Welcome to the first Russian doll Ethics Alarms post, in which a series of essentially identical essays are nested to shout out a truth that hasn’t changed in decades. That truth is that the infrastructure of the United States is getting progressively worse.
Sub-truths nested in that one include these:
- This was an urgent crisis 40 years ago, and has only been getting worse since.
- Both parties and all Presidents since—Nixon? Johnson?—are equally responsible, because they all participated in “kicking the can” down the rotting road for political gain. This was and is political cowardice. Maintaining the infrastructure is one basic function of government, like national defense and law enforcement, that both Big Government and limited government advocates can agree on. However, since infrastructure rot is only a headline matter when bridges collapse, airliners crash or sewer pipes burst spreading disease and death, it’s a long term expense with benefits that the public won’t see immediately, if at all. Their grandchildren, however, will have better lives.
- Politicians prefer short-term benefits, like sending checks directly to potential voters (and favored interest groups) under the fantasy of “economic stimulus.” This is a bi-partisan breach of duty and ethics.
- As with everything else, the news media is stunningly incompetent in explaining the facts. I just heard two Fox News talking empty-heads arguing about whether sewer and water pipes were “infrastructure.” This is because much of the partisan attacks on Biden’s proposal has focused on the relatively small proportion of the financial requirements that will pay for “roads and bridges.'” Of course sewer and water pipes are infrastructure, and indeed among the most dangerous parts of a nation’s infrastructure to let deteriorate, as ours have in too many major cities to count. You people (Dana Perino and Bill Hemmer in this case) are incompetent idiots, and should be working at a 7-11. Also included in the “infrastructure,” in case you care: canals, airports, railways, public transportation, barges, ferries, waterways, traffic signals, the power grid, and more. You are making the public even more ignorant than they already are. You’re a disgrace. I hate you.
- Jobs are not infrastructure, but to listen to the advocates of renewal, you would think that creating jobs is the main reason to undertake the effort. This is disinformation, and also unforgivable.
- A rotting infrastructure hurts the economy in thousands of incremental, sinister, unavoidable ways, making goods more expensive, people poorer, limiting economic growth, and yes, costing jobs, with all of these effects getting worse over time.
- No, the nation can’t afford to do what needs to be done–which is what will lead to national disaster if it is not done. That is because we have allowed the national debt to reach the red zone, and again, both parties are to blame, Republicans for irresponsible tax cuts, and Democrats for creating out-of-control social programs. However, whether we can afford it or not, we have to do it, spend the money, raise the taxes, be responsible…or we are dooming the nation. That is the situation cowardly, incompetent, venal and dishonest leadership has created.
- I see little hope that President Biden’s efforts are any more serious or that they will be any more successful than the proposals that have gone before. It is true that even some infrastructure repair is better than none, but Democrats and progressives have painted themselves, and the nation, into a corner.
For example, the Biden administration has blocked a major highway expansion in Houston, Texas, claiming that the project is racially discriminatory and harmful to the environment. The state was about to begin a proposed widening of certain sections of Interstate 45 that has been years in planning when the Department of Transportation invoked the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to temporarily shut it down pending further review, Politico reported.
The department’s intervention is supposedly a “test case” for Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, has claimed “racial injustice” in highway construction and vowed to make “righting these wrongs an imperative” under his leadership. Local activists say that the highway expansion would disproportionately harm black and Hispanic communities by displacing more than 1,000 homes, hundreds of businesses, five houses of worship, and two schools along the stretch of highway.
If race, class and the environment are going to be the priorities, then essential infrastructure maintenance is impossible. It is that simple.
[President Trump] has proposed an infrastructure upgrade, more or less. I don’t care about the numbers: whatever it is, it’s not enough. It is, however, something, and infrastructure renewal is a national emergency, indeed a crisis, that should not be derailed by partisan bickering and gamesmanship. Will it further exacerbate the ballooning debt? Yes. Unlike much of the spending that has dug the nation a deeper hole than it is likely to ever escape, however, infrastructure is not discretionary spending.
Jonah Goldberg just issued a mind-meltingly ignorant and dishonest column for the Los Angeles Times titled “Is American infrastructure crumbling? Hardly.”
Shame on him. This is Trump Hate as national suicide. Our infrastructure has been crumbling for decades, with each year of neglect guaranteeing bigger expenses and hidden burdens on the economy, not to mention that cholera outbreaks when the sewage pipes and water pipes start breaking coast to coast.
