Years ago, when I was a financial journalist covering the greater New York region, one of the biggest stories I covered was the relocation of the area’s major companies to states like Texas, North Carolina, and Florida. Back then, a typical response of local political leaders to every departure was that those firms were short-sighted, preferring to save a few bucks on taxes for the sake of moving to places that “under invested” in quality of life. Their hospitals didn’t save as many lives as ours, the story went, and their schools didn’t create an educated workforce like ours did. Their infrastructure was “rural,” at best. Still, for some reason, the firms kept going. Some of us began wondering whether things weren’t quite as bad elsewhere as the defenders of the New York/New Jersey region’s model of high taxes, high costs, and deference to special interests made them out to be.
I can’t help recalling those days whenever the region experiences one of its increasingly common meltdowns—like the current commuting fiasco that’s plagued New Jersey Transit riders thanks to a Monday derailment in Penn Station. The spillover effects are also slamming commuters from Long Island and riders of the PATH trains. If you follow these issues closely, you know that the derailment itself—the second in ten days at Penn—is only a small part of the story of how the political culture of one of the nation’s richest regions has managed to squander its resources so thoroughly over the past several decades.
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