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The IPO of Virgin Trains U.S.A. (bloomberg.com)
87 points by pseudolus 22 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 87 comments

I did a deep dive into passenger train service at one time when I too was advocating for such a venture (although I don't have billions so it wasn't something I could just start).

One huge hurdle to successful passenger rail are the rails. They are "owned" by the two or three massive freight companies. So using them with a passenger service gives the passenger service second billing. If we could convince the US to build the National Interstate Rail system (as we did for the highway system) and used taxes to build and maintain the rails, and then allowed anyone to use them with just the investment in the train equipment, it would change the market hugely. And taxing the trains like we do with highways (more weight means higher tax), would create an entirely different situation.

But to do that, we have to dislodge the Rail industry lobby which is literally over a hundred years entrenched.

The US has more miles of track than the next two countries (Russia and China, 2/3 of the countries larger than the US in area!) combined. This is actually a decline from the peak in the 1910s, as a result of the consolidation in the industry to the present day 7 Class I railroads (UP, BNSF, CSX, NS, CP, CN, KCS). We don't need any more rails.

The US's freight rail industry is generally praised throughout the world in terms of its capabilities to move lots of freight--countries like Germany want to bring their freight rail up to US standards. Trying to reconfigure the system to be up to European standards in passenger movement is going to come largely at the expense of freight movement, and the geography of the US is such that said transition is going to be a net negative.

GP didn't say that we should usurp freight rails for passenger trains, they said we should build rails for passenger trains..

It's the same thing in Canada— we took a sleeper train (The Canadian) out west a few years ago and it felt like we spent half the journey sitting on sidings. It was great not to have to drive, but it was a similar total amount of time in transit, and many times more expensive than driving or flying.

In fact, it's so bad in Canada that we can't even get our commuter rail story together, much less long distance passenger rail. The Waterloo-Toronto tech corridor has just a handful of packed trains each way (on weekdays only) because a short segment of the track is also CN's major link to the US, and talks to get more access to it have been deadlocked for over a decade. The recently-elected Conservative government just canceled a long-planned freight rail bypass as "too expensive", loudly claiming that they'll have all day service rolled out in the next 18 months without it, sigh.

Passenger service on the rails could work just fine if Amtrak got serious about schedule. I know people who shipped by rail - there were big fines if the train engine showed up and all cars were not loaded - they were always ready at least half an hour beforehand to ensure that wasn't a problem. Amtrak regularly doesn't leave on time, and then they miss their window to get on the track and have to take whatever time is left after all the scheduled trains that run on schedule are there.

The real problem is in the US rail travel doesn't make sense. Other than trips up the coasts we are too spread out. Flying from city to city is a better use of human time.

Amtrak literally can’t “get serious about schedule” no matter how much they want to, because apart from the Northeast corridor, they don’t own the rails they run on. They are using the rails of the big freight companies and so can only run in the spaces in between the freight trains that have priority. Which is why the GP said that Amtrak can’t get better until it has its own rail network.

The freight companies schedule their trains in advance, and Amtrak is part of that schedule. The only issue is if Amtrak isn't running on time, once there is a delay all the scheduled trains (freight trains) run and those late get the spaces that are not filled. One delay adds up because they miss not only that opening, but the next one. If Amtrak was serious they wouldn't miss their scheduled times and things would run better.

If you could dislodge the rail lobby, why waste time and money building a parallel national rail system when there perfectly serviceable existing tracks that can be converted to be operated for the public good? This is one of the things Eminent Domain would be good for, as opposed to seizing people’s homes and giving them away to property developers.

The pre-existing rails are currently at capacity with freight trains, and for good reason. We can't replace that without harming the logistical system that keeps the central US at something approximating the first world.

It's better just to build more capacity and reserve it for passenger.

HSR for passenger already requires dedicated tracks. Mixing 220mph trains and 75mph trains tends not to work very well. (Not to mention the curvature requirements precluding a lot of existing right of way).

