Monday, February 11, 2013

Step Right Up and Get Your Shiny New Infrastructure

Steel Mill in Bethlehem, PA, photo by S Supak

What part of buy low don't you "conservatives" get? Invest now, while it's cheap! Borrow at real negative interest, and you pay less than tax and spend later. Hire unemployed workers now and you don't crowd out private construction later. Stimulate growth now, increased revenues lower deficits later. Duh.

It comes as we may be approaching the end of a five year period in which investing in the nation’s physical infrastructure has been something close to a free lunch. With interest rates near all-time lows and millions of construction workers unemployed, the last few years have been a time that it would have been a historical bargain for the United States to do upgrades to roads, bridges, and airports that will eventually need to take place anyway. It has been a political breakdown—in particular conservatives’ view of almost any non-defense federal spending as wasteful—standing in the way.

The American Society of Civil Engineers says we need to spend $2.2 trillion over 5 years to fix what's falling apart. Whole city blocks have exploded from leaking gas mains. Bridges have collapsed and killed people. One third of all traffic fatalities involve poor road conditions. If terrorists were killing as many people as our decrepit infrastructure is, how Keynesian would you "conservatives" get on defense spending?

And just look what we can fix with the money (from the ASCE):

Americans spend 4.2 billion hours a year stuck in traffic at a cost of $78.2 billion a year--$710 per motorist. Roadway conditions are a significant factor in about one-third of traffic fatalities. Poor road conditions cost U.S. motorists $67 billion a year in repairs and operating costs--$333 per motorist; 33% of America's major roads are in poor or mediocre condition and 36% of the nation's major urban highways are congested. The current spending level of $70.3 billion for highway capital improvements is well below the estimated $186 billion needed annually to substantially improve the nation's highways.

Neil Irwin goes on in his post to Ezra Klein's blog to mention the politics of it. Seems Republicans are concerned we'll just use their money to build bridges to nowhere. Interestingly, the President's JOBS bill, up on Capital Hill, has funding to start an infrastructure bank, a bi-partisan idea that eliminates a lot of the politics from infrastructure investment, to avoid just such a thing. But maybe the "conservatives" have forgotten that they once liked that idea?

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