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US Infrastructure Spending Plunges

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I’m normally not big on “one chart says it all” posts, but this one is so striking I made an exception. Hat tip FT Alphaville:

Screen shot 2013-11-01 at 4.45.59 AM

The source is BCA Research, which included state and local government spending in the total, since they are responsible for 75% of non-defense infrastructure spending.

Now FT Alphaville sort of cheerily remarks that most of the missed spending will be made up someday, but it will cost more since interest rates will be higher when the projects are finally financed. First, I have to tell you that the upside-down logic of NPV based analysis sees deferring investment as positive if the inflation in the cost of getting the project done is less than your discount rate (that’s crude but not too far off the mark). And from a political standpoint, later spending is always better. But of course, that doesn’t factor in the real economy costs in the meantime: delays due to breakage of various sorts (everything from potholes taking lanes out of commission and necessitating inefficient emergency patch-up to accidents of various sorts).

And this underspending comes when we already were under-investing in infrastructure. After a bridge collapse in 2007 that killed 13 people, the media seized on what had been a long-standing issue of under-investment in bridges. The result of all this scrutiny and alarm? The number of structurally bridges is indeed down, but “barely,” per Transportation for America:

We hope you had a chance to check out our new report released yesterday on the state of our nation’s bridges? 1 in 9 US bridges — about 66,500 in total — are rated structurally deficient and in urgent need of repairs, maintenance or even replacement.

The Fix We’re In For: The State of Our Nation’s Bridges 2013 is an updated version of the data we released two years ago, and the findings are much the same: Everyday, Americans of all different stripes drive across these deficient bridges, with more than 260 million trips taken on them each day. To put that crazy number in perspective, McDonalds’ restaurants will serve only about 64 million worldwide today. And though we’ve gotten about 0.5 percent better nationally in the last two years, from 11.5 to 11 percent deficient, that’s only a difference of about 2,400 deficient bridges.

Anyone who travels at all can see how shoddy America has become. Our airports and train stations are a disgrace by international standards. Decades of underinvestment in the New York City subways has been somewhat reversed, but it will never be pleasant. The Tube was stunningly unpleasant when I lived in London in 1984, and it now bears no resemblance to the system I encountered back then. By contrast, New York City has at least invested in generally much more modern cars, and a full decade behind most transport systems has finally installed screens so you can see when trains are due to arrive in the station, but the stations themselves remain dumps. Too many roads across the US are clearly overdue for resurfacing. I saw one road in Maine where the locals had slapped tar on either side of the yellow center line. They apparently didn’t have budget to repaint the road markings, so the resurfaced around them. Aiee!

The US is already well on the way to being a third world country, and the chart at the top gives you a preview of how your experience of public amenities will decay as a result of post-crisis budget starvation. Brace yourself.

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78 comments

  1. Bill

    In the Michigan county we live in , a main road , 4 miles of it , was so potholed ( by using cheap asphalt) that the county gravelled the road over , It is to stay gravelled for at least 3 years . Its a nastier mess now than when it had potholes . We are regressing . Progress or even holding ones own in infrastucture is a thing of the past.

    My son ,who did a tour of duty in Iraq, says our roads are still alot better than theirs .

    For now !

    1. P E

      Where I live the workers for roads departments just pour some tar into potholes & smooth them over. They don’t even have the training or the simple smarts to dump in some various sized rocks first. Not only infrastructure but even the knowledge base of civilization is eroding, probably faster than most of us suspect. (Cf. Morris Berman, The Twilight of American Culture, for more detailed diagnosis & one Rx.)

      1. JGordon

        I applaud you for bringing Morris Berman up here. If the operators of NC cared to expand much beyond their specialized feilds of finance and (the pseudosciences of) economics and monetary theory they’d see that there are plenty of people who have been accurately predicting the trajectory of the US empire for decades now, and Morris Berman is one of them.

        Empires don’t collapse because of bad monetary and fiscal policy. They collapse because they get to big and complex for the environment to support them.

      2. SubjectivObject

        To bad there, because a readily avialable, cheap, and good temporary or not so temporary repair for pot holes is simple crushed concrete put directly in the hole. It packs and stays and reduces the rate of edge fracture of the existing hole.

        When I lived in MN, I did this with potholes on the rather fast two lane road out front: the sound made when a tire hit a hole strongly suggested the result was not good for the tire, driver, or road. I had the impression that the city thought someone in their department made the crushed concrete repair because they left them as is for a long time while making asphalt/tar repairs near by. What traffic erosion occurred could be easily topped off by a follow-up shovel full.

