Biden builds back the idea of infrastructure much better


Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash


“Too often…we enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought”
– John F. Kennedy

Joe Biden’s plan for America is about the remaking of a whole concept. What constitutes infrastructure? Is it just bridges, airports, rail routes and highways? Or is it something else as well – a country’s human resources? The way people learn to think, to be change-ready, how healthy and happy they are?

The point about infrastructure is that it must be basic, functional and key. That includes, as Merriam-Webster dictionary says, “the resources (such as personnel, buildings, or equipment) required for an activity”.

President Biden’s plan works off that Merriam-Webster definition of infrastructure. It includes spending on research and development, schools, housing and social care. It seeks a public good – a physically and virtually better connected country with healthier, better educated people and a well-funded and vibrant research environment.

There are sound reasons to embrace a broader view of infrastructure than say, in 1950s America, when President Eisenhower signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act. It created a 41,000-mile “National System of Interstate and Defense Highways” that would, according to the president,  eliminate all the problems that got in the way of “speedy, safe transcontinental travel.

It was the era of the Cold War, when an atomic attack was feared and advocates for highways were arguing that a road network would allow for “quick evacuation of target areas.” The 1956 law declared that the construction of a massive highway system was “essential to the national interest.”

The world has moved on since then and the threats America faces are not so easily addressed. Today, the biggest threat to America’s might is weakness in physical infrastructure, yes, but also broadband connectivity, social capital and the knowledge, will and ability to get things done.

So an educated, healthy, hopeful and most importantly, re-skilled workforce, also constitutes infrastructure for America today, just as much as transportation routes.

There are incalculable social and economic gains from this way of thinking about infrastructure. It’s a holistic worldview and in line with the joined-up approach offered by systems thinking.