Saturday, March 12, 2011

It Should Be All About Infrastructure

One of my very good friends who is a conservative, and worked in the Bush administration, generally agrees with me on the issue of our need for infrastructure spending.  When I first realized that we were in agreement there, I was genuinely surprised.  I still marvel at the things that we did in terms of infrastructure as a nation, from the Erie Canal, to the transcontinental railroad, to the various programs of the New Deal.  That type of investment propelled the nation into superpower status, and we should be proud of our achievements.

That the word infrastructure has now become something to deride amazes me.  Fuck a tax break for rich people, we need our infrastructure shored up and expanded.  My central problem with the stimulus package was that it did not do nearly what it needed to do in the area of infrastructure repair or innovation.  Instead, a third of package went to tax breaks (you would think that they were anointed by Jesus, the way folks talk about them) that weren't really needed, and the rest seemed more nebulous.  Though many credit (including some Republicans, begrudgingly) the package for delaying the pain felt by the states.

I've long felt that infrastructure, like historic preservation, should be one of those issues where partisanship is rather low (there will always be partisanship).  The goal should be to get solid and lasting results, like we saw coming out of the New Deal era, in a cost effective way.  For example, I agree with The Atlantic's Megan McArdle (something I don't often find myself saying) regarding the whole high speed rail discussion, in that I am not sure that just doing short distance high speed rail projects (for example) are really worth the money.  Now if we were talking a DC to San Francisco high speed rail line with stops in Pittsburgh, Chicago, St. Louis, Denver and SF, then folks might be a little more interested in talking about the overall cost analyses.

I am raising all of this, because in the midst of the horror experienced by Japan on Friday, the world is getting a chance to see how effective infrastructure investments can pay off.  Now, Japan's infrastructure has been shaken to its core, literally.  But how many thousands of lives were saved because of that spending, that attention to detail.  There is no question in my mind that we aren't even close to being as prepared as Japan was for such an event.  And it hurts me, as an American, to be able to say that. 

In spite of what we've heard, investing in our infrastructure can indeed help the economy.  Isn't that what we are arguing, to a degree (along with stability), for Afghanistan and Iraq?  It isn't as though we are incapable of doing the same here.  I still get mad when I think Rep. Eric Cantor's dig at repairing the National Mall.  Tell that to the working class folks who would have gotten those checks, even for a short while.  And we would have had the nation's front yard presentable once again.  But that dig, among many toward that project, helped to push spineless Democrats into abandoning those repairs.  That sounded like a win-win at the time, but it was just another missed opportunity in the end.

Do we need an earthquake like the one in Japan to wake us up?  Or do we need another highway collapse like the one in Minneapolis back in 2007?  How many infrastructure projects could we have funded with the estimated $9 billion unaccounted for in Iraq?  How many infrastructure projects could we have funded with the alleged billions unaccounted for in Afghanistan?  What will it take, finally, for our nation to focus on repairing what we have, and beginning to build a 21st century infrastructure?

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