The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) has released its 2009 Report Card for American Infrastructure, and the results are grim. The association gave the most powerful nation in the world an overall grade of D, and stated that it would take a five-year investment of $2.2 trillion to bring the U.S. up to par with the rest of its class—the world’s major postindustrial nations.
The Architect’s Newspaper: State of Disrepair
What exactly can be done about it, other than spending massive amounts of public funds and ratcheting up an already astronomical deficit?
The obvious libertarian answer I can think of is: sell off all private infrastructure and issue tax refunds for it. Let the private companies who purchase it deal with it. At this point it doesn’t seem like that’s any worse an option than letting it all rot. Certainly there’d be a lot of questions regarding access to essential infrastructure. And if, say, the entire interstate highway system were privatized I’m sure that would open things up to all sorts of highly entertaining anti-competitive actions on the part of its owners.
But I have to admit I sort of relish the idea of seeing how tea partiers feel about paying road tolls (and seeing how self-righteous non-motorists, the type who think it’s unfair that they’re taxed for roads they supposedly don’t use, react to increased food costs). And hell, it might actually cause megacorporations that currently avoid paying much in taxes actually have to shell out something for the roads they use.
But even if there was the political will, could that even happen? Are there companies out there that would be willing to buy up all our roads, bridges, and other public infrastructure? Would it be profitable to maintain?
And what about existing private infrastructure? According to The Architect’s Newspaper, over 85% of levees are privately owned and they still got a D from the ASCE. How much of the infrastructure ASCE evaluated is privately owned to start with?
What other other options are on the table? A government-backed scrip for infrastructure work? Even if we’re at 20-25% real unemployment, I’m not sure that’s bad enough to get modern Americans to work on infrastructure projects for scrip and for small businesses to honor it. But I could be wrong.
What about revolution? It’s always a possibility, but it also seems far from happening. I have been thinking though that if there were to be a revolution in the the States, it would have to start with seizing infrastructure, which is our real “means of production.”
What else can be done?
Flickr search for “crumbling infrastructure”
Photo by Michelle Soulier / CC
August 14, 2010 at 4:54 pm
I like to consider myself a Libertarian.. for the most part.. I think the answer to this is very simple. Once we wipe out all excess spending.. the money we would need to rebuild infrastructure would be easy to come by. 2.2 trillion over 5 years is not that much in comparison to what we spend. If you break it down by years.. and take the stimulus package.. that 800+ billion, done five times.. would cost over 4 trillion dollars.. and it would save nothing. The job of the government is to keep us safe. The infrastructure is part of that.. and as for the tolls.. if the government actually spent the money it taxed on the things it was taxed for.. the tolls we pay would actually pay for the roads, like the stamps would pay for the post office.. the government takes away a lot of what they collect in postage from the post office, then declares that the post office can’t last! It’s literally madness.
August 18, 2010 at 7:21 pm
The problem, as I see it, is that even if we cut “excess spending” we’re still in massive debt and may be running out of places to keep borrowing. We may soon have to cut a lot of spending – excess and otherwise. Even something that sounds as simple as cutting defense spending is easier said than done at this point – even a full withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan isn’t free.