        It’s great for unpaved drives too; much better than the screened stone types that move around too much; but most owners go for the aesthetic rather than the functional.

  2. ProNewerDeal

    I keep wondering, instead of QE, why doesn’t

    1 The Civil Engineers Org publish a list of “shovel ready” new projects that would work against their $3T infrastructure deficit list

    2 The Federal Reserve provide a low interest rate for the relevant infrastructure org (local port authority, state transportation dept repairing interstate highway etc). Lend at the bankster 0.75% Fed discount rate, or at least the 10-yr Treasury rate + 0-1% . The key would be such new Fed lending is contingent on kicking off a new project, or keep a defunded project going.

    Wouldn’t this obviously provide a genuine boost to the economy (GDP, employment) instead of QE Bank$ter welfare to gamble on derivatives, Brazilian bonds, etc?

    I wish an Progessive “elite” figure with a “voice” who has “guest access” to “Big Media” such as Rep Alan Grayson or Yves on the Bill Moyers show, economist Dean Baker, etc would advocate such a policy. Even better if such a person would directly ask soon-to-be Fed Chair Yellen this question at the confirmation hearings.

    1. BondsOfSteel

      I think part of the problem is focusing on “shovel ready”. Instead of trying to identify priorities, we’re just slapping a new coat of paint on things.

      An infrastructure bank would help.. but to pass it (on the cheap), the idea was to turn it into some kinda public-private partnership. Then we’ll just fix the most profitable things :(

    2. Dave Mowers

      Federal Reserve lending programs for infrastructure were considered during the bail outs and wholly rejected by Congress and Wall Street so that States could beg for money from the rich or sell infrastructure to investors.

      Our “Congress” is selling out our future and creating poverty.

  3. s spade

    So, the infrastructure mess is largely a state and local govt affair. Instead of fixing roads and bridges our S/L politicians have been doing what, exactly, with all that dough shoveled out on endless bond issues? These are the clowns we are supposed to rely upon going forward?

    Yeah, sure.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Did you manage to miss that spending collapsed after the crisis, and that’s because tax revenues collapsed? The chart shows how the spending fall is almost exactly coincident with the crisis. Oh, and notice how there was a smaller downdraft in 2004? That occurred when the Fed started tightening, which impacts state and local borrowing costs. And state and local governments, unlike the Feds, can’t go out and print.

      The FT article also says state and local infrastructure spending depends heavily on Federal grants.

      It might help if you point fingers at the right parties if you are gonna assign blame.

      1. s spade

        The infrastructure has been crumbling for years, well before 2008. NYC was falling apart in 1994, when I left for the sunny South. If you think the S/L politicians aren’t part of the looting you are missing a large part of the picture.

        1. sue

          Reading Sheila Bair’s, “Bull By The Horns”, she defines much as has Yves. Government may not be doing the assigned job of “transparency, oversight, accountability”, and it was the anti-government crowd in office who led us to
          ridiculous war in Iraq and economic disaster, but when one follows the money, it doesn’t lead to government-it leads to Wall Street. Government is broke; remember? Anti-government propagandists forget this.

        2. from Mexico

          “NYC was falling apart in 1994, when I left for the sunny South”?

          The “sunny South”?

          When I hear people talking about the “sunny South,” I immediately brace myself for the anti-government tirade which is sure to follow.

          And of all the states in the “sunny South,” Texas is surely the “sunniest.” If you don’t believe it, just ask Ted Cruz or Rick Perry, or better yet ALEC! Texas has become the new Mecca for free market fundamentalists:

          The Texas growth narrative is well-known by now. Texas’ population grew by 11 million people (79 percent) between 1980 and 2011, more than double the rate of growth of the nation as a whole. (See figure 1.) With that population growth came job growth. Since the 1990s, the rate of Texas job growth has been a full percentage point or more above the national average most years.

          The American Legislative Exchange Council, among others, has suggested that other states should adopt policies that will make them more like Texas in order to grow their economies. One example from the introduction to ALEC’s recent Rich States, Poor States report: “[M]any governors are looking at Texas, which has led the nation in job growth over the past three years, as the state with the best policy to emulate.” [1] In particular, ALEC notes the state’s tax policy as a plus.

          http://www.cbpp.org/cms/index.cfm?fa=view&id=3739

          Infrastructure investment in Texas, however, has severely lagged behind other states in important areas. This poses significant future problems for the state in areas like electricity generation and provision.

