FDP and Vice Signaling

Finance Minister Christian Lindner (FDP) just tweeted that more investment in roads is good – because if traffic flows more smoothly then there will be less greenhouse gas emissions. Reaction was not positive, and as of when I’m writing, 16 hours later, it is mildly ratioed. People understand that this is wrong. Lindner himself probably gets this too. Understanding what’s going on here requires talking about bullshit in the philosophical sense of Harry Frankfurt, and about something that I don’t have a better name for than vice signaling.

Is it true?

Absolutely not. It’s standard in transport studies that the construction of more highways in high-demand areas induces more traffic, as people take advantage of the greater convenience of driving. Drivers drive to new destinations that they forwent or chose to take public transport to, and new developments are built in areas opened by new highway development.

There may be exceptions to this in declining areas. The United States loves building new grade-separated interchanges in declining regions. This doesn’t generate new demand, because traffic is already uncongested, and the purpose of roadbuilding there is a political statement more than transport policy. But that’s not Germany. The roads under discussion here are in growth regions: there’s a plan to widen the beltway around Munich, A99, to 10 lanes, and the federal and Berlin FDP have both badgered Berlin to build a further stage of A100 parallel to the Ringbahn, which the city wants not to under the influence of the Green Party. Both motorway projects are likely to lead to adverse mode shift if built, and Lindner knows this.

There’s a developmental argument that induced demand is actually good. Matt Yglesias has made it before, saying that if road building induces more traffic then it means people get to take more trips and are better off. Many roadbuilders have made that very argument, and others were aware of it; Robert Moses, for example, was perfectly aware that his parkways and bridges were inducing more car traffic, and was fine with it, because he thought more driving was good. But that’s not what Lindner is saying: Lindner is saying that building new motorways and keeping them without a speed limit reduces greenhouse gas emissions, which is just bullshit.


The term “bullshit” has a precise meaning in analytic philosophy, due to Harry Frankfurt. It comprises a type of deception about the speaker’s mindset, rather than about the facts, unlike an ordinary lie. A politician who denies a scandal they are involved with is lying: their goal is to get you to believe that they are innocent of this scandal. A politician who, having been caught in said scandal, launches a series of schlock patriotic speeches is bullshitting: their goal is to get you to think they are fundamentally aligned with your values. From Frankfurt’s original essay, we have,

Telling a lie is an act with a sharp focus. It is designed to insert a particular falsehood at a specific point in a set or system of beliefs, in order to avoid the consequences of having that point occupied by the truth. This requires a degree of craftsmanship, in which the teller of the lie submits to objective constraints imposed by what he takes to be the truth. The liar is inescapably concerned with truth-values. In order to invent a lie at all, he must think he knows what is true. And in order to invent an effective lie, he must design his falsehood under the guidance of that truth. On the other hand, a person who undertakes to bullshit his way through has much more freedom. His focus is panoramic rather than particular. He does not limit himself to inserting a certain falsehood at a specific point, and thus he is not constrained by the truths surrounding that point or intersecting it. He is prepared to fake the context as well, so far as need requires. This freedom from the constraints to which the liar must submit does not necessarily mean, of course, that his task is easier than the task of the liar. But the mode of creativity upon which it relies is less analytical and less deliberative than that which is mobilized in lying. It is more expansive and independent, with mare spacious opportunities for improvisation, color, and imaginative play. This is less a matter of craft than of art. Hence the familiar notion of the “bullshit artist.”

The statement “widening roads reduces CO2 emissions” is this kind of bullshit. It is not quite a lie: it is false, but Lindner is not especially concerned with whether it is true or false. His goal is not to persuade people that building another section of A100 and widening A99 is good for climate; nobody who cares about climate change thinks that. Rather, his goal is to position himself as the sort of person who doesn’t listen to climate advocates and will just push for road widenings. The deception is part of the positioning: if he’d said that he understands the Greens’ argument against road investment but roads are important for economic development, he’d come off as too reasonable, which is not his intention.

Sounding deliberately unreasonable is the domain of populist politicians, and Frankfurt himself and many of his followers have noticed how political bullshit is on the rise as populism grows more normalized. Nigel Farage, for example, bullshitted that smoking isn’t bad for your health. And FDP is a populist party, despite its liberal origins and relatively moderate political positioning; it swung from deficit scold at the start of the current government to tax scold precisely as inflation rose last year, the opposite of what one should expect of a Washington Consensus-following economically orthodox party.

Vice signaling

There’s a pseudo-academic term going around the web, virtue signaling. The idea is that individuals and organizations engage in actions to signal that they’re better people than they really are; companies hire consultants on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) without ever doing anything about their glass ceiling and harassment problems.

