walter russell mead peter berger lilia shevtsova adam garfinkle andrew a. michta
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Infrastructure Spending for a Post-Blue World

Slick high-speed trains, imposing bridges, gleaming towers reaching towards the heavens–infrastructure in the 21st century has become a surprisingly sexy topic. While infrastructure projects are meant to solve mundane logistical problems, the sort of grandiose, white elephant undertakings that have been popping up all over China for the past decade can also serve as powerful symbols of national power. ¬†Here in the US, we have our own infrastructural challenges, but, as this smart article by notable urban economist Edward Glaeser notes, we need to stay focused on what really counts:

Infrastructure investment only makes sense when there is a clear problem that needs solving and when benefits exceed costs. U.S. transportation does have problems — traffic delays in airports and on city streets, decaying older structures, excessive dependence on imported oil — but none of these challenges requires the heroics of a 21st century¬†Erie Canal. Instead, they need smart, incremental changes that will demonstrate more wisdom than brute strength.

According to Glaeser, that means focusing on intelligent reforms, rather than more spending. This is sensible, but it won’t be easy. Infrastructure is a stronghold of the crumbling Blue Social Model, and here at Via Meadia, we’ve been covering the runaway costs and questionable efficacy of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Glaeser proposes dismantling this bloated Blue dinosaur, along with encouraging the use of buses in urban areas, shifting the cost burden of infrastructure maintenance from the federal government to those who use it, and focusing new construction on projects that will pay for themselves (perhaps with the help of public-private partnerships).

None of these ideas will make pulses race like a gleaming bullet train flying speeding up the California coastline. We would all be better off, however, if we could send the white elephants the way of the green unicorns and get back to focusing on what really matters: the dynamism and prosperity that has made the US what it is today.

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  • Jacksonian Libertarian

    The US already has more paved airports than the next 5 largest nations combined, our railroads, roads, bridges, ports, canals, parks, libraries, military bases, civic buildings, electrical grid, pipelines, sewer systems, water systems, telecommunications, and more are all similarly fully mature. While some of our infrastructure could stand some tweaking, we already have it all and don’t need to spend the billions China is spending (much of it wasted) because they never built it to begin with. The only reason the Obama Administration and the Democrats want these Boondoggles and White Elephants is for the graft, it’s all about the money.

  • Matt Thullen

    I’ll offer up an easy, cheap solution to inter-city transportation congestion. In addition to being extremely flexible, this solution would allow vast numbers of semi-skilled people the opportunity to make a living without the need to get a higher degree, get a lot of specialized training or move to where jobs are being formed.

    My solution? Simple–get rid of taxi medallions, and let people drive passengers for payment without requiring more than a minimum amount of insurance. Would I pay $5 to be driven to work every day in my suburban area? Of course, and so would a lot of other people. $1 to be taken to the market? Sure, and in this day and age, where cellphones are common even amount the working poor, finding business should be fairly easy.

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