Infrastructure fact of the day

by on November 19, 2008 at 1:13 pm in Data Source | Permalink

Spending [on infrastructure] is up 50 percent over the last 10 years, after adjusting for inflation. As a share of the economy, it will be higher this year than in any year since 1981.

That’s from another excellent column by David Leonhardt.  The real problem, of course, is the quality of our decisions on infrastructure.

odograph November 19, 2008 at 1:27 pm

The more stuff we build, the higher maintenance we build in for the future.

Greg November 19, 2008 at 1:56 pm

Anecdotally, this seems like a great example of the distinction between “easy” and “hard” problems of government waste and inefficiency. We spend a lot of time worrying about the hard problems, like unintended consequences, regulatory capture, and so on. These problems are hard to design solutions for even with relatively sophisticated approaches. Then there are the easy problems, where we’re not even trying to do things in a sound way. Why do so many areas of waste that seem like low-hanging fruit still exist? Every presidential candidate promises to cut waste, and it never seems to happen. Is the problem simply the amount of political capital needed to enact change?

Andrew November 19, 2008 at 2:07 pm

Before the election, he has to please the voting constituency. After the election, he has to please the bureaucratic constituency.

Colin November 19, 2008 at 3:04 pm

Good column but this bit is rather silly:

“One intriguing idea is for the government to subsidize basic renovations to make houses more energy efficient. This would have the added benefit of putting unemployed construction workers and contractors back to work.”

If my house is inefficient then it is in my own interest to fund those renovations. If the savings are outweighed by the costs, however, I won’t. Promoting policies where costs outweigh savings (and the time horizon is obv a huge factor here) only makes us poorer.

Of course it would be great if home water and electricity costs would rise and decline based on market conditions, enabling us to make better determinations about whether to undertake such energy saving renovations.

Matt November 19, 2008 at 3:25 pm

“Why do so many areas of waste that seem like low-hanging fruit still exist? Every presidential candidate promises to cut waste, and it never seems to happen. Is the problem simply the amount of political capital needed to enact change?”

Greg, I think the problem is that there isn’t enough incentive for politicians to put their efforts behind this kind of stuff. In contrast to issues like abortion, and war, and economic recessions, infrastructure isn’t an issue that inspires a lot of passion in people. A politician could make vast improvements in our national infrastructure and receive very little credit for it. Better to put your weight behind something that will get more attention if you’re looking at reelection.

aaron November 19, 2008 at 4:26 pm

It might help if people would realize the induced demand is the whole point of infrastructure investment, not a symptom.

TA November 19, 2008 at 5:56 pm

I can’t help it — reading this kind of thing, I have to go check the numbers behind the chart. Where’d he get them? Translating % on the chart to $, 1966 looks about like what the BEA for government investment in “structures”. The chart’s % for 2007 translates to something a lot larger than the corresponding BEA number. That doesn’t challenge the real point of the article, but……..who knows?

Neal November 19, 2008 at 8:00 pm

or Robert C. Byrd’s highways to nowhere, or Stevens’ bridge to nowhere…

(on the positive note the “Appian Way” still memorializes Appius Claudius Caecus and he was a politician…)

jorod November 19, 2008 at 10:04 pm

Infrastructure is a code word for political pork. The federal taxpayers just forked over $15 billion to expand O’Hare airport when $6 billion would have bought a whole new airport. The airport also protects a lot of political jobs and sweetheart contracts for services there for the Mayor.

Chicago added two lanes to the Dan Ryan X-way at about a billion dollars cost. Meanwhile, mass transit goes begging.

Leave it up to Congress to misallocate investment funds and expend the political pork barrel at the cost of efficiency and impoverishing the taxpayer.

Privatize, privatize, privatize. Government should outsource most services. Get government out of hiring, jobs and pandering to the unions, especially in schools…..!!

I was told most airports outside the US are privately run.

Steve Sailer November 20, 2008 at 1:45 am

Actually, there have been incremental improvements in infrastructure technology. For example, European roads last far longer than ours because they are built better and with better materials. But Mayor Daley likes it when the Dan Ryan Expressway falls apart in 9 or 12 years because he then gives big road repair contracts to his campaign contributors.

Slocum November 20, 2008 at 7:33 am

Chicago added two lanes to the Dan Ryan X-way at about a billion dollars cost. Meanwhile, mass transit goes begging.

You think Chicago mass transit would be cheaper to build and operate than new expressway lanes? And more useful? Would you really like to see more of this and less road construction:

“The City Council just approved a plan to spend $213.3 million on a station for new train lines nobody asked for and nobody can afford to build.”

http://www.chicagoreader.com/features/stories/archive/superstation/

Zamfir November 20, 2008 at 9:58 am

But mickslam, that’s not waste in the financial sector, it’s creative destruction, because it is caused by people with expensive suits.

And do not forget side effects. If you waste billions on a highway, all you have is an underused highway. If you creatively destruct trillions on financial products, there are all kinds of positive side effects, such as

cabal money January 1, 2009 at 7:26 pm

We can give you the best cabal money and best service.

dancing girl May 13, 2009 at 1:36 am

Everything is decided by the market instead of any single human being’s personal feeling.
But opportunity and efforts are same important on the way to yr goal.
Like the aion gold performance in the market.

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