But it may be more fruitful to discuss its opposite – that is, vice signaling. This is when people take actions to portray themselves as terrible people, for any number of reasons:

  • Loyalty: criminal gangs are deliberately threatening and often require that prospective members commit murder (this is a requirement to become a made man in the Italian-American mafia), because this forces new members to have crossed both a moral and a legal event horizon from which they can’t come back; populist political movements don’t require crimes, but do require ridiculous beliefs
  • Novelty: this is what in the online language of the early 2010s was called the Slate Pitch – a take that aims to be novel by saying something really out there, often by writers who can’t separate themselves from the rest of the pack by any more productive means
  • Love of power: some people lie to you, with your full knowledge that they’re lying, just to flex that they can get away with it

Lindner loves this kind of vice signaling, I think out of novelty more than anything. FDP could be a party of YIMBYism, fiscal conservatism, and digital governance; younger members of the party who identify with neoliberalism wish that it were that party. The problem is that the difference between such a party and SPD is not large; Scholz ran on building more housing Germany-wide, and there’s a fair amount of consensus in favor of this in the party’s wings. SPD’s worst attributes so far are its officious leadership anchored in the Lower Saxony clique and consequently its sluggish governance and refusal to do more to support Ukraine – but FDP has the exact same problems, Lindner having told Ukraine when it asked for aid as the war started that there was no point since they’d fall in hours either way.

So to distinguish themselves from everyone else, FDP engages in vice signaling about climate and transport. They’re not trying to convince anyone that their policies are good for climate change. Rather, they’re doing the exact opposite: they’re trying to convince center-right voters that they’re an internal opposition within a coalition that is engaging in modal shift in federal funding priorities, and that they are explicitly against any climate action, because cars are good and only annoying hippies prefer trains.


  1. Lee Ratner

    As an American, it comforts me to know that nuts pro-car policies aren’t limited to the United States in developed democracies. There is a certain sort of environmentalist that refuses to get that having more people live closer together, i.e. dense cities with good public transit, is lot more environmentally friendly than rural and suburban living. My guess is that this mainly because cities are really seen as dirty, which was true enough historically speaking, and people haven’t updated their mental images in their head yet.

    • Mark

      It’s also the case that cities are dirty because they have lots of unnecessary cars sitting around stinking up the place. Get rid of them, and that problem is solved as well.

    • Alon Levy

      It’s not environmentalism, though. It’s explicitly anti-environmental signaling. We have annoying environmentalists too, anchored in the anti-nuclear movement, none of whom is ever voting for FDP; Lindner tried (and failed) to extend the nuclear power plants, and has been making noises about legalizing fracking, which he is well aware is not going to happen.

      What’s been happening here recently – it’s vaguely timed with corona but I’m not sure it’s related – is that Germany has had a shift from a production- to a consumption-based mentality. The Germany of the 2000s and 2010s considered consumption a little bit immoral and was proud of its export-oriented economy. This is shifting to a consumption-oriented mentality more familiar to Americans, in which the wealth of the nation is measured by the size of the cars and by how far they are driven; we have an SUV boom here, it’s just lagging the American one by 20 years. This then feeds into consumption-oriented populism in which the state’s role isn’t to be developmental but rather the opposite, to promote the sort of consumption that defines normality (in this case cars, never mind that the price signal for real estate tells the opposite story).

      • Basil Marte

        To what extent is a bad lens in public-facing economics to blame? They could just as well say that “this year, GDP growth has been driven by the X industry and the Y sector”, but most of the time they say “this year, GDP growth has been driven by investment/consumption/export/govt.spend”.

      • Henry Miller

        How can we change culture so what is consumed and value signaled on isn’t cars? A 10 story mansion on a tiny lot is still dense living (you have to have a working elevator) and compatible with transit, but how does the person who live in such a thing signal they are rich when similar buildings are clearly apartments.

        What can people consume? I can’t tell the difference between a real Rolex and a fake one without getting very close (My brother bought a fake Rolex for $20 once so I’ve seen how close they look). What hobbies can we get people into other than collecting new cars (new as in trade them in for newer) that can take up a lot of money and show off.

        • CA

          Good Question. Speaking as an American, the “car consumption culture” is already well past its prime among much of the country. Wealthier urban dwellers instead signal by spending on travel, fitness, active pursuits such as skiing/surfing/backpacking/rock climbing/cycling (depends on location), expensive restaurants, concerts, sporting events, etc.

          That’s not to say there isn’t car culture – cars and trucks are seen as an expression of status and identity, but not to the extent of 20-30 years ago in most demographics. I think a combination of ‘doing things different than your parents’, over saturation of nice cars by access to cheap credit, and the revival of urban life over that period contributed.

          • Alon Levy

            Yes, and to this I’ll add that urban middle-class consumption patterns are extremely fractionalized. Take restaurants, for example: there’s a wealth of different cuisines and styles represented even in a relatively low-diversity city like Berlin, to the point that consumption patterns are stratified horizontally by preference more than vertically by income. Same is true for outdoor activity, which ranges from cheap to cheap-by-middle-class-standards. Concerts are different in that it is legitimately expensive to go see someone who fills the city’s Olympic venue, but if you say “I’m into music, I like Taylor Swift” people will make fun of you to your face, and the sort of bands you can be a groupie of and not come off as painfully boring charge, depending on how much of a hipster you are, $10-50 per concert.

