/ FAITH, HOPE…
Joe Biden’s infrastructure plan is America’s first major fiscal investment plan in a half-century.
It’s about building concrete things, yes, but also about building hope.
Hope that America will once again have world-beating infrastructure, an eye-popping technological network, high-speed trains and wifi-ready airports – things that the world has long been used to in other parts of the world, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Tokyo, Beijing.
As Fareed Zakaria recently wrote, Donald Trump claimed he wanted to “Make America Great Again” but it is President Biden who is actually attempting to do it.
Once upon a time, the US spent three per cent of its gross domestic product on transportation and water infrastructure; now it spends just about two per cent. Mr Biden wants to change that.
His plan can be summarised in three words:
Repaving will mean doing all the repairs that have been put off for decades – highways, bridges and so on.
Reorienting will mean nudging the economy down new paths with an emphasis on greening. The plan will help create a modern electric vehicle system by funding a network of 500,000 chargers. As Mr Zakaria notes, the plan to bring high-speed internet to far-flung parts of America is similar to the 1936 Rural Electrification Act, which took electricity to rural areas. That won’t be easy, of course. Mr Zakaria is scathing about the insane costs of building US interstate highways – it quadrupled from the 1960s to the 1990s even though material and labour costs hadn’t changed much after accounting for inflation. The reasons include “multiple authorities (each with a veto), endless rules and reviews, and likely corruption. New York University scholar Alon Levy did a detailed analysis of the country’s crazy costs and concluded that there were at least eight reasons for them. Fundamentally, though, he concluded that they were so high because Americans were unwilling or unable to look around the world and try to learn from other countries. American exceptionalism has led to an exceptional, uniquely bad system for building infrastructure.”
That’s what the third element of the Biden plan would address.
Retooling would mean giving the people – the human infrastructure of America – the skills, the education and the ability to allow them to navigate the new world. People would, for instance, be able to go to community college for free. Rather than being afraid of the world, Americans will look at it with confidence and hope.