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Home > Social Issues
Growth Facts of Life
by Bob Powell, 1/19/04
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I found that this is photoshopped, the actual photo is below. When I drove on a Texas freeway in about 1986 on a business trip, it seemed like this: at least 6 lanes both ways bumper-to-bumper.

"Freedom" in LA.

This should make it obvious that road building does not solve the problem of traffic congestion.

The depressing-to-many truth is that only way to reduce traffic congestion is to make driving less attractive that alternatives ... or make alternatives more attractive.

This is a result of what's known as The Attractiveness Principle, one of the systems thinking archetypes, which illustrate common system behaviors.

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Added 7/22/09: A little-understood fact about growth is that road building stimulates growth and increases traffic congestion. Those who promote "growth" love road building in rural areas because it opens them up to development. This "induced traffic" effect is a well-known aspect of urban dynamics (a system dynamics applications area).

I found these articles that illustrate the point:

Cities Lose Out on Road Funds From Federal Stimulus By MICHAEL COOPER and GRIFF PALMER, 7/8/09

Two-thirds of the country lives in large metropolitan areas, home to the nation’s worst traffic jams and some of its oldest roads and bridges. But cities and their surrounding regions are getting far less than two-thirds of federal transportation stimulus money. ...

study of congestion in urban areas released Wednesday by the Texas Transportation Institute found that traffic jams in 2007 cost urban Americans 2.8 billion gallons of wasted gas and 4.2 billion hours of lost time.

As described in this article on the Growth Facts of Life, building more roads will not correct the problem of traffic congestion; it just draws more traffic and increases congestion; it's called induced traffic. Bummer. See Drivers of Growth on the effects of road building.

Overview: The Growth Facts of Life

This paper is a short essay that summarizes the sometimes uncomfortable "facts of life" about growth. It describes the structure behind, and "solutions" to address, our complaints about growth. It is based on the thorough treatment in The Tangle of Growth.

It covers the interacting effects of tax policy, infrastructure backlogs, Federal Reserve policy and also how "The Attractiveness Principle" & "Escalation" systems thinking archetypes affect growth.

I first learned of "The Attractiveness Principle" when I read the paper "Urban dynamics - the first fifty years" by Louis Edward Alfeld from the System Dynamics Review, Volume 11 Issue 3, Fall 1995, p 199-217. Facing the reality of what's described had me depressed for three weeks.

"The Attractiveness Principle" structure is described in terms of the importance for businesses to have value propositions at Making Strategic Choices. It's applies to economic regions as well. It means what should be obvious: that no business or region can be "all things to all people."

Growth Facts of Life: Double-column version (6 pages, 112K, best to print)
Growth Facts of Life: Single-column version (7 pages, 111K, easiest to read on line)

An abbreviated explanation of what's happening is Colorado Springs: A Broken Region 10/26/10, a column in the Colorado Springs Independent.

The main point is: One does *not* reduce traffic congestion by making driving *more* attractive. One reduces traffic congestion by making *alternatives*, like light rail, *more* attractive. This is an example of the effect of the "Attractiveness Principle" dynamic, a systems thinking archetype.

Developers love wider roads ... it makes the property on which they've speculated more valuable. Road building is a developer subsidy sold to the public on the pretense it's for safety and convenience.

See graphs showing "Change in Unemployment" vs "Regional Economic Growth" to see that higher rates of economic growth do not result in a "change in unemployment" that "creates more jobs". When growth advocates say they want "more growth to create jobs", they are lying.


One reader's comment:
"Finally, let me just say this is a brilliant piece of work.  I love it.
Nicely done.  If only we didn't live in a sound-bite world


Some are fond of saying that economics isn't a zero-sum game. But for jobs it is, because Federal Reserve policy allows only so many jobs to be created: so it is a zero-sum game for states to compete by giving incentives to companies to get them to locate in their state.

Art Rolnick, an economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, also points out that Congress Should End the Economic War Among the States. His recommendation instead? Invest in Early Childhood Development on a Large Scale for a better return on investment.

Original photo.
See The State of Colorado Employment for graphs based on more recent data showing that more rapid regional growth does not result in a significant change in unemployment.

Also, for more on the "labor market" and Federal Reserve policy, see There's no "free market" for Labor, 5/21/05, and Why Unions and a Minimum Wage are Necessary, 5/14/14.





URL: http://www.exponentialimprovement.com/cms/growthfacts.shtml

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© 2003 Continuous Improvement Associates
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Colorado Springs: A Broken Region
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Growth Facts of Life
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There's no 'free market' for Labor