Infrastructure Is About Strengthening Our Nation’s “Core.” It’s Not Just Jobs.
Job figures coming out on April 2, 2021 “blew away” expectations as the economy added far more jobs than expected. That’s a good thing, even if it’s not clear whether the good news foreshadows a long term trend or is just a misleading blip.
The bad part is that opponents of President Biden’s “Build-Back-Better” infrastructure program are sure to use the good news to claim the Biden infrastructure program isn’t needed.
Whenever good news about “jobs” shows up on the Democrats’ watch, the GOP uses it to claim that public investments and spending aren’t needed. That’s absolutely not the case now. The United States has neglected and discounted the value of a modernized and resilient infrastructure for many decades. If there is a plausible chance now to achieve a go-big, publicly catalyzed infrastructure program, then the Biden Administration is correct in aggressively advocating for it.
Some of us are quick to jump on regulation and labor costs as inefficiencies and dead weight in our economy. Especially among so-called conservatives, there is hostility or indifference to the demonstrable and substantial role our public sector needs to play, indeed has played, in enhancing the the physical and workforce underpinnings of our economy. In fact, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has already indicated that the GOP will stonewall, and that there will be no votes for the Biden Administration infrastructure plan.
The evidence for very large, cost-effective public sector investments in key infrastructure is found throughout our history in such matters as canal-building, public education at the primary and secondary levels, flood-control, rural-electrification, public health, as well as the research and development efforts associated with the development of communications, travel and transport, energy, and space exploration.
We have ignored and often disdained the public sector’s animating role in nurturing private sector dynamism. A huge body of research now demonstrates how our nation’s antiquated, often inefficient, and sometimes downright dangerous infrastructure has now come to be a threat to prosperity and growth. Tunnels, levees, dams, power grids, railroad rolling stock, school buildings, flood control, seaports, airports, major arterials and highways, and bridges are simply not up to the standards of a top-tier, twenty-first century economy.
Of course, a large infrastructure renewal program would create jobs. But jobs are not the fundamental issue when it comes to upgrading infrastructure. It’s about being a serious contender in global economic competition. Americans need to produce and distribute goods and services efficiently to be more competitive globally over the long run. As one leader in the manufacturing sector wrote:
In order for America to remain globally competitive now and after this pandemic, our leaders must be committed to improving our infrastructure. China’s infrastructure investment is almost double the size of the infrastructure spending in the U.S., and India’s infrastructure investments are growing at a rate that triples the infrastructure outlays of the U.S., Canada and Mexico combined.
A shoddy, anemic infrastructure means delays, vulnerabilities to external threats, climate change disruptions, and social and regional inequities in communications. These maladies affect almost all stages of commerce. Higher costs and impaired competitiveness are the result. As this century unfolds, a third-rate infrastructure just isn’t going to cut it for the U.S.
Infrastructure investment is analogous to strengthening your body’s core. As a Harvard medical brief stated, “No matter where motion starts, it ripples upward and downward to adjoining links of the chain.” A Standard and Poor’s Global Rating research brief concludes:
The economy could still benefit from increased infrastructure spending. In fact, in our “infrastructure” scenario, we calculate that the U.S. would add $5.7 trillion to GDP over the next 10 years if we were to boost annual government spending on our crumbling infrastructure by $2.1 trillion over a 10-year horizon.
The most important thing about infrastructure investments is that they strengthen the nation’s “core.” Infrastructure, like your body’s core, is what links our world to our people, businesses, communities, and regions of our nation.
High quality infrastructure permits us to be the formidable nation we need to be in order to take on our world’s economic rivals. That’s why the Biden Administration’s infrastructure initiative should be enacted now.