The day before Thanksgiving is one of the busiest travel days of the year. Whether it is THE busiest seems to be an open question, but certainly it is a busy time. I’d like to have readers be reminded of just how valuable roads are (and increased travel convenience in general). For example, a good body of economic research shows the reducing travel times, or increasing the amount of distance that workers can conveniently commute to work from translate into substantial economic gains to both workers and firms (for references, see the opening chapter of Randy O’Toole’s excellent, Gridlock).
Here is an interesting article from the Review of Economics and Statistics in 1994 (gated):
The Effects of Public Infrastructure and R & D Capital on the Cost Structure and Performance of U.S. Manufacturing Industries
M. Ishaq Nadiri and Theofanis P. Mamuneas
See in particular pages 34 and 35 for details. In any case, one of the important findings in that paper is that almost 1/3 of the economic growth enjoyed by the United States in the 1950s and a quarter of the economic growth enjoyed by the United States in the 1960s came from the expansion of the US highway system. It was not the jobs from building the highways, not at all, but the economic benefits that an improved transportation network has on an economy (think of the Erie Canal’s history, for example). This is one example of Tyler Cowen’s “low hanging fruit” that he advances in his recent book the Great Stagnation
which offers some interesting ideas for why income gains in the US have slowed in the last 40 years. It would be interesting to see if similar slowdowns in growth occurred in other developed countries when they, too, have largely built out their basic auto infrastructures. The result is also interesting in lieu of the romanticism that is offered up for other reasons why the 1950s were such a great time in America. I’m not in the mood to start a fight with that topic, especially since tomorrow is Thanksgiving.
And while we are on the topic of Thanksgiving, for my readers who want to know a little more about me personally, Thanksgiving is both my favorite and least favorite holiday of the year. It’s my favorite for the obvious reason about what the holiday stands for (a little glimpse of that will be offered up in tomorrow’s post). But it’s my least favorite too because while I am not very close to many friends or family members, and I think I am happy with that outcome, it is a pretty stark reminder of my isolation. I have three brothers, all with children, that live out in Long Island. My parents live in western, MA (and may see my brothers for the holiday). I have a sister (married, I think) that I have not spoken to since November of 2004. I have a younger brother who lives 3,000 miles away with his wife in the mountains of Montana. Our extended family is enormous by today’s standards – and on old Thanksgivings it was not unusual to have 30 immediate family members around. I loved the noise, the chaos, the order and disorder, and zillion things going on, etc. of it all, as I am sure many of you do. That is what holidays like Thanksgivings are supposed to be about. So what if I am not an important part of any of those lives, being a part of a day like that is a little like being in a big city on a busy, bustling day. And I miss it. Readers may wonder why I simply don’t insert myself into that big, bustling, “city” – no reason to bore you with my story, I am sure you all have your own anyway.
The point of course is that I wished I were in my car on this day too, traveling to see my brothers and nieces and nephews – but driving 7 hours (with traffic) from Rochester to Massapequa is not in the cards.