Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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October 11, 2010

WHEN A PROBLEM AND A SOLUTION MATCH UP NICELY.... It's one of those situations that's so blindingly obvious, it can be frustrating to even talk about.

On the one hand, we have crumbling American infrastructure, with a very strong need for major road, rail, and airport improvements. On the other, we have massive unemployment in the construction industry. Hey, one might think, why don't we hire workers in need of a job to do infrastructure work, which in turn would improve the economy, boost public safety, help the environment, and improve American competitiveness?

With this in mind, after meeting with members of his cabinet, a bipartisan group of former secretaries of Transportation, mayors, and governors, President Obama spoke this morning on the need for infrastructure investment. First, on the seriousness of the problem...

"For years, we have deferred tough decisions, and today, our aging system of highways and byways, air routes and rail lines hinder our economic growth. Today, the average American household is forced to spend more on transportation each year than food. Our roads, clogged with traffic, cost us $80 billion a year in lost productivity and wasted fuel. Our airports, choked with passengers, cost nearly $10 billion a year in productivity losses from flight delays. And in some cases, our crumbling infrastructure costs American lives. It should not take another collapsing bridge or failing levee to shock us into action.

"So we're already paying for our failure to act. And what's more, the longer our infrastructure erodes, the deeper our competitive edge erodes. Other nations know this. They are going all-in. Today, as a percentage of GDP, we invest less than half what Russia does in their infrastructure, less than one-third what Western Europe does. Right now, China's building hundreds of thousands of miles of new roads. Over the next 10 years, it plans to build dozens of new airports. Over the next 20, it could build as many as 170 new mass transit systems. Everywhere else they are thinking big. They are creating jobs today but they are also playing to win tomorrow. So the bottom line is our long shortsightedness has come due. And we can no longer afford to sit still."

...and then on the sensible solution.

"By investing in these projects, we've already created hundreds of thousands of jobs. But the fact remains that nearly one in five construction workers is still unemployed and needs a job. And that makes absolutely no sense at a time when there is so much of America that needs rebuilding.

"That's why, last month, I announced a new plan for upgrading America's roads, rails and runways for the long-term. Over the next six years, we will rebuild 150,000 miles of our roads - enough to circle the world six times. We will lay and maintain 4,000 miles of our railways - enough to stretch coast-to-coast. And we will restore 150 miles of runways and advance a next generation air-traffic control system that reduces delays for the American people.

"This plan will be fully paid for, and will not add to our deficit over time -- we are going to work with Congress to see to that. We are going to establish an Infrastructure Bank to leverage federal dollars and focus on the smartest investments. We want to cut waste and bureaucracy by consolidating and collapsing more than 100 different, often duplicative programs. And it will change the way Washington works by reforming the federal government's patchwork approach to funding and maintaining our infrastructure. We've got to focus less on wasteful earmarks and outdated formulas, we've got to focus more on competition and innovation. Less on shortsighted political priorities -- and more on national economic ones."

It's only fair to note that the president's proposal should probably go even further -- his infrastructure plan has real merit, but it's also fairly modest given what's possible and what's needed.

Still, Obama's vision is solid, and his willingness to focus attention on this is heartening. We have an obvious problem -- weak economy, crumbling infrastructure, unemployed construction workers -- with an equally obvious solution.

Remember, the price of raw materials is incredibly low right now. Bang for our buck, there hasn't been an opportunity like this one -- stretching our infrastructure dollars very far -- in a long time. We can do an enormous amount of good on the cheap.

So what's the problem? Congress is broken, "spending" is somehow perceived as "bad," and desperately needed infrastructure investments probably won't happen because Republicans won't let it.

Steve Benen 12:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (14)

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Comments

The problem: Fat + Stupid = ?

Steve: So what's the problem? Congress is broken, "spending" is somehow perceived as "bad," and desperately needed infrastructure investments probably won't happen because Republicans won't let it.

You forgot to add:
•We either don't care about, or deny, global warming...
•It appears to be accepted that Fed gov. (not sinusoidal capitalism itself) is the cause of unemployment...
•And this little insight about your country men:

“Obesity is a public health crisis. If the rate of obesity and overweight continues at this pace, by 2015, 75 percent of adults and nearly 24 percent of U.S. children and adolescents will be overweight or obese.”

Now let me put all that together...
The answer to today's problem: Fat + Stupid = Decaying empire

Posted by: koreyel on October 11, 2010 at 12:59 PM | PERMALINK

Can't these congresspeople be bribed? Infrastructure money for their districts/states?

I no longer care if they build a bridge to nowhere as long as someone is building something somewhere.

