Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Infrastructure and Spending

Jeffrey at the Yellow Blog rightly points out that the American Society of Civil Engineers has given the cumulative state of American infrastrucutre an "approaching basic" grade. And like the post says:

Failing infrastructure cannot support a thriving economy.

This is one of those fundamental things that Americans don't like to acknowledge. Everyone is wondering why the economy is having such a hard time turning around; then they're wondering why air travel is such a hassle, rail travel doesn't work, gasoline prices change and keep investors skittish, and the streets we drive are cratered with potholes. At the same time our economy bleeds money to traffic, and icy weather shuts down Southern economies unprepared to deal with snow. And that's before we start talking energy grids, levees, and the way we fund all of these projects.

Why is it so difficult to make the connections between the sluggish economy and the state of disrepair? Without working roads, you can't move your goods to market, and people can't get to the market to buy your goods. This should be a simple concept to grasp. But politics and ideologies have taken center stage, ahead of national, regional and local needs. You know all the talk of leaving debt to our children and grandchildren? We ain't leaving them a whole lot of usable stuff, either.

Now, there are a lot of folks out there who think we can grow our way into prosperity, and think spending money on infrastructure is solely the realm of pork-barrell politics. But without the infrastructure to support "growth," we'll never get out of the trough we're in (and have been in for more than a decade). Investments must be made, and we can't let those who equate the idea of sustainable development with Marxism dominate the investment options we have to examine.

Yes, too many past infrastructure projects have been politicized as pork, and used to trade political favors. That needs to stop. Lest we forget, this country has spend billions on "infrastructure" in the past decades, even as everything has fallen apart. Maybe it is time to think about the National Infrastructure Bank, because what we've currently got isn't working.

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11 comments:

dsb said...

Good post by Chait on this issue:

http://www.tnr.com/blog/jonathan-chait/82213/mindlessness-public-investment

patsbrother said...

First, know that I am someone who believes that if the government has to spend money to "stimulate" the economy, please Jeebus let it be spent on some permanent, useful structure that will benefit the public. And I'm also for better roads.

But this:

"Why is it so difficult to make the connections between the sluggish economy and the state of disrepair? Without working roads, you can't move your goods to market, and people can't get to the market to buy your goods."

This is just poppycock.

Our economy did not sour because of poor roads. And our problem is not that Little Red Riding Hood cannot get to Grandma's House. In the past two years, I have heard tell of no major problem with "mov[ing] your goods to market," or with people not being able to get to the market to buy your goods. The problem real people have is that they get their goods to market but no one is buying.

Your post is puffery: an attempt to sell something you want (more money for infrastructure) by talking it up beyond what it is worth. I am your target audience, but I ain't buying this hogwash.

Cousin Pat from Georgia said...

Umm. That's the basic idea, boiled down to its smallest and most simple to understand part. Markets can only exist if goods and customers can reach them. That is the basest case for a government, seeking to grow a market economy, investing in infrastructure.

Furthermore, you think the economy isn't affected by lack of adequate infrastructure? Go back and read the posts, and remember how much money "the markets" lost when Atlanta couldn't get out from underneath ice. Remember how much was lost in New Orleans when the levees couldn't hold back water. Remember how badly our economy shudders when gasoline prices fluctuate, because roads are our primary means of supporting our nation's markets.

Ignore this stuff at your own peril.

Cousin Pat from Georgia said...

DSB: That is a good read, but I think the prior point proves this incorrect...

"Even the most committed libertarian will admit that there's such a thing as public goods. The free market is not going to provide roads and bridges. Almost any libertarian will soon concede that things like scientific research and education create positive externalities that will not be priced into the free market."

Because who needs money for infrastructure because we think it isn't worth very much?

dsb said...

Pat, not sure what you mean. It seems you and Chait are in agreement. What am I missing?

Cousin Pat from Georgia said...

Please see also: Comment by "patsbrother." And usage of the royal "we."

dsb said...

Oh, okay, I get you now. Said brother demonstrates that the "most committed libertarian will admit" is an erroneous assumption. Though it seems your bro is objecting to your linkage of our economic mess and infrastructure rather than the larger point about "public goods" and that he's playing this overstated linkage for all it's worth. Point scored, conversation stalled.

Cousin Pat from Georgia said...

Absolutely.

But I took part of his comment to mean that I am inflating the importance of infrastructure to economics on a macro sense.

Hence, even if the libertarian will admit to there being "public goods," said libertarian will also downplay the importance of those public goods.

patsbrother said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cousin Pat from Georgia said...

No, comment deleting Sprout.

Our infrastrucutre alone did not cause the economic collapse. But our crappy infrastrucutre is impeding the recovery by draining millions in productivity, time and efficiency. The way our infrastructure is set up directly affects the dynamism of our markets and workforce.

That translates to wasted dollars kiddo. Dollars that would be better spent doing something other than sitting in a traffic jam or stuck on an airport runway.

patsbrother said...
This comment has been removed by the author.