governing the operation of bicycles on streets and highways. A defense is also provided if the motor vehicle operator cannot change lanes because of a physical barrier or obstruction or because the change of lanes would be unlawful, and then passes the vulnerable road user at a safe speed and distance.

This gets a few things right, and a few things could be better, but this is some of the best stuff I've seen yet though I could do without the vulnerable road user designation. I should start by saying that this ordinance only makes clear what is already required by our state transportation code, namely that a vehicle may not pass another within the same lane if it is unsafe to do so, and instead must fully change lanes to execute a pass. This is a matter of temptation for car drivers because cyclists have a narrow profile, and often it seems like you could squeeze by without changing lanes, but in reality you can only do so by creating a risk to the cyclist. This just spells it out plain and simple: pass a bicycle just as you would any other vehicle, like a car or motorcycle.

My biggest tweak to this would be to state clearly that when traveling on a road with multiple lanes in the same direction of travel, cars in adjacent lanes shall not be considered obstructions, and that a car is expected to slow, yield the right of way to cars in that lane, then occupy the next full lane and execute the pass at a safe distance. Of course, there will be some argument over what a 'safe distance' means. What seems safe in a car may not seem all that safe on a bicycle.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

And for Comparison to Texas...

I give you excerpts from the Louisiana Drivers Guide for Classes "D" and "E" description of sharing the road with bicycles...

Sharing the Road with Bicycles
...Many drivers find it hard to know how to react to bicyclists riding in the street.  For the safety of both drivers and bicyclists the following precautions should be taken while driving and bicycling.

• Be aware that bicyclists not traveling in the extreme right of the lane may be trying to avoid gravel, debris, bad pavement, sewer grates and other obstacles.
• Be cautious of bicyclists moving legally into the center of the lane because of road hazards or into the left lane because of a left turn.
• A three foot distance must be present between the passing automobile and slower traveling bicyclists.
• Railroad crossing can cause bicyclists to slow down and possible [sic] zig zag in order to cross the tracks.

Bicycling Safety
• Obey the instructions of official traffic control signals and signs.  Stop at stop signs and for stoplights just like a motor vehicle
• Ride on the right hand side of the road with traffic.  if you are making a left hand turn, ride on the left side of the turn lane.  You may ride in the center of lane [sic] to avoid hazards
• Be predictable by riding in a straight line and follwing traffic laws

Now, none of these things are untrue.  But they give an incomplete picture, and make cyclists sound like deer crossing the road at night; you never know quite what they are going to do.  And this does little to explain the obligations and responsibilities of car drivers and bicyclists.  I should note here that the laws that govern cycling in Louisiana are virtually identical to those of Texas, and of every state in the Union.  They can be found here:

The most glaring exception is the 3' passing rule.  I've heard both sides of the argument for this rule, I come down against it,  mostly because people aren't good at discerning distance, especially at higher speeds.  Many people dont realize that the stripes on the road can be as long as 10', and struggle to park closely to the curb while parallell parking.  Just for fun, ask your friends to show 3' with their hands and see how close they are.  Now imagine showing 3' with a moving vehicle.

I think Louisiana could do a much better job of explaining the rights and responsibilities of cyclists in this handbook.  It's just an example of what Texas does right that Louisiana does not. 

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

From the Texas Drivers Handbook

You know, the document that every pimply faced teenager reads and must understand before successfully completing the drivers test?  Without further ado [commentary in brackets]...

Sharing the Road with Bicycles
Bicycle Rules for Motorists
1. A bicycle is a vehicle and any person riding a bicycle has all of the rights and responsibilities as a driver of a vehicle.