          Besides the infrastructure problems, Texas suffers other acute problems. For instance:

          ■ Texas has the highest share of minimum-wage workers of any state. In 2011, 9.5 percent of Texas hourly workers were paid at or below the minimum wage. This is well above the US average of 6.0 percent and the highest proportion of any state.

          ■ One-quarter of people in Texas lack health insurance – well above the national average of 16.3 percent, according to the most recent data from the Census Bureau. Many Texas employers do not provide health insurance for workers.[1] Just over half of the state’s non-elderly residents have employer-provided health insurance – the third-worst rate among the states. And Texas’ Medicaid program fails to cover many who cannot afford to pay for health insurance on their own.

          ■ In part because wages are low, a large share of Texans are poor. In 2010, some 18.4 percent of Texas families lived in poverty. That is well above the national poverty rate of 15.1 percent, and the 11th-highest poverty rate in the nation. Nor has the state’s growth reduced its poverty rate over the last three decades.

          ■ Texas invests less than most states in education, healthcare, infrastructure and other public services important to the quality of life for a state’s residents, and the quality of those services has suffered as a result. Last year, for instance, Texas ranked 40th of the states in per pupil education spending. This level of investment persists even though Texas ranks second-to-last among the states in the share of its population with a high school diploma. Higher education is becoming less affordable as state support is cut. In-state tuition doubled at public universities in the state since 2003.[22] Texas spends less on health care, per person, than all but nine states, and there are fewer doctors per person in Texas than in all but eight states. In addition, Texas ranked 40th on spending on highways.

          http://www.cbpp.org/cms/index.cfm?fa=view&id=3739

          1. Adam_Smith

            In short, Texas has a lot of poor people who are not getting any government help. In Texas politics I think that isn’t a bug, it’s a feature.

          2. s spade

            @From Mexico,

            It isn’t only Mexicans who vote with their feet. I lived 25 years in Manhattan and watched the landlords and the politicians extract eighty percent of my income. If you think taxes and rent buy you anything in New York you clearly have never lived there.

      2. Ron

        Gov Brown of Calif ended cities redevelopment agencies which had been used as a major source of funding for a variety of infrastructure related projects. Calif cities had spend billions on redevelopment plans over the years so part of this dip may be due to Calif’s changed fiscal landscape regarding redevelopment.

  4. R Foreman

    ..but we’ve got $$ to pay cops to beat up political activists, and for military adventures to subvert smallish nations with overwhelming force of technology, (and a new NSA complex in Utah).

    1. Crazy Horse

      If you have any doubts about whether the USA is becoming a third world country I suggest you take a vacation. Board one of the flagship US airlines– American or United. Squeeze your standard size American butt into one of the latest 17″ wide seats and fly to Miami. (If you board in LaGardia do United a favor and bring a can of roach spray and dust down the galley as you pass. The stewardess will appreciate your help.) If you get hungry you can buy a bag of peanuts for only $5.

      Now board your continuing flight to Colombia on Aviancia or to Chile on board LAN. Now tell me which airline comes from a third world country—-.

      Of course the .01% are unaware of such differences. They wouldn’t dream of flying on a commercial airline.

  5. Aaron

    Who needs infrastructure when you have a top notch banking sector. Surely these masters of the universe will engineer a real recovery to make all these problems go away. They said we should trust them, so surely they know what they’re doing.

    Reading ‘Other People’s Money’ this past weekend, and I couldn’t escape the irony of how little things have changed from the days leading up to the Great Depression. This time is different alright…the numbers have a few extra zeros on the end!

    http://www.law.louisville.edu/library/collections/brandeis/node/191

  6. DakotabornKansan

    America’s infrastructure is the backbone of its economy.

    Once every four years, America’s civil engineers provide a comprehensive assessment of the nation’s major infrastructure categories in the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) Report Card for America’s Infrastructure, using a simple A to F school report card format:

    http://www.infrastructurereportcard.org/

    The 2013 Report Card grades:

    http://www.infrastructurereportcard.org/a/#p/grade-sheet/gpa

    Prior grades:

    http://www.infrastructurereportcard.org/a/#p/grade-sheet/previous-grades

    Is America’s infrastructure is crumbling? Critics of the ASCE’s Report Card claim bias, that the “vocal engineers’ lobby,” that builds those roads and bridges rate America’s infrastructure as far worse than most of the public does. They also charge that it contributes to the “declinist” mentality, which itself may be one of America’s biggest problems. America is an exceptional nation.