Posted by: Dan on October 11, 2010 at 1:00 PM | PERMALINK

This issue does not affect the oligarchy. They will continue to fight against every penny targeted to infrastructure improvements.

This is because the only infrastructure the oligarchy cares for is that between their palatial estates and the tarmac.

In some cases they do not even have to set foot in plebeian-land at all--they can sneer at the hordes from the comfort of their Sikorskys shuttling them between oases of comfort and security.

It does not affect them; thus, they will continue to fight against every penny targeted to infrastructure improvements.

Posted by: terraformer on October 11, 2010 at 1:03 PM | PERMALINK

Heck, just fixing old sewers and water supply systems would be both long overdue and expensive enough to constitute a major stimulus.

Posted by: N.Wells on October 11, 2010 at 1:05 PM | PERMALINK

Unfortunately, it helps GOPers politically if unemployment remains high in their districts. Why would they want to bring programs home that actually create jobs? They need to keep sizeable portions of the population angry and confused in order to win congressional seats.

Posted by: cb on October 11, 2010 at 1:07 PM | PERMALINK

Why wasn't this meeting held a year or more ago. Just another example of Obama being far behind in his perception of what needs to be emphasized to the American public. Unfortunately, it's too late now. Adios Democrats.

Posted by: R. Francis on October 11, 2010 at 1:11 PM | PERMALINK

Also part of the problem: entities like the Chamber of Commerce taking money from foreign countries and running ads against Democrats, countries that don't want to see Americans getting jobs or money going to pay for jobs in America, because they have lots of what used to be "our" jobs and they want to keep them.

Posted by: SF on October 11, 2010 at 1:27 PM | PERMALINK

The one-two punch is this. Republicans consider government spending to always be bad AND they consider taxes on the rich to be "punishment." It's hard to argue with logic like that.

Meanwhile, there's a lot of talk about bullies these days. It surprises me that no one has made the obvious step here with the bullying tactics of the Republican party. They've shut down congress. They're ridiculing the Democrats for not fixing the economy in a fraction of the time it took them to destroy it. Meanwhile, they've frozen every legitimate tactic that could possibly save the economy.

They have no interest at all in solving the problems we all face. Instead they are content to hold the entire country hostage until they're in a good position to start demanding our lunch money again.

Posted by: chrenson on October 11, 2010 at 1:32 PM | PERMALINK

God, I wish the Obama adminstration would can all the "deficit neutral" bullshit. WE CAN'T AFFORD TO BE DEFICIT NEUTRAL.

$50 billion for infrastructure is a fucking bad joke. Try adding a zero to that and you're beginning to get to the minimum amount required to do any substantive infrastructure repair.

If you want to get a lot of people back to work quickly, you're going to need a HELL of a lot more than $50 billion.

Posted by: bdop4 on October 11, 2010 at 1:51 PM | PERMALINK

Deficit neutral?!! You mean Obama's opening proposal was his compromise position, so he has been negotiating with himself again? Sheesh. He has to be the worst negotiator on the planet.

Posted by: jeri on October 11, 2010 at 2:01 PM | PERMALINK

-I know where we can get 2 billion dollars a WEEK. . .

Posted by: DAY on October 11, 2010 at 2:18 PM | PERMALINK

8 billion a year investment in infrastructure -- talk about small ball. Oh, and it isn't a stimulus since it is all "paid for" (I haven't read the proposal to determine that there isn't any time shifting in the 'paid for' but even if...)

What a massive FAIL in messaging -- Krugman is right. "Hey small spender..." => 10% unemployment in November.

And Obama isn't even setting up for a fight after the election.

Posted by: grooft on October 11, 2010 at 2:26 PM | PERMALINK

The latest reports I've read is that the Army Corp of Engineers estimates we need $2 TRILLION in infrastructure expenditures. I applaud President Obama for addressing the issue, and it is a telling sign of Republican anti-Americanism that we can't even get $50 billion passed.

Posted by: JWK on October 11, 2010 at 3:16 PM | PERMALINK

At the risk of urinating in the public works fountain, I'm okay with infrastructure spending except for roadways. Why roadways, because all roadway damage, not some of it, all of it, is caused by heavy trucks and I see no reason to subsidize that industry. If you think I'm overstating this, google can be your friend. Private automobiles do not break down roadbeds, trucks do. Damage is based upon the weight per axle to the fifth power. No one talks about this because, "math is hard."

Cheers,

Alan Tomlinson

Posted by: Alan Tomlinson on October 11, 2010 at 3:57 PM | PERMALINK
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