2. Bicyclists are required to ride as far to the right as possible only when the lane can be safely shared by a car and a bicycle, side by side [i.e. when the lane is wider than 14'].  Even then, there are certain conditions that allow a bicyclist to take the full lane such as:
     a. The person is overtaking and passing another vehicle proceeding in the same direction [In heavy traffic, this does happen from time to time, especially around city busses that make frequent stops]
     b. The person is preparing for a left turn at an intersection or onto a private road or driveway
     c. There are unsafe conditions in the roadway such as fixed or moving objects, parked or moving vehicles, pedestrians, animals, potholes, or debris [It's like they wrote this one with Dallas in mind...]
    d. The lane is of substandard width [which describes the majority of roads in and around downtown Dallas] making it unsafe for a car and a bicycle to safely share the lane side by side.  When this is the case, it is best for the cyclist to take the full lane whether riding single file or two abreast.

3. Bicyclists are not restricted to the right lane of traffic.  One-way, multilaned streets are one example.  Another instance is when the bicyclist is changing lanes to make a left turn.  The bicyclist should follow the same path any other vehicle would take traveling in the same direction.

4. Motorists should merge with bicycle traffic when preparing for a right hand turn.  Avoid turning directly across the path of bicycle traffic.

As you can see, it's right there in the drivers handbook, page 9-7, link is here:

Don't tell me you had forgotten about this already?

Friday, September 21, 2012

How Drivers Licenses Should Work

I like to pride myself in experimenting with a multitude of ground transportation options in Dallas.  So far, these options have included Walking, Cycling, Bus Riding, Driving and Train Riding.  Over the last five years, I've experimented with all of these, and with combinations of these to get where I am going.  Growing up in Louisiana, these options weren't really available or viable because public transportation was weak and destinations were sprawled out.  Within the next few weeks, I will be adding another mode: Motorcycling (more specifically, scootering :)

This inspired me to look at how licensing currently works in Texas, so first I looked at my drivers license.  I have a Class 'C' license that permits me to "drive...a single unit vehicle, or combination of vehicles that is not in  class A or B and a single unit vehicle with a gross vehicle weight rating of less than 26,001 lbs..."  Class A would include any vehicle or combination of vehicles with a gross vehicle weight rating of 26,001 lbs with weight towed in excess of 10,000 lbs.  Class B is the same, but permits a person to drive a bus with a seating capacity of 24 passengers or more including the driver.  Motorcycles are a class M, and are 'off to the side' if you will, conferring the same privalages as the Class C, and is awarded in tandem with C, so licenses are class CM.

What this says is that there is some escalation of licensing for operating vehicles on the road.  Most users are Class C, but if you want to drive something more challenging, you need a higher classification, additional fees and testing; and this is exactly how it should work.  One should crawl before he or she walks.  But I think that we have skipped a few steps.

Shouldn't licensing be about operating within a public right of way, a road, and sharing that road with all road users?  I personally feel like people don't give driving the serious attention that it deserves, and often, the education for sharing the road begins at motorized vehicle use (excepting mopeds and motorcycles in Texas).  I think that there should be at least two steps of escalation prior to obtaining  a class C license.

First, people should learn how to be pedestrians.  I know this sounds stupid, you put one foot in front of the other, right?  You'd be surprised how often you see pedestrians do things that compromise their rights and safety as pedestrians within the city.  Crossing against a signal is a popular one, often not even looking both ways before doing so.(Sec. 552.002)  Another is crossing mid block, where technically drivers that already occupy the lane have the right of way (Sec. 552.005).  It may not be illegal to cross mid block in certain circumstances, but pedestrians must yield the right of way to do so.    There also seems to be confusion about crossing the street at uncontrolled intersections, especially where a all-way stop is not present (hint:  pedestrians should look both ways).  One you see in my neighborhood is using the streets for walking or jogging which is against the rules if a sidewalk is present. (Sec. 552.006, walkers and joggers have my sympathy, our sidewalks are very poorly maintained by the city of Dallas)  If we can't be pedestrians, how can we expect to drivers to operate safely with pedestrians in the same roadway?