    “What ever happened to good old fashioned town pride?” – Marge Simpson

    “It’s been going downhill ever since the lake caught fire.” – Lisa Simpson

    1. John Mc

      As far as I can see by these links, we are funding half of what should be attended to and spending significantly under the recommended amount to maintain current levels which are quickly eroding (interstates, national highways systems and all road/bridges).

      So, this is going to be another category like child poverty, low-birth weight/pre-term infants, and GINI inequality where we lead the world in blind indifference and social darwinistic rhetoric. Unfreaking believable…

      1. sue

        U.S. doesn’t need many roads to truck containers (Mexican truckers) on “NAFTA Highway” from deep water ports now being built in Mexico (Trans-Pacific Partnership), to bring Chinese manufactured-American owned cheap goods into country. The real priority is? And taxpayers will pay for that football field wide
        infrastructure.

        1. craazyboy

          “The real priority is?”

          Mexico has discovered a easier way than manufacturing stuff?

          You collect a little official import duty plus bribes on Chinese imports, then some official export duty plus bribes on domesticated Chinese-Mexican exports.

          The New Economy: US corporations have the Chinese stamp the corporate logo on retail packaging, the Chinese ship it to Mexico. Mexico adds their version of a “value added tax”and ships it to the US. If US retail stores need any min wage retail workers, Mexican coyotes ship them too. The US consumer is in charge of buying the stuff. Credit will be provided.

          We are all gonna get rich! But if that doesn’t quite work out, there is still the safety net. At least in this country. Isn’t there?

        2. LucyLulu

          And how ironic that a country such as Mexico finds the money to build the deep water ports required for the new freight ships but there aren’t any US ports in the Gulf that will have the same capacity. The ships must dock in Miami, or head further up the seaboard to Virginia or higher. Houston is one of the 10 busiest ports in the world yet it doesn’t have the deep channels to handle these new ships, nor are there any plans. How many jobs and how much money is this costing Texas now, for something they will eventually do?

          Penny wise and pound foolish.

      2. telee

        Obviously the politicians are not in the business of attending to public needs. They are there to serve the interests of the financial elite and nothing more.

  7. John Firestone

    “… I saw one road in Maine where the locals had [resurfaced around the yellow] center line….”

    That may not prove entirely bad. If the center falls into sufficient disrepair, people may be more careful about staying on their side of the road. :)

  8. Ep3

    Yves, I watch those dicovery channel shows where they talk about building these exotic buildings across the world. All of them are either in the middle east (near the oil) or in the far east (near china where everything is made and where the tech boom is these days). I think the reason is is because that is where the wealth is these days. America is broke and tapped out. Also America doesn’t produce wealth anymore. These projects are built where the wealth is. I am talking about the tallest buildings, the fanciest airports, the expensive resorts.
    And I think Detroit is the prime example of what happened. Detroit used to be the center of investment and manufacturing. When that left, so did the economy.

    1. Walter Map

      Detroit is an example of how to destroy a city without actually having to bomb it. Detroit has been cratered. Hiroshima, by contrast, is modern and properous. One city won WWII, and the other got nuked, but you’d never know which by looking at them.

      Economic warfare works.

    2. Banger

      This points to an important trend still little noted by the mainstream who wants to always keep illusions alive. We live under an international oligarchical system which we can call “the Empire.” The role of the nation-state today is to maintain the illusion that, for example, the USA or Italy actually is a self-sufficient entity and the problems lie with the oligarchs of that particular country. They don’t–whatever country you live in, if you are into the Big Money category you are a member of the international oligarchy and this world is being built for you and your heirs. The rest of the populace will ultimately be servants some voluntarily some not so much.

      Our institutions and our mentality is still in the 19th century in very degraded form–to come into the current world we have to go back and read more sci-fi from the 20th century to understand because contemporary views whether fictional or in the “news” have little resemblance to practical reality.

      1. Chauncey Gardiner

        Agree, and very well put.

        And as Walter said above, it is economic welfare, it works, and it is beyond the pale.

        1. Chauncey Gardiner

          Sorry, fat fingers and slow mind. Meant to say “warfare”, not “welfare”… although it is that too for a very narrow segment of society that includes the perps.