The real problem is the lack of demand for passenger traffic. HSR ridership falls off a cliff around 2-3 hours; in practice, you're limited to looking at city pairs within around 500-700mi max, ideally all in a nice line, and outside the NEC, there's just too few of these pairs.

The pairs are more numerous than you'd think. Put 560 mile circles around Atlanta, New York, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, and Seattle and you basically cover most major metro areas in the US.

A single pair by itself is not enough to make the investment cost worth it. (This is the Midwest conundrum--there's actually a decent selection of third tier cities, but no three of them are close to collinear).

Three of them can be collinear if you consider Chicago a viable third city (e.g. Indianapolis - Milwaukee).

Some city pairs are kind of isolated (St Louis, Kansas City).

Some have decently sized cities that you can connect in a linear fashion (Chicago > Indianapolis > Louisville > Nashville)

And some you can serve in a somewhat roundabout fashion while still being time competitive (Chicago > Indianapolis > Cincinnati > Columbus > Pittsburgh).

I agree in principle, but be careful with throwing around "perfectly serviceable" like it means nothing— the suitability of tracks for running frequent, high quality passenger service rests on a lot of factors: twinned track, electrified track, modern signalling, corner radiuses, etc. Most of this isn't an issue for pure freight and it's expensive to fix/upgrade.

Agreed on the 'nationalizing' of the rail, but its a big 'if' for dislodging the rail lobby.

Don't you then run into the quagmire of land rights that the California high speed rail initiative has/had to deal with? I guess it's alleviated somewhat by being able to run less populated areas much of the time, but it seems like the kind of thing that's hard to get done when there's already some infrastructure present.

Absolutely. And while that is the sort of thing that Eminent Domain was designed for, most recent use in the Bay Area I remember was when the completed Highway 85, it is time consuming and someone "loses".

One reason that high-speed rail in Texas failed was because Central Texas Railroad assumed they could use Eminent Domain to acquire land. Maybe elsewhere, but not in Texas - the legislators lined up against the plan after it hit the news.

IIRC, much of the land for the 85 was never developed when they were building the suburbs in the 60's & 70's. The southern portion was planned decades before it was built. There were these long swaths of old orchards and empty lots that ran between otherwise fully developed neighborhoods that have since been transformed into the highway.

Fully building out a 2nd set of dedicated infrastructure doesn't seem efficient.

I think it would be far less expensive to have a neutral 3rd party of engineers, economists, and finance folks figure out a way to compute the cost of demoting freight to 2nd billing. And then by law require passenger service to have priority, and to pay for it, while having safeguards for either party to game the system, with on-going audits.

This might be a kind of taking of private property for public use, which is allowed by the fifth amendment so long as there's just compensation. Whether sections are leased or bought can be a point of the negotiation. But using existing infrastructure is inherently more efficient so long as there aren't already congestion problems. And where there are congestion problems it makes sense to mitigate those locations.

This is actually what China did; their rapid growth was causing both passenger and rail traffic to skyrocket, so they essentially built a second rail network to shove passengers onto and make room for freight, which doesn't really need to travel at 200MPH.

US rail infrastructure is so old, curvy and degraded that after accounting for the work so you could run passenger rail at a respectable speed (~110MPH) you'd probably spend the same amount of money as just buying new.

Would that really work as well as the interstate though? Just letting anybody on the interstate is mostly fine because if they run slow or way behind or breakdown you just go around them.

When someone runs shitty trains that breakdown and block the whole track though...

This is easily solved by charging the users of the shared infrastructure a rate based on their usage, with penalties for breakdowns.

Australia had a similar problem when the rail infrastructure part was split off into ARTC. Some dodgy operators started up with clapped out old locomotives that often broke down. Those operators didn’t last long when they had to pay fines for blocking the track.

>When someone runs shitty trains that breakdown and block the whole track though...

sounds like a chance to ticket that company just like we ticket people riding a bicycle on the highway.

Step one: reduce the police-state nature of rail (and, for that matter, all) travel within the United States. I had no idea until recently that the DEA conducts horrifying, intimidating, completely suspicion-less raids on Amtrak sleeper cars.