Second, people should learn how to safely operate bicycles in the street.  This is another class of road users with whom automobile drivers will need to share the road space.  This is a big step because this is the 'lowest' form of vehicle that has to obey traffic laws that apply to automobiles. (Sec. 551.101...I hesitate to use the form lowest, perhaps lowest cost, lowest impact to roadways...)  This is the first opportunity for someone to understand the flow of traffic, the navigation of right-of-way.  There is no age limit, insurance requirement, and the barrier to entry is very low.

I don't think pedestrians or cyclists should require a license because the consequences of failing to follow the rules mostly rest with either the pedestrian or the cyclist.  However, I do think that a demonstration of knowledge of both should be required before obtaining a license to operate an automobile.  There should be a mandatory class for children in school to learn first how to be a pedestrian.  The rules are simple and the consequences of failure are apparent.  Then they should take a test to prove an understanding of the concepts.  Likewise, there should be a kind of driving school for cycling that is mandatory for children, and again a test should prove an understanding of the rules of the road.  Only after successful completion of these should a young person be allowed to operate a 2,000 lb machine that is potentially a deadly instrument on the road.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Ride to Plano | Thoughts on Trails

So this is the ride to Downtown Plano from Oak Cliff that I made yesterday.   I had started planning this trip years ago, and had just never gotten around to making the trip.  Now I have a reason, I'm trying to build up distance every week to become a stronger rider and train up to a century ride.  This particular route involved the use of trails both in Dallas and in Plano because I was looking for a more relaxed and scenic ride.

Which is a great way to use these trails, for recreation or taking in the scenery.  I really enjoyed riding around White Rock Creek up to the High Five at US75 and I-635.  However, the remainder of the trip until the Chisolm Trail was mundane to say the least.  It looked more like a swath of prairie land cut through endless suburbia, punctuated by the occasional arterial street.

As you might imagine, the trails aren't really suited well to commuting, most of the trail heads do not occur near any center of commerce or some location where a person could reasonably expect to be employed, they were designed for exercise and recreation.  And to that purpose they are well suited, near residences where people are more likely to use them for this purpose.  I'll set aside questions about jogging or biking under power lines.

But it's this purpose that makes me realize that the behavior, the rules of these trails differ from those of riding in the road.  I would argue first that the rules of the road are better established and understood, and that those rules don't really translate well to trails.  There are people who do strange or erratic things, there is an expectation of courtesy and respect that may or may not materialize.  As I was approaching the White Rock Lake trail through a neighborhood in Lakewood, two cars came up behind me on a residential street.  Since there was room to pass, I kept my position near the right of the road, and they passed slowly and safely.  Just ahead of me was a walker on a cell phone in the middle of the road.  The same cars that passed with care to get around me pulled up behind her and honked to move her over.  I am almost certain she was headed for the trail and this kind of behavior on the trail is expected or understood.

The other thing that shouldn't surprise me but always does is the behavior of cyclists on the trail, especially around White Rock Lake.  The trails are multi-use, and there are many walkers, joggers, roller bladers, people with baby strollers, and finally cyclists, many of whom are bedecked in professional cycling clothing and gear.  The utter lack of respect that I see from these cyclists towards pedestrians on these trails disgusts me.  There is nothing wrong with wanting to log some miles or move at a higher speed, but there is a problem with those things if you do not exercise the due care to pass around pedestrians safely.  Many people weave around people, cut pedestrians off, pass too closely, or just speed and think nothing of it.  These are the worst ambassadors of cycling, even worse than hipsters on fixed gear bikes with no brakes.  If I were a pedestrian and knew nothing of cycling, I would probably think these people are ass holes, and therefore all cyclists are ass holes.  And it's a good bet that the very people to whom so little regard is given are owners and operators of automobiles, and will be given to extend the same courtesy to cyclists on the road.

As glad as I am to have made this ride, it's more likely that in the future, I'll stick to the roads for these rides. They are less crowded, safer for everyone to share, and I think there is more to see.