The Economics and Patriotism of Infrastructure Jobs Programs
America’s crumbling infrastructure is both a safety hazard and a drag on our economy that is projected to only get worse. If we’re going to tackle the really big challenges of government budgets, deficits, debts, and the economy, then every citizen must understand the realities of what a deteriorating infrastructure means to this country. We then need to demand that our elected leaders stand strong against austerity and, instead, do whatever it takes – including raising taxes on corporations and the wealthy – to improve our infrastructure.
Properly-funded federal and state infrastructure improvement jobs programs would produce immediate and lasting benefits, including but not limited to:
1) Putting large numbers of Americans back to work in good paying middle class jobs which would immediately boost the economy from the bottom up (since trickledown economics has proven to, once again, be an unmitigated and disastrous failure)
2) Making all of us safer and less vulnerable to infrastructure inefficiencies, failures, or acts of terrorism
3) Demonstrating to American companies and to the world a sense of patriotism that includes spending public funds on the infrastructure that is so vital to our economic and commercial success
Putting patriotism and safety issues aside for the moment (although I don’t know why we should), the sheer impact to our economy and our own selfish financial interests are at stake. This is usually motivation enough for most Americans to demand action from our politicians.
I think it ought to be more than just self interest. Americans have become the experts at professing their patriotism at every opportunity. We’re known the world over for our self-proclaimed exceptionalism. It’s why I believe that we ought to be thinking about and talking about funding the repair and expansion of our infrastructure as one of the most truly patriotic things we can do for ourselves and our country.
First, the economics. Math, after all, doesn’t require an emotional investment or belief system. It just is.
The Economics of Infrastructure
In his blog post, “Crumbling Infrastructure Has Real and Enduring Costs,” William A. Galston of the Brookings Institution points out that a study by the American Society of Civil Engineers projects that, “…by 2020, if the mounting investment gap in infrastructure is not addressed, ‘the economy is expected to lose almost $1 trillion in business sales, resulting in a loss of 3.5 million jobs . . . the cumulative cost to the U.S. economy will be more than $3.1 trillion in GDP and $1.1 trillion in total trade.'”
He also tells us that the Building America’s Future Educational Fund report reveals that a lack of a national infrastructure plan puts a serious drag on our economy. The example he cites is “…in 2010, Americans spent a total of 4.8 billion hours stuck in traffic, wasting 1.9 billion gallons of fuel, at a total cost of $101 billion.”
Let these numbers sink in.
$1 trillion – that’s a ‘1’ followed by 12 zeros; $1,000,000,000,000 – in LOST BUSINESS SALES and 3.5 million lost jobs in just 7 years.
$101,000,000,000 wasted sitting in traffic in just one year.
So in addition to patriotism and public safety, do we as Americans really want to waste greater and greater amounts of time, energy, and money sitting in traffic or waiting for delayed flights and trains?
Do you want to waste even more of it in the future?
Do you want American businesses to forego realizing ONE TRILLION DOLLARS in sales between now and 2020?
If not, then ask yourself how or why we ought to buy into Paul Ryan’s thinking that what’s needed most right now is greater austerity.
His budget – which unless I’ve missed it still seems to be the GOP’s position, too – proposes we spend $78 billion, or 25% less, on infrastructure than the White House’s proposed budget of $104 billion per year over the next decade. According to Galston and some think tanks, the White House’s budget is already less than one-half of what’s needed to repair our infrastructure, and yet Ryan would have us believe we need to spend even less.
How does that solve the problem? I simply cannot believe there’s that much waste and, true to form, Ryan still is unwilling or unable to offer any substantive details.
So as far as the economics go, one would think that numbers like the lost sales, lost jobs, trade imbalances, and lost productivity would be enough to rally the public *and* the business community to demand that something be done immediately to repair, improve, and expand our infrastructure. It’s not like there aren’t precedents to follow with proven outcomes. We – meaning the government hiring both workers and outside companies as contractors – have done big infrastructure projects before.
It took courageous leadership in government to get those projects moving. The private sector was and still is the beneficiary of that leadership. Where is it now?
No, You Didn’t Build That
With all due respect and admiration for the courage and creativity of entrepreneurs and captains of industry everywhere, I remind you that, “NO, YOU DID NOT BUILD THAT!”
You just get to benefit from it. The nation’s infrastructure is, without question or doubt, part of the reason for any commercial success and, hence, at least part of the resulting wealth that’s made possible in America for those who want to start, run, and work in the private sector. Trust me; I’m your fan and one of your biggest cheerleaders. I just think it’s time that you and your followers put your copy of Atlas Shrugged down and join the rest of us in the real world.
Business people everywhere – from the titans running multinational corporations to the small business owner on Main Street struggling to compete with Walmart – owe it to themselves and their self respect to please stop this self-indulgent and self-serving love affair with the Randian mythology. It’s tedious and tiresome and, truthfully, a complete fantasy. Where would you be if your workers quit tomorrow, and when was the last time you built a bridge, an airport, or an electrical power station?