  9. Jardinero1

    Low tax, low service states such as Texas have very good, roads and bridges. Also states, such as Minnesota, with competitive politics, less graft, and a more civic mindedness have pretty good infrastructure. My observation is that most of the really crappy infrastructure is in states with machine politics and/or high levels of corruption.

    1. JimO

      Low taxes might reduce opportunities for graft, but they also reduce infrastructure spending. Texas is graveling-over paved roads because it doesn’t have the money to pay for damage caused by oil industry vehicles.

      If the oil industry were to pay for the impact of their vehicles on public roads, maybe some Texas politician would make off with the money, but just maybe the roads would be better.

      Low taxes aren’t an answer to any problem that requires investment.

    2. from Mexico

      Oh well, what was it Joseph Goebbels said about lying:

      If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.

      http://thinkexist.com/quotation/-if_you_tell_a_lie_big_enough_and_keep_repeating/345877.html

    3. Patrick

      Nonsense, Wayne Harris’s comment below illustrates the cronyism of the state of Minnesota, as for Texas, I prefer to live in a state where fertilizer companies don’t explode taking cites with them.

    4. Yves Smith Post author

      1. Texas has a lot of toll roads, so they are effectively taxing specifically for that road. I’m stunned at what it cost to drive around Dallas.

      2. Texas has has a lot of expansion, so a lot of the roads are new.

      3. Roads in the south and west take a LOT less maintenance than in the North, where the winter shortens the life of road surfaces considerably (water gets in microcracks and freezes, pitting and weakening the surface, and salt and sand also wear road surfaces)

      1. LucyLulu

        “Roads in the south and west take a LOT less maintenance than in the North”
        VERY true! We don’t get those huge potholes every spring in the south. Our cars also experience less wear and tear, not only from lack of potholes but not being covered with salt all winter.

  10. Banger

    Choices, choices, choices. This is what Americans choose to do with their money–we have moved away from the idea of the commons and preferred to focus on just me, me, me.

    While tax revenues are down investment in infrastructure and education would indicate a hope for the future or that there is a future. Instead we are suffering from a lack of hope and, indeed, concern for the future. Climate change is fine, infrastructure decline is fine as along as we can buy our mass quantities of crap from Asia ad cable TV stays on.

    More important than physical infrastructure is our psychic infrastructure–that is crumbling faster and more alarmingly than anything else–without a change in culture we will continue to decline.

    1. LucyLulu

      They’ve been reporting that tax revenues have been up. That’s why deficits keep coming in lower than expected.

      I watched some of Larry Fink on C-span talking about domestic investment. He says the US is looking good to businesses because of our 1)low energy costs, 2)superior education – foreigners come here to attend universities, teaching of critical thinking skills vs. rote memory, and 3)close proximity to location of final sale. Yeah, #2 initially surprised me. The biggest concern is uncertainty in the markets here, and he mentioned the recent shutdown/default debacle as well as other defunding of research and investment projects that would attract business. Another panelist (Walmart CEO?) mentioned the state and local governments went out of their way to attract business but the federal government had dropped out of the picture. At least that was the gist in between frequent trick-or-treaters at the door.

      I don’t recall the numbers anymore but the ASCE projected that the failure to invest in infrastructure would cost the economy in terms of lost business and jobs multiples more than the cost for upgrades. Would the deficit hawks argue that the railroads and the interstate highways, both having hefty price tags and built during times of unusually high government debt, weren’t excellent investments?

  11. k

    In many places — Washington state comes to mind — basic road maintenance is underfinanced but because the concrete and asphalt lobbies enjoy a revolving door relationship with state and local DOTs, they manage to push through spendy projects like the big bore tunnel under Alaskan Way that will benefit few and is likely to induce private car traffic rather than relieve congestion. And, in other states needless highways to nowhere are slated for construction while basic services are cut — I believe this is happening in Wisconsin. Then you have Cuomo in New York pushing through a new Tappan Zee and renegging on inclusion of sufficient public transit access. And forget about sacrificing some of those new highways and boondoogle bridges (see also the CRC on the Columbia River between Oregon and Washington), which effectively highly subsidize private drivers because gas taxes actually do not cover anywhere near their true costs, which means public transit riders and other nondrivers do pay for drivers’ convenient access to these highways as well as the external costs. Yet too many people view subsidizes to public transit as wasteful despite their being far less inefficient and really, on the whole, more efficient (and possibly healthier — people who have car commutes report beingthe most stressed and least happy, for example). Laughable and ultimately tragic.

