"Bad editors" #2: anti-Amtrak column in the Dallas Morning News
Graphic on airline industry profitability from a GAO report.
In a recent business section column, Scott Burns, a Dallas area syndicated business columnist whose column also runs in the Dallas Morning News took the opportunity to lambast Amtrak, the national passenger railroad system for being unprofitable and an example of failure generally and of federal government involvement in "business", and used as the counter-example of success, the track record of profitability of Southwest Airlines to show the superior power of private investment. See "Amtrak vs. Dallas-based Southwest: a case for capitalism."
There are many problems with the logical arguments expressed in the article, key being that railroad passenger service isn't on a level playing field compared to other forms of transportation. ... not unlike how difficult it is for new energy technologies and applications to compete against gasoline and natural gas (even coal is losing out to natural gas for electricity generation, see "Railroad coal traffic update: Domestic volumes are down, but demand for export coal is up" from Progressive Railroading).
But the biggest joke of the piece is that he uses one of the only examples of a profitable airline that exists, Southwest Airlines, while failing to mention that for most of the existence of the airline travel business, it's been wholly unprofitable--collectively companies have lost more than $60 billion just in the past 10 years. Overall losses since the industry began are in the hundreds of billions of dollars.
Ironically, almost to the day that the DMN piece ran, the New York Times had an article about the airline industry, "The problems of starting an airline," and the difficulty, low margins, and barriers to success, but how the "romance" of the field continues to attract new entrants.
And while it makes sense for a Dallas newspaper column to use a Dallas-based company, Southwest Airlines, as an example, the columnist could have used other Texas examples, such as American Airlines, also based in Dallas, and in bankruptcy (this company also created the computer systems for airlines reservations that we benefit from today--it was one of the first massive computer applications ever created), and Continental Airlines, once based in Houston, which went through multiple bankruptcies before merging into
That kind of selective picking of examples and data is the kind of argumentation I used to employ when writing a paper as a high school junior or senior, but I learned in college that such selectivity was much more likely to "earn" poor grades because it was manipulative and incomplete.
Were I the business editor of the Dallas Morning News, I'd have passed on running that column, even though it used a local example.