To the business people busying themselves complaining endlessly about the government, please stop your childish whining and please start acting like real leaders. You can start by acknowledging that if you’re going to continue to benefit from everything a democratic society has to offer – including infrastructure – then you are going to have to pay for it. That’s how capitalism works, right? Payment for goods and services rendered?
Yes, I know that means higher taxes than the historically low taxes you pay now. The only sympathy you’re going to get are from fellow wealthy individuals and the people you’ve duped into believing in another fantasy – trickle-down economics.
Look, if your business cannot survive an increase in taxes and the closing of loopholes, well then maybe you’re not such a successful business person after all. Don’t feel bad. Lots of people have tried and failed more than once, including yours truly. It’s what makes me your cheerleader. I know how hard it is. We both know that there are no guarantees, but I will say this; never once did tax obligations figure into my thinking or have any impact on my results.
Real entrepreneurs don’t let things like taxes get in their way; they don’t use them as a lame excuse for not trying, nor are they the cause for why one tries and fails. Only someone who has never started a business would believe such a thing.
It’s only in bad novels by Russians with absolutely no economic credentials where real entrepreneurs give up and disappear because they were somehow defeated by government or society.
To the average citizens who rises in Randian defense of all things private and corporate, including infrastructure, I’d like to ask you a few questions.
How well do you feel you understand the profit motive and the demands it places on the business managers to maximize revenues and minimize expenses?
Have you really thought through what it would be like living in a country where every other river crossing or highway exit extracts a toll from us that goes only to a corporation and their shareholders?
If you have thought about it and you do want to see infrastructure privatized, then I would like to hear how and why you believe that the corporation collecting your tolls will forego maximizing profits and, instead, do what’s best for the nation and for the local community once they’ve built their monopolies modeled on Matty Moroun and his Ambassador Bridge?
It all comes down to money, of course, and, like it or not, it takes money to fund a democracy.
So here we are. We’ve arrived at a point in our political and societal evolution where, hyperbole and ignorance of the facts notwithstanding, American corporations, wealthy individuals, and their toadies in the GOP continue to foist upon us their strategy of fear, uncertainty, and doubt – along with unhealthy doses of outright lies – to keep us at bay and living in fear that they’ll abandon our shores if they can’t keep – and even reduce further – their already historically low tax obligations when they do pay any taxes at all. (Yes, I’m looking at you Mitt Romney, GE, and the rest of you uber-rich individuals and corporations paying very little taxes or actually getting tax refunds.)
The message from Big Money America and the GOP is clear: they are completely and utterly devoid of care or concern for this country and its citizens outside the now well-known 2%.
Where’s The Patriotism?
Galston reminds us that we’ve pulled together as a nation under both Democratic and Republican administrations before to do big infrastructure projects. We’ve done what’s been needed before. We can do it again.
A federal (and state) infrastructure program now would put lots of people to work. In addition to safer and more efficient infrastructure, big and bold new projects – hell, even repair and rehabilitation projects – would mean lots of decent paying middle class jobs for Americans. That is exactly what is needed right now to get the economy growing faster and better. What we don’t need and can’t afford is more austerity and more of our fellow citizens left with little choice or opportunity outside of working in retail or the fast food industry.
We need a sense of patriotism.
Federal infrastructure projects are patriotic and need to be talked about as patriotic. They are physical and enduring evidence of the love and devotion we should have to our country and to each other. Our society simply cannot operate without infrastructure, so programs to repair and improve it is service to our country, isn’t it?
Since the days of the Erie Canal, infrastructure projects have proven to deliver huge economic and societal benefits both at the time they are undertaken and for generations to come. We Americans need to remember this every time we merge onto an interstate, get on a train, board an airplane, turn on our lights, or buy bananas in January. None of that is possible without infrastructure, and that infrastructure was built by Americans for Americans.
Our roads, airports, railways, and sea ports have become too small, too old, and crumbling too quickly after decades of use for us to stand by and let it happen. They’re more and more unsafe and, for all the true capitalists out there, it’s a drag on our economic vitality and growth that will only get worse unless we do something about it.
And when it comes to defining what it means to be an American, letting our infrastructure deteriorate turns us into a second-rate first-world nation. It’s an embarrassment and a shame on all of us. We’re always making lots of noise about being number 1. I don’t know about you, but I never hear any Americans proudly proclaiming, “We’re #33!”
It’s time to show some real patriotism outside of military excursions. It’s time for Americans to rally together to demand that our elected officials put us to work fixing and rebuilding America’s infrastructure.
It’s good for us citizens. It’s good for business. It’s good for America.
Sounds like patriotism to me.
(1) Galston, W. (2013, January 23). Crumbling Infrastructure Has Real and Enduring Costs. http://www.brookings.edu/blogs/up-front/posts/2013/01/23-crumbling-infrastructure-galston?cid=em_alert012813
(2) Plumer, B. (2012, March 30). What Paul Ryan’s budget actually cuts – and by how much. http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/post/what-paul-ryans-budget-actually-cuts–and-by-how-much/2012/03/20/gIQAL43vPS_blog.html
(3) Berfield, S. (2012, May 3). Matty Mouron, Detroit’s Border Baron. http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2012-05-03/matty-moroun-detroits-border-baron