This story comes from the other end of the world but has lessons for any part of the world. It is “a parable about the combustible combination of optimism and ignorance.” Go read “Planning Order, Causing Chaos: Transantiago” by Michael Munger in the Library of Economics and Liberty.
Below the fold I have quoted the last part of the essay. If you wish to skip the article, do read the last bit.
The Hydra-Headed Beast
Here is the real problem with the “greed is always bad, public provision is always good” perspective. As James Buchanan pointed out in “Politics Without Romance,” it makes no sense to assume that, under some circumstances (private buses), people are greedy, and under others (government buses), people are benevolent. The fact is that in both cases people behave purposively, pursuing their own goals filtered through the incentives and costs the system presents to them. Yet, the idea persists that removing profits and using government planning results in a kind of moral transubstantiation. Many planners think that profits are evil and would prefer a system that eliminates profits, even it means accepting substantial losses and no improvement in service.
No matter how many times this notion is killed off by experience and evidence, the hydra of planning grows another head, and political leaders trumpet the new reform in public service. Then, when the reform fails, commissions are formed, implementation is blamed, and budgets are raised.
The Transantiago bus reforms took an imperfect private system, operating without public subsidy and serving well over a million people a day, and “publicized” it. The expectation, almost pathetically naïve in retrospective, was that outlawing profits and demotivating drivers would change human nature. Worse, planners believed that they could dictate choices to commuters, who turned back to private automobiles instead. Why don’t they ever learn?