          • Luke

            I think at this point the only genuinely black-and-white status consideration for cars in the U.S. is whether or not you have one. The baseline assumption is that you do, and (outside of NYC, perhaps) that you don’t go anywhere without it. People without cars are either too poor to be worth considering, or fanatics who’d never have one in any circumstance.

            The challenge in the U.S. is showing that a car is not de facto necessary to live a developed-country lifestyle, and that lots of countries we consider our peers don’t impinge upon personal finance to provide sufficient means of personal transportation; ergo, that how one gets around isn’t much of a status signifier in the first place.

          • Lee Ratner

            I agree with Luke on the challenges facing the United States in dealing with car culture. That being said, I think that cars are plenty of status symbol even in countries with much better public transportation than the United States. I have plenty of clients born outside the United States who drive everywhere even though it would be better if they did not financially speaking.

          • Matthew Hutton

            Difficult to say Americans have moved beyond car culture when the top selling vehicles are still large SUVs rather than something smaller like a VW Golf or Peugeot 208 that top car sales in Europe.

            Don’t the vast majority of US truck owners use the truck bed once a year or less? You could get a delivery once a year instead rather than spending tens of thousands of dollars extra on a truck.

          • adirondacker12800

            If they call the hatchback/station wagon “SUV” people can delude themselves into thinking they are driving an SUV.

        • Jason

          Hmm? It’s real estate of course – look at all the ultra luxury condo towers in New York. You can absolutely tell between the fancy ones and some random apartment building.

    • Mark N.

      There is a modern German tradition that is “celebrated” every couple of years in which the Greens propose a speed limit for autobahns and within weeks are forced by the backlash to withdraw it. 😉

      By contrast to their powerful reluctance to give up their beloved, unlimited intercity highways, Germans by and large have at least been much more amenable to slowing down traffic within cities. Remodeled downtown streets with greater accommodation for bikes and pedestrians as well as 30 kph limits (or slower) are now ubiquitous.

      • Alon Levy

        Wait, what? Cities explicitly don’t have the power to impose 30 km/h limits, which is why so many municipalities are begging the federal government (=FDP) to permit them to do so.

        • Mark N.

          Come to think of it, I’m not sure of what governmental authority is responsible for it, but numerous towns (at least here in southwest Germany) have gotten limits on the main roads going through them reduced to 30 in recent years. 50 kph was pretty much the standard only ten to fifteen years ago. Hell, even “Motor City” Stuttgart placed (a super annoying) 40 kph limit on Hauptstätterstrasse (enforced with numerous cameras), which is the most important traffic artery on the north-south axis going through the city. Other important streets like Eberhardstrasse, whose heavy traffic used to divide the pedestrian zone at the south end of the city center, have been restricted to bus-only or like Tübinger Strasse, turned into low-speed, mixed usage spaces on the Dutch model..

          • Sascha Claus

            The minimum speed limi in populated places is 50 km/h, with higher limits possible if an unelected, high-ranking bureaucrat (old, white, male >:-> ) decrees it and no council able to force otherwise.*

            There are a bunch of federally-allowed measures for lower speed limits, like declaring residential areas as 30-km/h-zones wholesale (in place for decades), reducing speed limits for air quality reasons if deemed neccessary by an air quality plan (Luftreinhalteplan) to at least pretend to try to adhere to EU limits on particulate matter (in place since somewhere after the great brouhahah about this), and—brand new!—the authority to reduce speed limits in front of schools and kindergartens to 30 km/h (only a few years old).

            Making streets bus only, banning through traffic with posts and bollards or building cyclepaths doesn’t impinge on these speed limit laws, and can—no, may—therefore be done.

            *—might be different by state, though.

  2. Eric2

    > The United States loves building new grade-separated interchanges in declining regions. This doesn’t generate new demand, because traffic is already uncongested, and the purpose of roadbuilding there is a political statement more than transport policy.

    I don’t think that’s quite accurate. A place like Cleveland does have traffic – 10 minutes of moderate traffic in the morning rush hour, and 10 minutes in the evening rush hour. New road building can mitigate this traffic. Of course, it’s not worth it economically or socially. It also doesn’t generate new demand, because the population is not going to increase and the car modeshare is already at 100%. But it does remove a little delay and aggravation from some people’s lives (at enormous cost).

    • Alon Levy

      It’s not just Cleveland, though – it’s also small towns well outside its built-up area, where there genuinely isn’t any traffic, unless you count “wait one extra light cycle” as traffic.

      • Henry Miller

        Waiting at a light burns a lot of fuel. Of course nobody asks how much fuel building a road costs.

