Friday, January 18, 2013

The Infrastructure Fairy

Where Does Infrastructure Come From?

Golden Gate bridge
 ~ Is economic infrastructure necessary?

Of course it is, but like air to breathe, many only realize its indispensability by its unexpected and unwelcome absence.

Imagine any of the many things you or most other Americans do every day—take a hot shower in the morning. Hop in the car and go to the store. Turn on the TV to watch a show. Take your dog to the park.

In any of these activities, and countless others, we rely on infrastructure—roads, bridges, water supply, sewers, electrical grids, telecommunications—to make them possible. Water from your tap, heat, powering electronics, paved streets, safe bridges, public security, readily available food and many other things don't happen without the infrastructure that enables it. Private enterprise may grow and deliver food to a market, investor-owned utilities may generate electricity, and companies may produce the cars we drive and the media we consume, but they don't build and maintain the infrastructure that enables their accessibility to us all.

Who builds and keeps that infrastructure operating? And more importantly, who pays for it? We all do, of course, but almost none of us directly write checks to asphalt pavers, or soldiers securing oil tanker shipping lanes, or labs testing that our food supplies are untainted. That's what governments do, and that's why we pay taxes—to collectively fund the expense of society's backbone elements that benefit us all.

A recent analysis suggests that the unfunded building and operational infrastructure deficit between now and 2020 is $1.1 trillion. Private enterprise will not fill that gap. Donald Trump isn't going to build roads for us to drive upon. George Westinghouse won't return from the dead to upgrade our electrical grid. For-profit corporations won't ensure food supply chains from half a world away are unadulterated. It falls to all of us, collectively, to do so.

There is no infrastructure fairy to wave some wand that will make that happen painlessly, and for free. As we contemplate Fiscal Cliff 2, and consider the political blather around the role of government it surely will engender, all of us must pause to consider that these things will cost money, and, through our taxes and collective—dare I say socialist—action, are the only source of that essential funding.

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