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Improving the Measure of Economic Progress in the US

I applaud the concept described in the Opinion page article "Needed: a Score Card on National Growth," May 3, of reflecting in the gross domestic product (GDP) changes in the quality of the nation's natural and social environment. However, the author makes clear she has definite ideas on what constitutes progress in these areas. When self-appointed experts set the value of economic goods, the result is at best economic measurement rendered useless by the biases of the measurers, and at worst economic col lapse.

If the author's goal is improving measurement of economic progress rather than pushing her political agenda, she would work toward creating markets for environmental and social goods. This would automatically bring these commodities into the GDP, while insulating this important economic statistic from the political whims of government economists.

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The Bush administration took a step in this direction by creating a market for pollution permits among major air polluters. This concept should be extended as rapidly as possible to other areas where the GDP does not account for the environmental and social costs of economic activities. Eric J. Klieber, Cleveland Heights, Ohio Get high-tech with railroads

While deficit reduction and economic stimulation are urgent, it is important that this is done in a way that does not hinder the solution of other serious problems. Many of these are both transportation and environment-related.

The principal causes of air pollution are our overdependence on fuel-inefficient and environmentally destructive air and highway transportation, while ignoring fuel-efficient and environmentally benign railroads; our dependence on imported oil, with its accompanying war risk; the cash outflow to pay for this oil, which is only aggravated by building more roads; and the cost in money and in environmental damage of constructing more roads and airports.

For years, our transportation policy has promoted air and highway transportation and ignored railroads. This policy must be reversed to get as much passenger and freight traffic as possible back to the railroads. Railroads should be treated like roads; roads do not make a profit and are not expected to, and railroads should be treated the same way. Amtrak must have a dedicated source of capital funding, as do the roads, to avoid the annual need to beg Congress for money to survive another year. An approp riate source of funding would be 1 cent of the federal gasoline tax, dedicated to Amtrak. This is not unfair to road users because it would reduce congestion without requiring construction of more roads.

We must develop high-speed rail passenger service but must keep the rail network intact and not break it up into isolated corridors. The high-speed trains must be like the French TGV or the Swedish X-2000 trains. We must not waste money on magnetic levitation, which is an entirely different technology. John J. Bowman, Lancaster, Pa. Don't forget farmers

Thank you for the Points of the Compass article "No Stoplights, Lots of Pluck," April 14, about farming in Manlius, Ill. It is seldom when the nonfarm press carries coverage about issues farmers face. Since our vast urban population takes quality food for granted and seldom has the chance to touch the good earth, information that helps consumers realize the human cost of providing this food is welcome.

I have not been to Illinois, but what struck me is the similar conditions between the Manlius grain farmers and the small New Hampshire and Vermont dairy farmers with whom I work. Barbara B. Tiews, Lancaster, N.H.