  3. Luke

    I have to think “vice signaling” is a misnomer. You’re well familiar with good faith vs. bad faith arguments. Someone who claims to be believes CO2 emissions should be reduced but utterly refuses to believe that traveling by anything but a car is in anyway acceptable or even possible will make the former belief accommodative of the latter by various means; it’s a trick American liberals do all the time, about car dependency, sure, but also with nimbyism, taxes, social welfare policies, etc.

    That’s kind of the acorn of populism for a lot of opportunistic politicians. “No, I don’t believe what my idiot constituents believe, but I need their votes, so….” That their constituents’ beliefs are incoherent with reality is irrelevant: to the politician because they need votes in any case, and to the constituents because no one will tell them as much. I know nothing of Lindner’s own beliefs or politics, but I’m willing to bet that a lot of the people who like what he says about roadway expansion genuinely believe what he says out of ignorance, even if he himself doesn’t because he knows better. It’s the exact same line of obviously deceitful garbage ODOT is feeding the public on the Rose Quarter I-5 widening. Nonetheless, it’s convenient for anyone who doesn’t want to have to change the way they live to simply believe a falsehood; they may not know it to be so, anyway.

    Ergo, unless Lindner is genuinely ignorant of the reality of induced demand, he can appease both green voters and car fanatics and garner their votes without, in reality giving either what they want (reduced CO2 emissions or decongestion). It’s a classic bad faith modus operandi.

    • Borners

      The contemporary FDP has plenty of other faith-based initiatives, hard money central banking, the constitutional amendment on balanced budgets etc. In that context I don’t think its bad faith. I think Lindner as with most people can’t believe building more roads doesn’t work.

      That said I think AfD and other Far Right anti-renewables are much more coherently vice-signaling on energy than FDP or equivalent normie-business-and-upper-class right wingers. FDP still participates in a government that is making progress on these issues. Renewables and trains have business constituencies too and the FDP is the most pro-NATO German political party.

      • Borners

        Also there is a wider point, that to many people anti-car policies feel like an attack on not just their lifestyles but their own conduct. That’s why mode-shift advocates should avoid head attacks on car culture and focus on making the alternatives better, pushing for TOD and focusing on the small print of parking policy or making SUV insurance premiums go up etc.

        • Sascha Claus

          Is any justification for raising SUV insurance premiums? Do they cause so much more crash damage than cars?
          It is certainly justifiied to charge parking rates commensurate with their use of parking space, especially when using two at once.

          • Tiercelet

            SUVs do cause much more crash damage on a per-incident basis–something like 10% higher fatality rates for the other driver, which doesn’t even take into account the increased property damage (a sedan can easily be totaled by an SUV strike when another sedan at the same speed would have left it reparable). Pedestrian fatality rates are 2-3x higher for pedestrians struck by SUVs than those struck by sedans. (And SUV drivers are more likely than sedan drivers to hit pedestrians in the first place.) SUVs are also known to be more prone to flipping/rollovers than sedans are, because of the SUV’s high center of gravity.

            I’ve also seen some reports that SUVs tend to be involved in crashes (of all kinds) at higher rates than sedans–I haven’t found a really solid source for this, but it would fit in with the trend that SUVs tend to be driven more aggressively than sedans.

          • Borners

            What Tiercelet said.

            To be honest I share a lot of the “ban them” sentiment. But that’s not going to fly politically. Insurance and liability policy is fine grained detail that doesn’t hit. Parking is the other one to push at and is generally decided at a lower level of government. The thing about both is they involve direct interaction to others that makes more intuitive sense than “electric SUV’s are terrible for everyone outside the SUV and people who buy them are terrible”.

            Congestion charges or vehicles registration fees could be made adjustable on vehicle weight too. To pay for the damage these things do to roads.

          • Sascha Claus

            I’ve also seen some reports that SUVs tend to be involved in crashes (of all kinds) at higher rates than sedans–I haven’t found a really solid source for this, but it would fit in with the trend that SUVs tend to be driven more aggressively than sedans.

            This would also fit in with the trand that SUVs are preferred by the elderly, because they sit higher and don’t have to raise themselves from so far down when leaving the car.

            The other things, well, that’s indeed a case for insurance premiums, taxes, and safety laws that limit the amount of damage that may be caused to people and other cars.

            To pay for the damage these things do to roads.

            But be careful to not price the plain old ordinary two-axle city bus out of existence. 😉 But it might have some effect on city logistics if small lorries are properly taxed. (Even it only a switch from 12t-lorries to vans (like the Amazon brigade))

      • Alon Levy

        FDP is not a hard money party, is the point – their reaction to last year’s inflation was to demand a deficit-financed cut in the fuel tax. Nor are they especially Atlanticist (try the Greens); Atlanticism here follows an M shape, in that it’s strongest on the base of the center-left and center-right (Greens, SPD left, Axel-Springer media, Junge Union…) and weaker on both the corporate center (which likes gas deals with Russia and plants in Xinjiang) and the extremes (which want either communism or Nazism back).