It happened to myself and my family last year, and although I'm planning to take Amtrak again this coming week (as there is no other rail option), it's scary to enter that environment again.

Wish us luck and safety.



I'm currently writing from my mobile office (the amtrak train). I am literally on the last leg of a cross country rail trip that included taking the sleeper car and stopping in San Francisco, Denver, Chicago, Detroit, Toronto, Rochester and New York. For what its worth I was never searched once. I think you just got incredibly unlucky. Which route were you on?

I've done the entire California Zephyr, the entire Empire Builder (twice), and parts of the Coast Starlight, Ethan Allen Express, Acela, Lake Shore Limited, Wolverine, Southwest Chief, Capitol Corridor, and... I dunno, a couple others also.

I have done nearly the entire system and only been subjected to this treatment this one time.

Now, was it luck? I'm not sure. I did find out from an Amtrak employee that the only people searched by the DEA on my trip were myself and a colleague (seven cars behind me). We work at a blockchain startup, and in both cases, this was our first Amtrak trip since starting this job. The same employee told me that she believed that people "involved in bitcoin" were targeted. Furthermore, the agents questioned my colleague about his hardware wallet and took several photos of it (and, according to him, seemed uninterested in anything else).

(Side note: the Amtrak employee also told me that Amtrak folks are terrified of the DEA agents and wished they'd just be gone. She told me that they had made unwanted advances to her and other female Amtrak staff.)

So I don't know if it was luck or targeting, but yes, most of my Amtrak experience has been quite pleasant by comparison.

Are you sure they weren't police trying to do some "civil asset forfeiture" (stealing)? People that deal with bitcoin might end up having a lot of cash on them and the police might want to take it.

Yes, I suspect that's precisely the impetus.

> the DEA conducts horrifying, intimidating, completely suspicion-less raids on Amtrak sleeper cars.

It's still far less worse than airports, isn't it? I mean, there is a risk that you are being searched but not everyone is. Compare that to airplanes where everyone is being searched and you and can't even take a bottle of water with you.

Most of the time, it's much better than the airport. 90% of the time, Amtrak is downright civilized.

However, as I found out the hard way, actually having your compartment raided by the DEA is much worse than going through the TSA line.

You're in your little (previously cozy) compartment with the door blocked by DEA agents. It's just you and your family. They're barking orders and demanding to search things. They're saying that you can be removed from the train if you don't comply. They're smacking your camera out of your hands and telling you to stop recording. They're telling you that if you don't submit to a complete search, they'll bring a dog who might bite your child.

To be clear: they literally did all of those things in my case.

What do you do?

In my case, I held firm and told them that I wasn't going to answer any questions or consent to any searches, and after an absolutely terrifying 10 minutes, during which they repeatedly threatened violence against myself and my partner while our 3.5-year old wailed in terror, they finally went away.

I suspect that if I had consented to a search, they'd have stolen cash from my wallet (as has been reported by several other passengers, as you can see from the links below) or worse, planted drugs in an effort to increase their numbers and justify seizing other items.

Refusing to consent to a search is the obvious best thing to do in this scenario.

But it's not easy, and definitely far worse than any TSA experience I've had, which includes being singled out for "enhanced" pat-down and questioning.

I mean, it's the fucking DEA. Even the modicum of professionalism that you have with the TSA is gone.

> can't even take a bottle of water with you.

I typically bring an empty mason jar through security and then fill it at a water fountain.

Wow, that sounds horrifying. Didn't know that you have been affected by this personally.

Police officers shouldn't even get close to planting drugs or stealing money. They are there to enforce the law and not to break it. Hopefully body-cams will get some of them discharged/behind bars and the others to stop doing this.

Police officers can steal from you legally though. It's called civil asset forfeiture. Why wouldn't they if it's legal?

Does anyone know if the DEA actually has the right or authority to remove you from the train?

Do they have the right to bring a dog into your compartment without a warrant? For that matter, do they have the right to enter your compartment without a warrant?