    I haven’t done the issue justice here, but Google searches for these topics and especially on Sightline.org and streetsblog.net — they’ve been following these misplaced infrastructure priorities for a while — are good places to dig into details.

  12. LAS

    What’s even more depressing than the chart is … my taxes have not decreased at all. If money is being saved, who is getting the benefit of that?

    1. MONETA

      Chances are a growing number of infra assets will get privatized over time…

      And pension plans across the planet are thirsty for alternative investments which offer better yields at lower volatility.

      So those with DB plans will be getting the rewards… if those plans survive.

      1. sue

        Moneta,

        It’s not “by chance”-read your Canadian-Naomi Klein’s, “The Shock Doctrine”, and admit the parallel historical reality; 70′s-80′s South and Central America.

        1. Moneta

          I read it. And when I talked about it, I was ridiculed:

          “That can never happen here! Stop being so radical.”

    2. Yalt

      ” my taxes have not decreased at all.”

      Then you’re one of the lucky ones. Lose your job and you’ll see a tax cut right quick–first in payroll and income taxes, then in the sales tax you’re able to pay.

  13. Moneta

    Well, Americans have to plan for a 30-year retirement that will happen a few decades down the road but the economy is based on 5-yr plans which get scrutinized every quarter.

    Talk about a mismatch… go figure.

  14. Sam L S

    This is not only about less spending.

    Take underground infrastructure for example: politician could can less about what’s hidden from the voters’ eye, i.e. the water we drink and where our sewage goes.

    Among the major water challenges the US faces, one may note:
    - Inefficient usage as aquifer/well levels run low
    - Mispricing
    - Unsustainable financing, especially given rising debt/deficits on local, state and national levels, inflation risk, and over reliance of low interest rates+dividend distribution
    - Bad bond rating practices
    - Huge CAPEX coming up and climate change only adding to rating agencies’ misleading info
    - Decaying third-world type infrastructure – water main breaks everywhere
    - Lack of private sector involvement as compared to other countries, including very limited Private Equity and VC involvement
    - Lack of national strategy/coherent policies
    - Limited enforcement
    - Almost no supply side efficiency measures
    - Extreme conservatism/anti-innovation
    - Lacking and inconsistent data with limited quantitative management
    - High industry fragmentation and more

    Read more at
    http://www.ey.com/Publication/vwLUAssets/Cleantech_Water_Whitepaper/$FILE/Cleantech-Water-Whitepaper.pdf

    1. Alejandro

      Are you suggesting that water is not financialized enough?

      May I suggest a six minute clip for a different perspective- go to http://www.tappedthemovie.com/ and press issues then privatization.

      Externalities are conveniently absent from the math of “Efficiencies”. It seems like the rationalization is that accountability is limited by measurability. Does lack of measurability make the damage less real? I can see how the zero dot zero oner’s might have a vested interest in controlling the math talent.

  15. Walter Map

    The U.S. federal government has been increasing spending on infrastructure and education by billions every year.

    It’s just not spent in the U.S. It’s spent in third-world countries to develop Cheap Labor markets for transnational corporations. It’s spent on infrastructure so corporatists can move their operations out of the U.S. It’s spent on education and training so those workers can be imported to the U.S. Any way they want it, that’s the way they need it: tax subsidies, direct and indirect grants, military expenditures, ‘off-budget’ expenditures, reappropriations and misappropriations. The poor and middle class in the U.S. aren’t aware of it, but they’re paying to put themselves out of a job and keep themselves out of a job.

    1. sue

      Walter,

      and while allowing (“Confessions of An Economic Hit Man”) resource stripping, benefitting those same banks who “invest” in commodities generated from. Perkins is quite succinct as to where impetus lies.

    2. Banger

      Walter, under what category of spending in the federal budget does funding of foreign infrastructure come under?

      1. Walter Map

        And this:

        “On Monday, Secretary Bryson will deliver remarks at an infrastructure-focused event hosted by the Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI). Following the event, Secretary Bryson will witness the signing of two U.S. Trade and Development Agency grants supporting U.S. business investments in India’s energy infrastructure development.

        [Italics mine.]

        U.S. Commerce Secretary John Bryson Embarks on India Trade Mission

        There are many related articles:

        Why are U.S. Bridges, Roads Being Built by Chinese Firms?

        Amerikans are so screwed.