    • Richard Gadsden

      It’s not that no-one will tell the voters that their beliefs don’t align with reality. It’s that some people (enough people) will tell them that they do.

      Lindner is probably lying, but because he (and enough other populists) are prepared to lie, voters, who generally don’t have the expertise or time to check out the substantive question themselves, can just adopt his lie as if it were a truth.

      If there was a consistent wall of all authoritative figures telling them that they are wrong, many more would come to accept that they are wrong (and some of the rest would become convinced there is a conspiracy hiding the truth). But with authority figures divided, they feel they can just pick their preferred authority figure.

    • Basil Marte

      The idea is of “motive ambiguity” and avoiding it. If someone takes their SO to a place they both like, it’s unclear why they went there. If someone takes their SO to a place only the SO likes, there is no ambiguity. Exactly analogously, if a politician proposes a policy that would improve the life of their constituents but also the lives of other people, it is not obvious whether they are loyal to their constituents or just want to do good. Proposing a useless waste that optionally hurts the people their constituents dislike removes the ambiguity. (This example does not reach that level of badness.)

    • Alon Levy

      Lindner can know about induced demand if he wants to; the transport minister is a member of FDP and what I hear out of DB is that he’s a technocrat. That’s the point of bullshit – it’s said without any concern for whether it’s true or false.

      Lindner is also not some kind of vote-maximizing mastermind. That’s the other thing that’s easy to get wrong. He’s been zigzagging for years and sometimes it fails catastrophically. In early 2020 he was winking at AfD more than any other mainstream party, to the point that in Thuringia’s government formation crisis FDP cut a deal with AfD. The backlash was immediate, the deal had to be canceled, Merkel’s designated successor AKK had to resign due to CDU’s own role in the deal, and in the next state election, in Hamburg, FDP fell below threshold. He’s acting as internal opposition right now – remember, the shift in the road-rail funding formula is in a coalition agreement he put his name to – because Scholz is unpopular for a reason that equally implicates him (namely, Ukraine) and he thinks, wrongly, that he’s competing for anti-climate voters with CDU.

      • Luke

        He may in fact already know about induced demand and privately agree that it’s reflective of reality. Isn’t that the point of a bad-faith argument? The person making it could care less whether or not what they’re saying is true. It’s a matter of affirming audiences’ beliefs to get their buy-in on whatever else it is you say.

        Just because Lindner, himself, is agnostic about sticking to a method of gaining political support, doesn’t mean he’s not an opportunist.

  4. James Green

    The blockquote text has a colour value of only #888. Given the white background that makes a contrast ratio of 3.54, below the web standards minimum of 4.5 which have been set for accessibility reasons.

    Basically it’s hard to read for no good reason and if you know how to make it darker then you really should.

    • Alon Levy

      Ugh, I’ll try poking around the stylesheet and seeing if I can manually make that a darker color.

      Also, your avatar is a raven? Ooh, fancy, I could never really control spellcaster units…

      • James Green

        Sorry for the late reply. I’m not sure if this will help but I see `blockquote { color:#888 }` in a stylesheet as it displays to my browser. If you can’t fix it then it’s not the end of the world but it would be nice if you are able to.

        Yeah, I was playing the game a bit back when I first wanted an avatar for WordPress.

  5. df1982

    “Young people who identify with neoliberalism” has surely got to be one of the world’s smallest constituencies.

    • Borners

      Neoliberalism was until the Reddit forum a fabricated ideology, concocted by Marxists (David Harvey) to avoid discussing the social and political dominance of various types of conservatism. Always be skeptical of ideologies that don’t have anybody saying “I am X”.

      Age polarisation on a left-right axis is a noticeably Anglo-saxon phenomenon concentrated in the US and UK (England is the most age polarised polity on record right now). And as the rise of the populist with YIMBY tinge Poilievre Canadian conservatives suggests you can win English speaking millennials if you actually offer to solve problems the left refuses to*. And in number of countries (Austria, France, Japan) the right does better with the young than the old. Of course you can say these are not “Neoliberal” right wing movements. But anybody who actually studies Thatcherism or Reaganism in practice not rhetoric would find they aren’t very “neoliberal” either.

      *This is a bit unfair to the Canadian Federal Liberals who don’t control housing policy, provincial Conservative parties do.

      • Alon Levy

        In France, the age issue is weird. The left unambiguously is a young people’s movement, which gets really awkward since its biggest policy ask (as opposed to idpol) is keeping the retirement age at 60-62 and not making any changes to the pension system. Students regularly protest over this, to the exclusion of issues of relevance to young people, and this kind of solidarity is naturally one-way as boomers do not and have never cared about students’ issues.

