You can’t thrive as a nation while New Orleans is drowning…and cities in upstate New York and the Rust Belt are rotting from lack of employment opportunities, and so on. Imagine, instead, an America with rebuilt, healthy, dynamic metropolitan areas, and gleaming new port facilities, and networks of high-speed rail, an America with electric vehicles and a smart grid and energy generated by the power of the sun and wind and water and the ocean’s waves. (“What the Future May Hold”, November 17, 2009)
Bob Herbert of the New York Times has penned several columns about our crumbling infrastructure. How many times can writers like Herbert belabor the point? Not enough.
Eugene Robinson of the WPost: It’s unrealistic to think this disaster is going to spur the nation to seriously address all its infrastructure problems. We’ll talk about the issue for a while, then go out and buy another TV. But we can—and should—at least do a more rigorous inventory and identify the structures that pose the most peril. Yes, it’s boring stuff to even think about. But just look at the alternative. (“Back to Basics”, August 2, 2007)
David Brooks of the NYT: In times like these, the best a sensible leader can do is to take the short-term panic and channel it into a program that is good on its own merits even if it does nothing to stimulate the economy over the next year. That’s why I’m hoping the next president takes the general resolve to spend gobs of money, and channels it into a National Mobility Project, a long-term investment in the country’s infrastructure. (“A National Mobility Project”, October 31, 2008)
Thomas Friedman of the NYT: Look in the mirror: G.M. is us. That’s why we don’t just need a bailout. We need a reboot. We need a build out. We need a buildup. We need a national makeover. That is why the next few months are among the most important in U.S. history. (“Time to Reboot America”, December 23, 2008)
Brooks and Friedman wrote on the eve of the new Administration and the writing of a stimulus bill by Congress. Some small part of the “recovery” package signed by the president was in the spirit of rebooting, as Friedman suggested, but it was too little. The Obama Administration talked in vision terms but didn’t press for vision-scale action by Congress.
At this point–nearly a year into Democratic control of Washington and millions of job losses later–an infrastructure policy is being talked about only in oblique terms, as “Stimulus II” or, by those who are fearful of the spender label, the non-stimulus stimulus. And as helpful as that may be for purposes of creating some jobs it doesn’t substitute for an infrastructure policy.
So shall we primly, safely wait for Federal accounts to come into balance, saying we can’t afford it, while developing and developed nations on other continents propel themselves into economic vitality with steel, wind turbines, and fiber optics? Consider what can be accomplished by putting money–yes, borrowed money–into real, decades-lasting, efficiency-producing, capacity-building, economy-stimulating, pride-inducing public works and critical infrastructure.
For all their faults the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Works Progress Administration of the 1930s strengthened our nation in lasting public works, a strong sense of conservation, and nation-building spirit. As if to prod us into action some of the glorious thirties era infrastructure that has not been well maintained is visibly deteriorating.
Bob Herbert: Consider transportation. As Brookings tells us, “Other nations around the globe have continued to act on the calculus that state-of-the art transportation infrastructure — the connective tissue of a nation — is critical to moving goods, ideas and workers quickly and efficiently. In the United States, however, we seem to have forgotten.”