Wow I didn’t know about the drug planting. I just assumed consenting sucked but was the optimal thing to do.

What's the advantage of consenting? It seems purely disadvantageous for the passenger. It's not like you consent and they suddenly go away. I presume that if you consent, they proceed to search all your stuff.

Even if they don't steal or plant anything, it's a huge invasion of privacy and, if you have any delicate items, a risk that they'll be damaged.

There is no advantage to consenting to a search or talking to police. Ever.

Refusing to speak to the police or otherwise being evasive is not the same as exercising your rights. Your behavior prior to requesting an attorney can be used against you--"he was acting suspicious by not giving me direct answers". But you can't request an attorney unless you've been detained, which they won't do.

I don't think there's any substitute for (a) being polite ("Yes, sir. No, sir.") and (b) being aware of the context. Obviously you should never consent to a search or even give the impression that you're consenting. But literally not talking to the police is not really possible, so there's no avoiding keeping your wits about you so you can act in the most appropriate way possible.

Pulling out your camera is a pretty ballsy move that could escalate things, but I wasn't there so can't judge. But if there were witnesses watching such as other passengers or, especially, a conductor, I wouldn't risk it. I'd just ask for the witnesses' contact information afterward. An irate cop could always snatch your phone away; it's much harder to intimidate a witness, and anyone inclined to do that probably wouldn't think twice about taking your phone or doing something worse later, anyhow. Ultimately you're pretty much helpless, so you have to optimize for the [more likely case] of the cops being mostly honest. They're unfortunately trained to intimidate (we've militarized our civilian police forces), so just because they're acting like assholes doesn't mean they're actually assholes.

Thanks you for this empathic and balanced response. I'm quite tired of the narrative that the police are all assholes, as the ones that do act like assholes I've met has mostly been because they've been screwed by someone treating them like shit. Or as you've said, from the insanity that has been the training we've been giving them.

Pissing off someone with considerable discretionary power to make your life miserable has no disadvantages, ever?

There may be cases where appeasing someone with discretionary power (real or perceived) leads to a better outcome, but consenting to an otherwise illegal search doesn't seem like it's possibly one of them to me.

Am I missing something?

Well, if we’re talking about corrupt cops who will plant drugs, might they also lie about you consenting to the search? Maybe you’re better off doing whatever it takes to make them like you, so they are less likely make you the person they plant drugs on?

I don’t know what the right answer is, it seems like a tough call. I’m skeptical of people who confidently say “consenting is never the right answer”.

Well, you also need to record the conversation. I think that goes without saying.

"Regent Law Professor James Duane gives viewers startling reasons why they should always exercise their 5th Amendment rights when questioned by government officials."


Mandatory viewing IMHO.

That's an awesome video. The guy talks a bit fast, but very great video that shows how much can go wrong. He especially makes the "I am innocent, why should I not talk to police" case be moot. Indeed, being innocent is the best defense there is against being convicted of a crime, but claiming to be innocent right at the beginning might not help your case.

If they’re asking for consent to perform a search then they are already using their discretionary power in an attempt to make your life miserable. Giving your consent isn’t going to help.

Remember, if they have probable cause to perform a search then they won’t ask you. If they ask you it’s because their alternative is to go away.

"Airplanes are worse" is not a great reason to be an apologist for papers-please style authoritarianism.

In any case, airports generally concentrate the scary security stuff in one specific area. Once you're through that, you can pretty much expect not to be hassled. Especially, say, mid-journey when you're fast asleep.

If they’re willing to pay for it, and put up everything they own as collateral, then great. This however is a piss-in-the-wind IPO from Branson, who is horrendous. If you ever come to England, Virgin will become a curse word in your vocabulary. Rail can be great, but not Virgin rail.

Edit: Changed “one” to “wind”. Thanks for pointing that out!

I use Virgin Euston to Manchester a couple of times a month and it's a great rail service. Painless, clean, fast, tables, power etc., quiet off-peak and such a good work environment I've almost stopped driving.