        The age gradient in the Macron vs. Le Pen second round differed from the usual young-people-vote-left dynamic for two reasons, of which one is fake. The real reason is that retirees, who as a class were the last to stick with the center-right, switched to Macron this time, when he was running a more center-right campaign than in 2017, when he was presented as PS without Hollande’s baggage. (Macron himself engages in extensive vice signaling nowadays to look more racist, and his wife even let people know she dislikes the neopronoun “iel.”) The fake reason is that there was a lot of absenteeism among radical leftists in the second round and those tend to be young; the reason it’s fake is that these people got to sit out because it was widely expected that Macron would win by a large margin, which he did, and if it had been close then more people in Mélenchon’s orbit would have endorsed Macron and then there wouldn’t be so much absenteeism.

        • Borners

          I’m not sure that’s weird at all. Conservatism by its nature is more particular to each society than progressive ideologies. And we all live in particular and dynamic societies where social faultlines and interests change over time. One particular issue of our time is that the rise of retirees as a social group that is withdrawing from the coal face while making increasing demands of a changing society underneath them.

          Japanese young people vaguely supported the Abe package because it meant to them stable government, closer-to-full-employment while not actually clamping down on social change (women labour force participation, municipal gay marriage certificates, immigration). There is a lot of soft-bigotry of low expectations here, given the failure of the 2019-2012 opposition government. The nightmare fascist stuff that went through anglophone media never happened. Of course so many the problems on the policy agenda since the end of the high-growth era are still burning away at Japan.

          • Frederick

            Japanese conservatism is very different from Western conservatism.

            In the West, many people think they can maintain the status quo themselves if the government doesn’t interfere, and this is the point where conservatism and “neoliberalism” aligns. By adopting Reaganism or Thatcherism, the state relinquishes its ability to interfere with the society, and then it’s up to the people to conserve whatever they want to conserve.

            It is different in Japan. For the past two decades, the Japanese ideology is doomerism. People agree that Japan has no future. Thus, young people think that if they still want to have pensions and welfare like their parents do, then the government needs to do something and takes initiative.

            No matter what you think of Abenomics, at least it is “some direction” as opposed to “no direction” presented by all other Japanese elites. To preserve the livelihood and welfare levels, it is necessary to change and “change” is exactly what Abe promised.

          • Borners

            “the state relinquishes its ability to interfere with the society”? Where exactly did Reagan and Thatcher do that except in rhetoric? Was it in their non-existent cuts to Gov share of GDP? Their non-existent role backs of their regulatory states? Did they relinquish the right to bully their minorities? Nadda. Their political projects were massive readjustments in who the state protected and rewarded, in distinct ways.

            This rhetoric makes no sense in Japan because the society is less state centric than the US or the UK. Land law alone makes Japan the most free-market society in the developed world (land is the majority of the capital stock).

            Doomerism only really took over in the last decade. 1993-2011 was the era of “kick the bastards”. But the LDP system managed to survive it because the Left collapsed (it had no ideas about how to govern), the Komeito joined with the LDP and the DPJ coalition failed. Oh and electoral reform in 1993 had the opposite choice.

          • Phake Nick

            @frederick My feeling is that people in Japan understand social issues as not something can be changed single hand by the government. There are people who want Japanese government stop population outflow from rural area, increase birth rate, and increase salary of the people. But these are all things determined by entire society. Most people understand these aren’t things up to government to decide. Which result in many not caring about politics since politics do not have necessary tool to solve problems that Japanese society currently face.

      • df1982

        If the only people who explicitly proclaim their adherence to neoliberalism are a bunch of redditors, then that kind of makes my point about Alon’s original point.

        But the idea that ideologies that don’t have people going around saying “I am X” do not exist is plainly wrong. There are plenty of self-disavowing ideologies out there. Trump, Le Pen, Orban et al. don’t loudly say “I am a xenophobic racist”, but that is still the ideology they represent.

        And with neoliberalism there clearly is a there there. The term predates David Harvey, for a start, and its core thinking was developed by right-wing economists and then implemented in practice, in a particularly radical manner by Thatcher (shattering the post-war social-democratic consensus in the UK), and to a greater or lesser degree across much of the world. Like all ideologies the more successful it is, the less visible it becomes, as its premises simply become the regular way of how people see the world. This is not sufficiently the case with neoliberalism, which is why it is so contested now, although perhaps it came close to being so in the 1990s.

        • Borners

          Trump and co are pretty explicit about what they are, they lie constantly but are not double-think hypocrites in the way conventional New right politicians have been.

          The fact that academics, advocates etc who love the term Neoliberalism can’t articulate its relationship to conservatisms is the giveaway its empirical garbage as a term (not that they don’t give the game away, Harvey’s 2005 on Neoliberalism ends attacking Neoconservative). It would be too humilating to most leftists they suffered a lost generation because none of their holy texts predicted the social changes that happened since the 1960’s, on gender, immigration, aging, the rise of the service sector etc. That the leading right-wing parties in the democratic world call themselves conservative is not an accident.