  16. Brindle

    I live in the near-downtown area of a small city in the upper midwest. There is plenty of construction going on—but 90% of it is related to several Hospitals and related enterprises.
    The state and city government here seems like the poor cousins compared to Medical/Insurance complex.

  17. Wayne Harris

    From the Bread and Circuses Department:

    The collapse of the I-35W Mississippi River Bridge, which killed 13, injured 145 and cost $234 million to replace (and would have cost a fraction of that to properly maintain), delayed the official groundbreaking for the Twins’ new ballpark Target Field, which including infrastructure improvements and interest cost $522 million, $365 million of which will come from a 0.15% increase in the Hennepin County sales tax. There was no referendum. St. Paul voters had voted down a proposal to build the new stadium on their side of the river in 1999, so in 2006 the Minnesota Legislature passed a bill enabling the Hennepin County tax increase without a referendum.

    At the outset of construction the Twins’ official Web site assured: “The Twins have a rich history of providing the region’s most affordable family entertainment. Continuing with that tradition, the team is committed to maintaining a variety of seating areas in all price ranges.” Next season, a single-game ticket behind left field will cost $85. Presumably the prices were about the same last season. Nonetheless, nearly 2.5 million found that kind of pricing “affordable” – many, no doubt, with more than a little “priceless” help from VISA or MasterCard.

  18. steve from virginia

    America is shoddy because it built all those stupid bridges to begin with.

    In 1948 the United States had a rail system that was the envy of the world. Much of it was electrified. Almost every city and town had daily passenger rail service, bigger cities had much more frequent service along with connecting inter-urban and street railways.

    http://www.vanalen.org/lasr/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/map_passenger_1962.jpg

    In 1948 most Americans lived in rural areas and those living the urban life did so in towns which were thriving business- and trading communities. Less than half of Americans lived in cities which for the most part were models of suburbia today, with individual detached houses on larger lots.

    Twenty years later and the rail companies were largely bankrupt with a large percentage of trackage abandoned or undergoing abandonment. Towns were being emptied, cities abandoned to criminals and blight, there was sprawl like a cancer spreading out into the once fertile landscape. It was the ‘Age of Automobiles’ that was presumed to last — and grow — forever.

    The auto age lasted until 1973 when OPEC pushed a pin into its Uncle Sam voodoo doll. The marketing success of the auto companies had created the conditions for its own undoing; the millions of cars cannibalizing necessary resources while requiring the stupendous loans to keep the whole mess running.

    Since 1973 the establishment has been turning itself inside out trying to get back to the glory days of the late 1960s. Inside out = ‘Currency unions’, offshoring labor, real estate- and other bubbles, wars, financialization and income repression … whatever comes to hand.

    Anything to keep the cars.

    That’s what this article is about, getting back to the glory days of Sunday Drives and shorter commutes, of care free cruising, hot rods and muscle cars, of sex in the back seat and the retailing that was associated with these things … this by a country that has completely bankrupted itself.

    Double or nothing: “Try it one more time, Daddy-O”.

    What is absolutely mind-boggling is even when people are sitting right on top of the great problem of our age … right on top of it, the war between ourselves and our machine/toys … we refuse to see it for what it is. This is a fatal error, folks; that is, we won’t survive making it. It’s the toys or us.

    1. Ron

      agreed, this is all about auto related road improvement or maint spending rather then mass transit. The cost to maintain the existing roadway system such as repave etc continues to eat up a larger share of the dollars available so that finally counties such as Sonoma are returning rural roads back to gravel.

    2. susan the other

      Thank you Steve. My thinking exactly. The infrastructure we need has been ignored for a long time because it does not promote our absurd economic paradigm of profit from destruction. What we need is a new national and intra state train system, local busses, lots of bike lanes, well-maintained subway and El systems; etc. If there are dangerous bridges, they should be closed and recycled. Traffic should be rerouted. Any infrastructure maintenance should begin to concentrate on trucking and distribution for now. And cars, both the manufacture and the use, should be phased out as fast as possible. Not just here, but worldwide. Where is the government that will stand up and say this?

    3. from Mexico

      I think you need to get out more.

      From what I’ve seen, Americans are hardly the Lone Ranger when it comes to having a love affair with the automobile. I cannot name one single poor or working-class person here in Mexico who doesn’t have a car who doesn’t want one.

      I too believe that the days of the car culture are numbered. But the death of that culture will be deeply mourned by almost all of the world’s population.

