Last Exit: Privatization and Deregulation of the U.S. Transportation System

Brookings Institution Press
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In Last Exit Clifford Winston reminds us that transportation services and infrastructure in the United States were originally introduced by private firms. The case for subsequent public ownership and management of the system was weak, in his view, and here he assesses the case for privatization and deregulation to greatly improve Americans' satisfaction with their transportation systems.
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About the author

Clifford Winston is a senior fellow in Economic Studies at the Brookings Institution. His previous books include Aviation Infrastructure Performance and Government Failure versus Market Failure, both published by Brookings.

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Additional Information

Publisher
Brookings Institution Press
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Published on
Sep 1, 2010
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Pages
188
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ISBN
9780815704768
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Language
English
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Genres
Business & Economics / General
Business & Economics / Industries / Transportation
Transportation / Public Transportation
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Steven Morrison
Since the enactment of the Airline Deregulation Act in 1978, questions that had been at the heart of the ongoing debate about the industry for eighty years gained a new intensity: Is there enough competition among airlines to ensure that passengers do not pay excessive fares? Can an unregulated airline industry be profitable? Is air travel safe?

While economic regulation provided a certain stability for both passengers and the industry, deregulation changed everything. A new fare structure emerged; travelers faced a variety of fares and travel restrictions; and the offerings changed frequently. In the last fifteen years, the airline industry's earnings have fluctuated wildly. New carriers entered the industry, but several declared bankruptcy, and Eastern, Pan Am, and Midway were liquidated. As financial pressures mounted, fears have arisen that air safety is being compromised by carriers who cut costs by skimping on maintenance and hiring inexperienced pilots. Deregulation itself became an issue with many critics calling for a return to some form of regulation.

In this book, Steven A. Morrison and Clifford Winston assert that all too often public discussion of the issues of airline competition, profitability, and safety take place without a firm understanding of the facts. The policy recommendations that emerge frequently ignore the long-run evolution of the industry and its capacity to solve its own problems. This book provides a comprehensive profile of the industry as it has evolved, both before and since deregulation. The authors identify the problems the industry faces, assess their severity and their underlying causes, and indicate whether government policy can play an effective role in improving performance. They also develop a basis for understanding the industry's evolution and how the industry will eventually adapt to the unregulated economic environment.

Morrison and Winston maintain that although the airline industry has not reached long-run equilibrium, its evolution is proceeding in a positive direction—one that will preserve and possibly enhance the benefits of deregulation to travelers and carriers. They conclude that the federal government's primary policy objective should be to expand the benefits from unregulated market forces to international travel.

Brookings Review article also available

Jose A. Gomez-Ibanez
Clifford Winston
Not many Americans think of the legal profession as a monopoly, but it is. Abraham Lincoln, who practiced law for nearly twenty-five years, would likely not have been allowed to practice today. Without a law degree from an American Bar Association–sanctioned institution, a would-be lawyer is allowed to practice law in only a few states. ABA regulations also prevent even licensed lawyers who work for firms that are not owned and managed by lawyers from providing legal services. At the same time, a slate of government policies has increased the demand for lawyers' services. Basic economics suggests that those entry barriers and restrictions combined with government-induced demand for lawyers will continue to drive the price of legal services even higher.

Clifford Winston, Robert Crandall, and Vikram Maheshri argue that these increased costs cannot be economically justified. They create significant social costs, hamper innovation, misallocate the nation's labor resources, and create socially perverse incentives. In the end, attorneys support inefficient policies that preserve and enhance their own wealth, to the detriment of the general population.

To fix this situation, the authors propose a novel solution: deregulation of the legal profession. Lowering the barriers to entry will force lawyers to compete more intensely with each other and to face competition from nonlawyers and firms that are not owned and managed by lawyers. The book provides a much-needed analysis of why legal costs are so high and how they can be reduced without sacrificing the quality of legal services.

Clifford Winston
Urban transportation problems abound across America, including jammed highways during rush-hours, deteriorating bus service, and strong pressures to build new rail systems. Most solutions attempt either to increase transportation capacity (by building more roads and expanding mass transit) or to manage existing capacity (through HOV restrictions, exclusive bus lanes, and employer-based policies such as flexible work hours). This book develops an alternative solution to urban transportation problems based on economic analysis, but well aware of the political constraints on policymakers. The authors estimate that efficient pricing and service policies could save more than $10 billion in annual net benefits over current practices, but argue that powerful, entrenched political and institutional forces will continue to thwart efficient economic solutions to improve urban transportation. They believe, however, that some form of privatization would likely improve social welfare more than an efficient public sector system. Facing fewer operating restrictions, greater economic incentives, and stronger competitive pressures, private suppliers could substantially improve the efficiency of urban operations and offer services that are more responsive to the needs of all types of travelers. The authors conclude that policymakers have bestowed huge benefits on the public by allowing the private sector to play a leading and unencumbered role in the provision of intercity transportation. Public officials should take the next step and allow the private sector to play a leading role in the provision of urban transportation.
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