          Also Thatcher was a creature of the Postwar consensus, it created her and her voters. Its fundamental pillar the 1947 Town and Country planning was not only left intact but extended as land Greenbelt and Heritage designation rapidly increased. The value capture those changes represented exceeded all her privatizations by an order of magnitude. The groups she hurt most the urban poor and the post-industrial working class were the main losers from the post-1947 and propertied exurban middle class were among the key winners. And I could on about the creation of the Quangos-and-consultants centralised state she created, all in the service of preserving the Britain she grew up in, although she pretended it was to return to her father’s Britain.

          • Luke

            “…advocates etc who love the term Neoliberalism can’t articulate its relationship to conservatisms is the giveaway its empirical garbage as a term.” I feel like we generally can articulate its relationship to conservatism. Neoliberalism doesn’t care about the things that typical conservatives get really animated about: cultural idpol issues. My understanding of the typical definition of neoliberalism is “capitalist first, second, and above all.” If blue hair and pronouns are good for capital’s interests, then they’re good; if they get in the way, they’re bad. By contrast, as we see with right populism, capital’s interests are to be secondary to “the people”, of course “the people” usually being some ethnolinguistic group because capitalism generally doesn’t actually care about ethnicity or language if it has to choose between those or its own interests.

            There are amalgamations of these two positions, and most self-described conservatives will subscribe to a mixture of one kind or another, but it’s really not that hard to set up a broad-strokes differentiation between neoliberalism and conservatism. It’s just atypical to find someone who is strictly one or the other, because the former is happy to instrumentalize the interests of the latter, and the latter is generally interested in some version of a status quo, and capitalists–as capitalists–tend to be benefitted in some way by the status quo qua capitalists.

          • Alon Levy

            Bear in mind that the classical New Right polarized against welfare and unions and not against queer people. Reagan notably endorsed a no on Prop 6 in California; he governed as a homophobe in the AIDS crisis, but that’s not how he ran, it’s what some political appointees that he didn’t really know the names of decided to do about the pandemic.

          • Borners

            Capitalism doesn’t exist either since every definition that exists (Commodification, “private” property etc) applies to High Stalinism or “Feudal” Europe perfectly well. Every sentence with the silly word in it would be vastly improved by talking about humanity or humans. Its a dodge to avoid thinking about who we are as species and how that’s often terrible, Michels was right about the Iron law of Oligarchy, power corrupts etc etc.

            The idea Robber Baron Economic Conservatives are “Neoliberal” has never to hear them justify free-on street parking or restrictive zoning codes, tax-breaks, protectionism, agricultural subsidies etc etc. Even the Kochs are not actually libertarians when it comes to renewables. Libertarian anti-government rhetoric of various kinds of conservatism is basically the mirror image of the anti-state element in revolutionary left wing radicals during the 19th century. Anarchistic gauze to justify your grand centralised plan to coerce the world to your preferences using state power.

            I actually think false-consciousness is more an elite phenomenon than a popular one. The coalitions of Inequality that have dominated the politics the Industrialised World since the 1980’s are based on people prioritising non-material issues in particular the right to abuse groups you cannot remove. When you talk to these people they are often quite up-front about the comprimises they are making in doing so (see the work of Jonathan Metzl if you want a really dark version of this).

            I do like your use of “New Right” Alon. You’re right that the American New Right had work its way to finding its wedge issues etc. But remember the Republican party still included socially liberal WASPS etc into the 1990’s. Trajectories are clearer in retrospect. But conservative anti-union politics was more mature probably because Queer politics was relatively new as a dividing line among politics parties. And that’s the thing the stands out to me about the decline of mid-20th century social democracy. It was social change that destroyed the society that had created it. Not something as ahistorical and vapourware as “Neoliberalism”.

            Also the US union movement is doomed well before Reagan gets there. Taft-Hartley was a slow poison and it was passed and defended because the Union movement traduced racial hierarchy lines.

    • Alon Levy

      FDP has a young voter profile – I think it’s the number two party for young voters after the Greens. They keep promising digital governance and then what they actually deliver is whatever makes Lindner feel important.

  6. Phake Nick

    This comment reminded me some comments from China I saw from years ago, who claimed bikes are the biggest polluter on the road since they slow down traffic hence getting rid of bike is required to reduce air pollution

    • Eric2

      Well, China is shifting strongly to EVs (so as not to be dependent on foreign oil in case of war, not out of environmental idealism or anything) so this particular argument will hopefully soon be in the past

      • Phake Nick

        China shift to EV is mainly because small EV are (or in some places, were) able to evade government cap on number of new cars, allowing one to buy a car immediately instead of having to wait for lucky draw for car license. And these cars are also more affordable in lower income towns.
        With last year’s lock down, my understanding is that many in China now think a car is something they need in order to guarantee their ability to move around no matter how good transit services are in normal time. This do not translate to demand immediately because Chinese economy is now weak, but in the long term hard to forecast.

