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Hyperloop: Get Out of the Way!

Hyperloop: Get Out of the Way!

4 Mins
August 13, 2013

It's hard for an Objectivist not to be fan of Elon Musk .

The co-founder of PayPal and the principal entrepreneur and CEO driving Tesla Motors and SpaceX , Musk has dedicated his life to seeking new and better ways of creating value in industries that shape our basic way of life (banking, energy, and transport). On August 12, Musk announced the details of a new brainchild: a vehicle-in-tube system he calls “Hyperloop.”

Read the details of “Hyperloop” here . This is a serious engineering concept based in known technologies and developed with an eye to economic efficiency: how to do something we need much more cheaply, much faster, and much more conveniently.

“Hyperloop” is a design for a vehicle system that would travel at maximum speeds around 760mph (this is fast, but sub-sonic). For medium distances like LA to San Francisco, it would be cheaper and safer than any other mode of transport. Basically, the idea is to send capsules containing 28-40 people through a tube in which the air pressure is like that at 150,000 feet (so that fast travel encounters little air resistance). Relatively simple electric propulsion and air pumps make the system work, and the tube system is just steel and concrete. (It's not worth doing for much longer distances, because the tube itself is by far the most expensive component.)

Musk says a system linking LA and San Francisco can be built for around $6 billion all in (compare this to California's current plan to build a lower-capacity “high speed rail” system for around $70 Billion). Musk's plan would send people (or cars or cargo) from LA to San Francisco in 35 minutes for around $20-$30 per person one way (California's rail plan projects 2 hours and 38 minutes and an unsubsidized one-way ticket cost of $105, which is slower and more expensive than air travel).

Musk's “Hyperloop” shows what is great about America and the modern world, and it shows what is very, very wrong with our society, too

Musk has floated this concept as if it were an open-source software development project. Perhaps this is the first stage of a new business venture. But my guess is that he's done this because it goes without saying that only the government can make such a project happen.

But why should that be? It can't be a financial issue. Multi-billion dollar projects are funded frequently in ship-building, automobile manufacturing, semi-conductor fabrication, mining, and petrochemicals. “Hyperloop” is an idea for an essentially private transportation system. Any case about funding it should be for private capital to consider, not California pols and paper-pushers. But the truth is, the pols and paper pushers control the permissions and regulations any big new project must have. The pols and the paper pushers think of transortation infrastructure as their business, and only theirs.

“Hyperloop” shows us what could be possible if the government would just get out of the way. Government should focus on providing the basic legal framework in which great business ideas can thrive. It should do only what only government can do .

Ayn Rand showed how it should be in Atlas Shrugged. In Atlas, when Dagny Taggart and Hank Rearden plan to revolutionize rail transport with Rearden's new metal, they don't try to create a social consensus and convince the President to support it. Instead, Taggart goes to private investors for the funds. The result is the John Galt Line. The “hyperloop” could and should be essentially the same, created by private brilliance, for the use of private individuals, Its funding and organization should be private, too.

Musk's idea should be a wake-up call to America: how many other aspects of life, now in government hands, are doomed to the least-best technologies and practices?  


Critical discussion of the "Hyperloop" idea.

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