Sunday, March 12, 2017

Infrastructure Spending Feeds The Myth Of Easy Answers!

By:  Bruce Wilds

To the many who see government spending on infrastructure as a job creator and a silver bullet for our ailing economy I would like to raise a word of caution, things are not that simple. What is clear is that when Washington begins to talk infrastructure spending hands go out across America as politicians and businesses  rush to endorse such programs, of course, the first words out of their mouths is this should be administered on a local level so the money is not squandered by the inefficient minions of  Washington that don't understand the priorities we face. This sets in play the feel good issuance of what is herald as free money being gifted by those in charge. What is their not to like?

When it comes to the virtues of infrastructure spending it may be time for a truth-off. The truth is more "bridges to nowhere" and wasted spending exists then the taxpayer could ever imagine. Often infrastructure spending falls short of creating real wealth for our country but merely feeds cronyism and ends up lining the pockets of those in power and their friends. In my book Advancing Time, I wrote about a bridge that was replaced in Fort Wayne, Indiana that even the city's leading newspaper said we did not need. The newspaper had gone on to state the bridge did not "need" to be replaced but only needed minor repairs. Here is a paragraph from the book:

A pork-barrel project that drained federal coffers! 
If we think local media is helping guide government to do the right thing, we should be troubled. In the city where I live a recent Sunday newspaper editorial commented about the cost of a bridge project, that will be covered by an earmark from Senator Even Bayh. The article states "Does the four million dollars represent yet another pork-barrel project that drains federal coffers? Most likely. But once the money is designated, it would be foolish to give it back."

Bottom line, nothing has changed over the last several years that indicates the media, government, or planners have become better and far more responsible in how infrastructure money is spent. More telling is a look at the bridge I wrote about that has now been completed. In the end, the bridge final cost was closer to ten million dollars, and it now sports the name the "Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Bridge". After the bridge was structurally complete the plans called for the builder to come back and top it off with a million dollar plus metal structure that gloriously lights up at night. This was all built to hold the lights that change colors at night making it a landmark with a "wow" effect.

To justify the extra cost of the iron structure that sits over the bridge and the lighting it holds officials assigned the bridge a new role, to act as a gateway into downtown. A huge ugly sign over the bridge,  large monuments on each side of the approaching end, plus large plaques along the spacious sidewalks are few of its features. The so far unmentioned and most wasteful use of taxpayer money would be the benches that line both sides of the bridge, why do you need twelve foot wide sidewalks sporting benches on a bridge? I estimate that considering the expensive real estate they sit on these benches that I have never seen used and hinder snow removal came at a finished cost of well over one hundred thousand dollars each to the taxpayer.

While handing out and touting the virtues of infrastructure spending we are told how in the long run these improvements and upgrades will pay for themselves over time making such programs a win-win situation. Still, the fact this is not paid for and adds to the budget deficit has drawn criticism even from the liberal economist, Joseph E. Stiglitz, an article he wrote that appeared on Project Syndicate contained the statement, "The only way Trump will square his promises of higher infrastructure and defense spending with large tax cuts and deficit reduction is a heavy dose of what used to be called voodoo economics." In all fairness, this was taken out of context in what was more or less an anti-Trump piece but it highlights the fact negatives to such programs do exist.

The crux of this issue again centers on the sweet allure of getting and receiving the benefits while setting back the negatives, this story is not new or is the desire from which it flows. The myth of a "free lunch" or the idea we will gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today always tends to surround these big pro- growth initiatives. Time and time again history shows these big promises fall short of their goals and come at a huge price when all is said and done. My concern continues to be this spending will add to deficit spending and an increase in the national debt and at some time we will be forced to pay the debt incurred for money poorly spent, It was Winston Churchill who said, "The era of procrastination, of half-measures, of soothing and baffling expedients, of delays, is coming to a close. In its place we are entering a period of consequences." And that is the problem.

If you think this kind of mindless infrastructure spending will help America it could be based on the fact the media, many politicians, and the businesses that benefit from it are constantly telling you of its virtues. A "Truth Off" would show that infrastructure spending is not even close to being a silver bullet to cure our economic woes and America is not an uncompetitive third world country. Sure this kind of spending creates jobs, but at a horrible cost that must be paid at a future date or eventually bankrupt the country. The grandiose planners and politicians love free money, unfortunately, there is no such thing. When looking at the facts we find the jobs created from infrastructure spending are often short lived and not a fix for the structural and employment problems plaguing America.

Footnote; this goes hand in hand with other related articles that focus on ways the government has grown and worked its way into every facet of our daily lives. Links to several of these articles are below.

1 comment:

  1. Deficit growth is not the worst part of this infrastructure building.
    Its an encroachment of power. The Romans sought to conquer Europe with extensive road and base building. This was to better maneuver their troops and give them a place to stay during and between battles with the barbarians.