  7. onodera

    > There’s a developmental argument that induced demand is actually good. Matt Yglesias has made it before, saying that if road building induces more traffic then it means people get to take more trips and are better off. Many roadbuilders have made that very argument, and others were aware of it; Robert Moses, for example, was perfectly aware that his parkways and bridges were inducing more car traffic, and was fine with it, because he thought more driving was good.

    Is there a summary of the counterarguments? I can explain the difference between induced demand for public transit (everyone benefits from larger and faster and more regular trains/trams/buses even if they can’t find an empty seat) and induced demand for driving, but there’s an argument that goes more or less like this:

    People really like living in their own single-family houses on large lots. They prefer suburban houses to urban apartments much more than they prefer public transit to driving. Why do we try to subtly nudge people towards densification just because we know how to serve dense housing with public transport? Why don’t we try to come up with solutions that work well with existing car-oriented suburbs?

    • Henry Miller

      Density makes transit cheaper per capita and roads more expensive.

      You can run good transit out to suburbs, and even exurbs. However it costs just as much as running in a dense area while there are a lot less people to spread the cost over. It might even cost more: if you only focus on the dense area you can skip higher speed/express routes, but when the city isn’t very dense you need higher speeds to make the longer trips the density requires reasonable.

      No transport system in the world has enough budget to run great service to the suburbs. Some get closer than others, and some cities have a lot more dense area with few suburbs to worry about.

      To run transport to the suburbs you have to make good transfers a priority. You have to make it a metric that you measure: 95% of the people can get to any destination within 20km (this seems like a good distance, but it is up for some debate) of their front door in less than 30 minutes (you can measure this statistically). 95% of the people can reach at least 30 different retail businesses, including 1 grocery store, and 5 restaurants. 95% of the people can reach their assigned schools (elementary – high school) with 20 minutes. 75% of the city must have a potential job within 35 minutes that pays enough to afford buying/renting within the area. Note that the times above are door to door times: including walking to transit, and waiting for the worst case headway. The 95% is intended for places outside your city/coverage area that are still in the radius of where people live.

      Meeting these metrics is hard and expensive. However they exist for a reason: for every person you meet these requirements for getting rid of a car is not a hardship. If you fail to meet any of them, your transit system is not good enough to replace cars, and thus you have to find a way to be valuable despite your users also having to pay for a car: you have to charge must less for your services (including subsidies, not just the cost of the fare)

      • Sascha Claus

        95% of the people can reach at least 30 different retail businesses, including 1 grocery store, and 5 restaurants.

        1 grocerystore, but 5 restaurants … and 15 barbershops of which at least 10 must be specialized to treat hipster beards? *SCNR*
        The method looks great, but the weighting between grocery stores and restaurants looks slightly off to me—unless its focused more on enticing choice riders, which are better off, out of their cars than on providing a basic service.

    • Alon Levy

      People really like living in their own single-family houses on large lots. They prefer suburban houses to urban apartments much more than they prefer public transit to driving.

      Do they? At equal size and amenities, housing is more expensive in more walkable areas; even in practice, with smaller urban apartments, they tend to be more expensive than suburban houses outside globally atypical disaster zones like St. Louis or Cleveland.

      • Reedman Bassoon

        I think a nuance needs to be explored. St Louis/Cleveland/Detroit lost jobs, so the people left to go where the jobs are. New York City has jobs, so people stay, even though its expensive. If Boeing or Caterpillar moved to Florida, Florida would grow, but in Florida-style (not walkable). When the 2008 recession hit, Auto-Czar Rattner told Obama that it would be in taxpayers (who owned GM) best interest to move GM headquarters to a zero income tax state like Florida. Obama refused, saying he wouldn’t be the president who destroyed Detroit. [I once worked for a French company. The folks told me that because of strict protections against evictions, landlords won’t rent you an apartment in France without a contact-job (i.e. no layoffs) or a parent/relative guaranteeing the rent. It makes mobility a lot tougher.]

      • Henry Miller

        People want the best of all worlds. It isn’t possible have 100 private acres on times square, and even if you were that rich the act of buying that much land and tearing it down would change times square such that it isn’t the bustling place you wanted to live on when you bought the land.

        High prices only indicate that more people want to live someplace than there is supply. All we know for sure is that there is one more person in the world who wants to live in each walk able area than there is room. Realistically there is more than one person, but we don’t know how many more, it could be a large majority, it could be a small minority.

        Through history the norm has been single family houses (often mud huts or tents). Remember until 1900 more than 90% of the world’s men were farmers (ask a historian to explain men’s and women’s work across different cultures over time), which in turn meant most people lived either on the farm, or in low density villages near the farm (hunter-gatherers moved the village).

        Note that nothing about a suburb says it cannot be walkable. Some of them even are, though modern zoning rules don’t allow it in many places.

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