OT: I think the phrase is "piss in the wind" ... As in it will be a terrible waste of time and you'll just end up with piss on you. May be a different meaning over the pond.

On topic: Are there stories about how Branson/Virgin has screwed up industries and companies in the UK? Have they already given him control over some rail systems that were mismanaged? Would be interested to hear about the source of Branson's poor reputation in his home country. As far as I know he has a decent reputation here in the US.

That was a typo, thanks for catching it. As to Virgin, yes the national rail service was privatized, and various contracts to run it have been passed around since. Notable for unreliable schedules due to underinvestment, apps and systems so Byzantine even the people at the till can’t tell you what the lowest fare is, bus replacement services galore, and a general lack of profitability.

One place to read the horror stories would be: https://uk.trustpilot.com/review/www.virgintrains.co.uk

A typical “whoopsie” on the fares here: https://www.theguardian.com/money/2017/dec/21/virgin-trains-...

Definitely not going to argue about Virgin – they're useless – and this may be an unpopular opinion but.. let's not pretend it's just Virgin. As an ex-pat having lived in London for years it's my firm belief that this is just the way business operates in the UK. Thames Water for instance double billed me for a full year. They acknowledged their mistake, told me to pay the invoices anyway to avoid automatic late charges and then refused to refund. First Direct won't let me close my bank account, or transfer my funds unless it's to another UK bank. Black cabs will short change you.. And the constant non-apologies, the "we're sorry if this causes you inconvenience" etc.. no one owns up to their faults and mistakes there. I've sinced moved out, and I'm sorry to high jack your thread, but that article on the fare "whoopsie" just made me cringe – par for the course when it comes to English business, in my experience.

British Rail was privatized between 1994 and 1997. Let's just say that for those of us who ride the rails in the UK, it didn't necessarily make things better. (State subsidies rose, punctuality fell, and ticket prices rose faster than inflation.)


Part of the problem is that the railway tracks were sold off as a unit, the trains/rolling stock that ran on them as several other units, and then a bunch of franchise operations were set up to operate the trains.

Branson has turned Virgin into a branding exercise in recent decades and slapped his logo on a couple of different operator franchises. But he never owned the track and never owned the vehicles, so ...

Network Rail which is an arm's length arm of the Department of Transport, and they own the tracks. [1]

The the passenger service are sold off as franchises, which are are bid for by various companies.

[1] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Network_Rail

Network Rail currently own the tracks, but prior to them was Railtrack, which was a group of privately owned companies. Their negligence in maintaining the railway led to the Hatfield crash in 2000, resulting in re-nationalising essentially all fixed infrastructure that makes up the railways.

More like two billionaires see opportunity to draw from US railway subsidies.

As far as I can tell, passenger rail is subsidized everywhere, not just in the US. But there's not that much passenger rail in the US, and freight isn't subsidized. (Quite the opposite, in fact - freight rail is the only transport mode in the US that pays taxes on its right of way.)

> Virgin Trains USA LLC, operator of a new east-coast Florida passenger express train, hopes to raise about $500 million in an initial public offering in coming weeks that would value the company at about $3 billion. Its line connecting Miami and West Palm Beach is the first major private intercity rail service built in more than a century (it was called Brightline until a recent re-branding).

It looks like the first leg will connect Miami and West Palm Beach. However, the existing Tri-Rail system already does that http://www.tri-rail.com/ . I don't see how another rail system would be viable.

The Miami to Orlando connection does look interesting, but from the article it seems it would be the second phase.

Hmm. My assumption was that Brightline (Virgin Trains USA) would be a lot faster than Tri-Rail for the WPB-Miami run; it's actually about an hour and fifteen minutes compared to around an hour and forty minutes, though, so how big a savings that is depends on how much of a hurry you're in. The Brightline trains and stations are almost certainly nicer, but the fares are much higher: $17 (for the cheapest Brightline one-way ticket) vs. $6.90.