I’ve been writing about this unethical nightmare of irresponsible leadership and government for years, here and elsewhere. Nothing has changed. Where necessary, as you read these excerpts from 2010 and 2011, just change the name of the President or the parties. The situation hasn’t changed, other than getting worse.
Any pundit, politician or journalist who claims that spending to repair the crumbling—yes, that’s the right word—infrastructure is not an urgent, existentialist bi-partisan priority is either a liar or a fool.
In the early Eighties, I oversaw and edited an independent study funded by the Highway Users Federation and the National Chamber Foundation called “Transport Tomorrow,” exploring the immediate need for transportation infrastructure repair and expansion in all modes of transportation: roads, railway, waterway, and airports. In the process of learning how dire the need for massive construction and repair was if America’s future commercial needs were to be met, the study commission made a disturbing discovery: urban water and sewer systems were crumbling too. There was literally not enough money to fix all the roads, bridges, tunnels, water mains and sewer pipes that had to be fixed, and the consequences of not doing so would be economic paralysis and worse, disease and even social unrest.
In the face of this looming and undeniably real disaster, the Reagan Administration did—pretty much nothing. Neither did the Bush, Clinton and Bush II administrations, and even the Chamber of Commerce failed to make infrastructure repair one of its key issues. Oh, there were new projects, of course, and when a major bridge started to dump cars into rivers it was repaired. Holes were patched, pipes were replaced here and there. But the full-fledged commitment to the unsexy and incredibly expensive job of keeping the infrastructure sufficient to meet the needs of the nation, and protecting it from the ravages of use and time was deferred, and deferred, and deferred. Something was always more important: wars…tax cuts…the environment…health care. The Obama Administration is following this irresponsible pattern, except it has combined with the profligacy of the Bush Administration to push the Federal deficit into unprecedented dangerous territory. New taxes on just about everybody and everything are going to be needed to stave off financial ruin, and there will be little political will to spend any of the income on something as mundane, but crucial, as sewers.
The problem, however, has become infinitely worse since 1983, when “Transport Tomorrow” was released, and then as now, the attitude of our elected leaders is to let the next guy deal with the problem. Is this responsible? No. Is it cowardly? Yes. Is it a blatant, intentional and knowing distortion of priorities that will threaten American prosperity, jobs, and lives? Absolutely….
Yesterday, a massive water main rupture shut down part of the Washington area Beltway, tying up traffic and swamping cars. From the Associated Press story:
“At one point, water from the broken main shot eight or nine feet in the air, said Lyn Riggins, a spokeswoman for the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission. There was significant damage to the office park, with chunks of asphalt strewn across the parking lot, building windows shattered and three cars filled with water.
“It looks like somewhere where you would go white water rafting,” Riggins said.”
Advance reports discussing President Obama’s State of the Union message tonight note that he will be talking about, among other things, investing the nation’s resources on infrastructure renewal: roads, sewers, bridges and more. Already, Republican budget hawks and the conservative talk shows are mocking this as simply a euphemism for more “out of control spending.”
Addressing this country’s dangerously decrepit infrastructure will be expensive all right, but it is definitely an investment, and not undertaking it immediately is irresponsible, short-sighted, dangerous and foolish.,,
Spend the money, trillions if necessary, to repair and replace existing roads, railway beds, waterways, sewer systems, airports and bridges. It still won’t get us where we need to be, but we’ll be much better off than if we let the current deterioration continue, and we’ll save money in the long run, too—real savings, not phony health care reform savings that evaporate once reality kicks in.
There is no justification not to do this, nor is there any legitimate excuse for any elected official not to vote for it. (And no, not wanting to give the President a victory is not legitimate…or ethical, or patriotic.) Repairing the infrastructure isn’t “discretionary spending,” it is essential, unavoidable and cost-effective spending, unless it is diverted into new boondoggles and pork. No new structures, unless they replace unrepairable old ones. No light rail systems or bullet trains; what is needed is basic maintenance and repair….everywhere. It is already late, but “better late than never” has seldom been as appropriate.Will fixing the infrastructure add to the deficit? Not really, because it already is an expense that we know will have to be made, or else. If the sewer systems and waterworks break down, we start dying. If bridges collapse, we die too. That isn’t even mentioning the increasing costs in energy and commerce caused by a decaying transportation system. The sooner we pay for it, the less it will cost, so sooner is per se better for the economy…