The economy of the United States suffers from a problem that you can think of as investment deficit disorder. For several decades, we have spent heavily on short-term consumption while ignoring many of the long-term needs of a modern economy.
As a result, other wealthy countries now have better broadband internet access and cheaper mobile phone service. They have clean water. They have trains that move people between major cities at 200 miles an hour. They don’t have major airports that are disconnected from the local metro system.
The relatively dilapidated state of America’s infrastructure acts as a tax on our economy and a drag on our well-being. It slows down the movement of people and goods and reduces the quality of everyday life.
Solving these issues is the rationale for the bipartisan $ 1,000 billion infrastructure bill that the House passed last weekend and which President Biden will soon sign. “This is a blue collar plan to rebuild America,” Biden said on Saturday. “This sets us on the path to winning the 21st century economic competition we face with China and other great countries and the rest of the world.”
Although there was some hyperbole in Biden’s remarks, many experts and economists consider the bill to be really important.
In each of the next five years, the federal government will now spend the equivalent of about 1% of GDP on roads, bridges, railroads, public transportation, water systems, top flow, electrical systems and more. This is the largest investment of its kind in over a generation. It will bring federal infrastructure spending to its highest share of GDP since the early 1980s.
“Can this bill make the country more inclusive, more environmentally resilient and more industrially competitive?” Adie Tomer of Brookings Institution wrote. “If you take a step back and visualize it in its entirety, the indisputable answer is yes.”
Nevertheless, there are a few caveats:
First, the ideal bill would probably have been even larger, according to experts, given the investment deficits of recent decades. (My colleague Astead Herndon reports specific examples from Chicago.)
Second, it is still not clear to what extent – or poorly – new programs will be implemented, as is often the case with federal programs. Implementation, David Dayen wrote in The American Prospect, will determine whether the Biden administration “keeps its promises or just makes claims that don’t come true.”
Third, I’m not sure the bill will do as much as the White House hopes to influence people’s attitudes towards the government.
The submerged state
Biden and his associates see the bill as a way to prove to Americans that the government can always do great things. “To all of you at home who feel left behind and forgotten in an economy that changes so rapidly,” Biden said, “this bill is for you.”
But much of the substance of the bill remains amorphous. It focuses on expanding and improving existing infrastructure – “more and better,” as one White House official told me – as much as creating new infrastructure.
If you are looking for flagship projects that will help Americans understand what the bill does, you will be hard pressed to find them. The bill doesn’t seem likely to build a subway line to La Guardia Airport or cut the travel time between Dallas and Houston in half. It will not create hundreds of bridges, like the New Deal did, or a national highway system, like Dwight Eisenhower did.
White House officials say the tangible benefits of the bill will become clearer to people in the months and years to come. (In many cases, state and local agencies must first decide which projects to pursue.) These benefits, officials add, will include better high-speed internet access, thousands of electric vehicle charging stations and new ones. specific public transport projects.
Maybe the White House is right about all of this. For now, however, the bill risks becoming yet another example of what political scientist Suzanne Mettler has called the “submerged state” – the tendency of the modern US government to do its job so quietly that many citizens fail. not even realize that they benefit from this. The Obama administration’s 2009 stimulus bill, both an economic success and a political disappointment, is one example.
My prediction is that the ultimate popularity of the infrastructure bill will depend on the ability of people to cite specific examples of how it has affected their lives.
THE LAST NEWS
Other great stories
Dispatches is an occasional morning report in which reporters from The Times provide insight into daily life around the world. Today, Ben hubbard, who covered the collapse of Lebanon, writes from Beirut:
Fayez Omar spent nine years delivering meals from an Asian restaurant on his scooter to hungry customers around Beirut. But the collapse of the Lebanese economy two years ago has fundamentally reshaped his work.
His salary, which was once worth around $ 800 a month, is now around $ 130. Gasoline costs him three times as much as before. And because Beirut, a city of high-rise residential buildings, experiences chronic power outages that disable elevators, it often has to climb stairs to reach its customers. Lots and lots of stairs.
“It’s exhausting,” said Omar, 37 and a father of three.
Due to the crisis, most Beirutis receive around two hours of electricity per day. Most buildings are equipped with diesel-powered back-up generators, but the price of fuel has increased by over 1,000%. Which, for Omar, means no elevator.
Some customers take pity and send baskets on ropes from their balconies, Rapunzel style, to save her the trip. Some agree to meet him halfway. Still others are less nice. “They say to me, ‘I placed an order,’” Omar said. “You have to come to me.”
Appalachian Trail: MJ Eberhart, 83, became the oldest known person to complete the 2,190 mile hike.
Story inside: “Is history a science or a patriotic art? Behind the creation of Project 1619.
Demystified: Scented candles are not harmful.
The ethicist: What do you owe a difficult mother-in-law?
Tips from Wirecutter: Collapse? Try a lumbar support pillow.
Lives lived: Max Cleland lost both his legs and one arm during the Vietnam War. In 2002, Republicans challenged his patriotism when he sought re-election to the Senate. Cleland died at 79.
Dean Stockwell, who played Al Calavicci in the science fiction series “Quantum Leap”, has died at age 85.
ARTS AND IDEAS
New perspectives on history
Two books published this fall bring new relevance to ancient human history – sometimes very ancient.
“The Dawn of Everything”, by anthropologist David Graeber and archaeologist David Wengrow, upsets the dominant narrative of social evolution: that over the millennia between the appearance of Homo sapiens and the invention of agriculture, almost nothing happened.
The authors, citing recent findings, argue that early humans made collective choices about how to organize society, wealth, and power. “In other words,” writes William Deresiewicz in The Atlantic, “they were in politics. Graeber was a de facto leader of the Occupy Wall Street movement, and his politics are apparent in the book’s message – that humanity has reinvented itself before and still can. (New York magazine recently featured Graeber.)
In “Powers and Thrones”, historian Dan Jones narrows the field down to the Middle Ages. His stories of kings, conquerors and artists constitute a “living story that often reads like a novel,” according to Times magazine. More than just telling the story, Jones connects the ancient world to the modern world. – Claire Moses, a morning writer