So...yeah. I'm not entirely sure why they aren't targeting a market that isn't served adequately by an existing option, like Miami or Tampa to Orlando.

And that second phase, along with its continuation to Tampa, closing the W-E connection that is sorely needed - might have have benefited from a massive federal subsidy when it really would have helped -- right after the financial crash -- but our then deluded Governer and now deluded Sen Scott preferred his dollars in the Cayman Islands over federal dollars in Florida. EDIT: Inflammation reduction, copy

I recently took the Brightline train between Miami and Fort Lauderdale and was absolutely impressed. It felt as if I had been transported to Europe and aboard a DB train. Staff were professional and competent, stations were bright and clean, and the train was quite fast (in some places). I have an optimistic outlook for their SoCal train.

This is all in stark contrast to my experiences on Amtrak, full of half-caring staff and dirty cars on a train that would be hours behind. I get it, they don't have ROW since they don't own the tracks, but if the long distance trains left stations nearly on time, then they would be able to meet most of the scheduled sidings and pass with ease.

Yeah honestly the fact that Amtrak doesn't run anywhere near "high speed" isn't its biggest problem. Just updating the rolling stock and on-board amenities would be huge.

I can't recommend enough this recent video by youtuber donoteat01, which goes into depth about (everything wrong with) Elon Musk's underground highway system, and then about privately funded "public transportation," including train projects like this, in general.


"Be suspicious of privately owned or funded 'public transportation' projects" is at 23:20

The guy makes a lot of good points about why the Musk's idea (at least as he describes it) doesn't make sense, but the political inserts he does only detract from his point, and shows his own biases and blind spots.

Can they take over Metro North next? Literally anything would be better.

The recent DOT change that allows Euro-style trains [0] makes privatization-driven rail expansion even more exciting....the potential rolling stock just got WAY faster, cheaper, and more energy efficient.

[0]: https://usa.streetsblog.org/2018/11/23/u-s-finally-legalizes...

If the Brightline project can't make this work, then no one can in the US. Florida has a large population, its densest clusters of population lie along a small number of linear corridors, and it attracts many tourists and a fair number of business travelers. It has attractions and busy airports that will be nodes in such a system. It also has ideal rights-of-way mostly unobstructed.

In the northeast there's infrastructure baggage, in the southwest there's unforgiving geography, and in the Midwest there's not a co-linear arrangement of multi-million-population metros, and in the Piedmont there's not a fortunate right-of-way for truly high-speed rail. Texas is the only other place to make this work, and they're trying too.

But the problem is always that construction costs for these kinds of projects are way too high. In Europe, EU-wide transportation funds pay for renovating and building EU-designated corridors. Individual countries subsidize it too -- much like you'd expect with roads. This structural subsidy would be absent here, and US construction costs (including materials and wages) are high as well. This is a significant financial hurdle that neither road-based transport nor air transport has to contend with.

You need the demand to make it worthwhile. It's been a long time since I looked at any city pair traffic estimates, but my recollection is that there's just not enough demand for intra-Florida traffic, compared to such routes as SF-LA, Texas Triangle, NEC, or even Midwest.

One of my favorite railroading business yarns is the opposite of an IPO: the dissolution of the Reading Railroad. When the railroad started to collapse a group of savvy investors bought a controlling share for pennies on the dollar because they realized that the company owned a fortune in real estate and facilities. They then sold off those assets to finance a group of movie theaters in Australia and New Zealand which still exists today.


Put a high speed rail from SF to Tahoe please! I don’t know why this hasn’t happened... so much traffic every weekend all the way to Tahoe. Put in some rail! Even if it was private it would be profitable.

Google: how to short ipo

Everyone hoping that the whims of the ultra-rich will once in a while align with a common good is no way to structure a society.

I agree with you, but looking all along history, the whims of the ultra rich or the ultra powerfully or the ultra influent _have_ structured the world. All this time, the people with the means to shape the world have shaped it. So, maybe, no matter what we do, there is no escaping this. Only maybe filtering the poeple who get the power somehow.

Only in the Anglosphere and only since the Restoration in Britain. One need only look to the English, French and Russian revolutions to see the outsized influence the declasse have had on history.

Not even talking about Prussia/pre-WWI Germany in which the most powerful people were a non elected incredibly poor class of generals and civil servants.

> Not even talking about Prussia/pre-WWI Germany in which the most powerful people were a non elected incredibly poor class of generals and civil servants.

Power manifests itself in many forms, whether it be through money or persuasion or charm or tactical prowess. The point remains, decisions are made by the few for the many. And simply being good as something, does not make you a benevolent force.

That now, we decide the criterion is money as opposed to honor or holiness, is of little importance. They can all be perverted as soon as their utility is obvious.

>Power manifests itself in many forms, whether it be through money or persuasion or charm or tactical prowess. The point remains, decisions are made by the few for the many. And simply being good as something, does not make you a benevolent force.

Tautology is tautological.

Those with power in France in 1798, 1808 and 1818 were using completely different systems of merit. You could not have predicted Napoleon using the old system of power, nor could you have predicted the Bourbon Restoration using the revolutionary system of power.

That hierarchy is used by and large in all organizations is due to the fact we're limited by technology, not an inherit law of nature. The original Soviets (not the USSR) and Catalonian anarchists, had they survived, would have been examples of the many deciding for the many. Depending on how much you believe the literary canon classical Athens was a successful example of that for close to a century.

> Tautology is tautological.

I believe you had a point with this, but it eluded me. Can you explain (at the risk of destroying the joke?)

> The original Soviets (not the USSR) and Catalonian anarchists, had they survived, would have been examples of the many deciding for the many.

But they didn't, and the fact that they did not pushes the balance towards the possibility that this might not be such a practical idea.

I think that hierarchy is not necessarily a law of nature, but is so common one might be excused for thinking it so. If there is some alternative, I can not conceive it in my mind - not at least in a realistic form - and I would be very pleased to have it explained to me.

I think there is some sort of a circular reasoning regarding this, in my mind. I think that in order to have a more egalitarian and self-directed society you need self-directed individuals. And yet,(according to my mental model) these individuals are the result of the society that produces them.

The point your making is that those with power have power. Which is a tautology. The point I'm making is that the qualifications for having power change constantly and unpredictably.

I do not think power being concentrated has anything to do with human nature, just the difficulty in taking action as a group. If you've even been in a meeting with a dozen people roughly of the same standing it takes a long while to decide anything. If this was a revolutionary situation you'd have the authoritarians already taking over the tv and radio stations before you've read the minutes from the last collectivist group meeting.

Even Athens and Rome realized this and would elect or appoint people with extraordinary power in a crisis.

When direct brain communication is invented I doubt we will see single individuals rise to power again.

For how long? Have you seen the elites arising from the revolutions you point out? I wouldn't even dare say that those revolutions were even driven by "common" men, they were at best fooled at worst tricked by the drivers of the revolutions.

> I wouldn't even dare say that those revolutions were even driven by "common" men,

But they were, though not in a good way. One of the easiest-to-spot dynamics in a chaotic "revolution" is extreme violence as huge mobs of "common" folks fight for power and influence, striving to become the new "big men" and "drivers" of the revolution itself. Nobody is being fooled or tricked, other than by perhaps fooling or tricking themselves; there are winners and losers to the struggle, but these are only evident after the fact.

And yet, the "mob" had drivers and men leading it, even when small groups was all there was. Take 5 people and put them in a room and hierarchies will emerge. Not even a singular one, necessarily, but perhaps several hierarchies concerning different facets. But they will emerge.

Reality continues to parody Atlas Shrugged

Maybe so, but please don't post unsubstantive comments here.

Why stop there. Next restore the glory of the horse drawn carriage.

Could you please stop posting unsubstantive comments to Hacker News? You've done it a lot, and we ban accounts that do that.

In addition to https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html, you might find these links helpful for getting an idea of the spirit of this site:





Finally! Do airports next. ;-)

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