      1. Walter Map

        You can have a better quality of life without a car in most major European cities. You have the open squares and the colonnades, with shopping and dining and people-watching, and they’re much friendlier for walking and bicycling and actually have public transportation. The roads are in good condition just about anywhere, including snowy Sweden and Switzerland, in case you want to drive somewhere.

        Amerikan cities are simply lame by comparison, and Amerikans are stuck with their cars, but the parking infrastructure is no better than the roads. Amerikan cities are dingy industrial things. You wouldn’t want to live there.

  19. Sherlock

    The Military/BANKER/Industrialist Complex is the REAL enemy of America, FREEDOM, and Liberty. THEY are why America is dead, and we were all warned:
    “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.” — Dwight D. Eisenhower
    ———————————–
    We must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists, and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals so that security and liberty may prosper together.

    – Dwight D. Eisenhower’s farewell address to the nation, 1961

  20. Min

    One thing the chart does not show is that infrastructure spending was too low to start with. We failed to maintain our infrastructure for many years. Talk about irresponsibility! How did that happen?

  21. Chris

    I disagree with this article. The graph depicts one thing, but my eyes paint an entirely different picture. Every day there is a road I drive on that is under construction. I mean it. I feel like it’s taken all these years to get funding and now the roads are being redone in full force. I mean EVERYWHERE around me the roads are being redone (which pisses me off, but then I’m reminded it’s someone getting a paycheck). Even in rural Wisconsin, the road crews have even redone the old gravel roads to a new higher tech gravel/asphalt combination. Bridges might be a problem – but I feel bridge work shuts down traffic completely and that may not be something governments are willing to do at this time.

      1. Ron

        The graph also reflects the lack of new home building in rural areas since the start of the recession as the new home builders focused on rural property that required over time or immediately new roads, bridges, and various strip malls, schools, local government buildings. Calif, Nev, Co. AZ NM immediately come to mind that all have experienced significant development far from major employment centers but since the start of the downturn home building in many of these areas has declined taking with it much of this build out.

  22. Hugh

    It is all and always about the looting. Medicare and Social Security are on the block. Infrastructure spending and spending on basic research are cut. It all leaves more money that the rich can siphon off to themselves.

    And of course if infrastructure is not maintained, then it can be sold off to private contractors, or semi so in public/private partnerships. We live in a kleptocracy. Did anyone seriously expect this to go down any other way?

  23. redleg

    Everyone notices the roads. The real deficiency is the invisible infrastructure that is in generally worse condition than transportation – electrical transmission, water, wastewater, dams & levees, schools, parks, & courts.
    WPA and similar (e.g. Rural Electricfication Act) built much of this infrastructure 70-80 years ago, and the design life is roughly 50-100 years.

    Most of this infrastructure is public, or de facto public (power transmission and various grid interconnections since deregulation a few decades ago). Not all of it was designed & built directly by .gov – much of the design and construction was contracted. The recent focus on roads and bridges have diverted resources from the rest of the infrastructure. But designing and constructing a road is a simple task compared to design & construction of a dam, park, sewer, water treatment plant, lift station, flood control/mitigation, etc., so engineers love road projects (high profit margin!) but are less enthusiastic to (re)build the more difficult projects.

    So the roads get a “shovel ready” overlay that looks good, but doesn’t address whether the road is over capacity (expensive) or whether the water and sewer under it need replacing (very expensive) or even if the dam a mile away is leaking after a century of service (really, really expensive).

    1. Carla

      I’m so glad you brought up water and sewer. This is a train wreck headed right at us. I live on the edge of the greatest surface source of freshwater in the world (Great Lakes) and our water and sewer rates have tripled over the last few years. We are paying $160/month for water and sewer in a duplex with a total of four residents. Our actual consumption has gone down, and is considered by the city to be below average.

      Our public officials state that they need the higher rates to repair and replace 100-year-old water and sewer infrastructure. However, there’s no evidence that they’re doing so. Since the rust belt continues to empty-out in this “recovery” (read: Depression) that we’re having, the tax base continues to shrink. I suspect they’re using the extra money just to keep all the many, many municipalities going.

      1. Ellen Anderson

        Does the removal of old infrastructure count as “improvement?” It should.

        The infrastructure that we engineered and built in the 20th century was based upon disasterous assumptions. The Interstate Highway System led to the trashing of America’s topography and landscape. It opened up forests and wetlands to housing development and sprawl. It got us into our current predicament where most of us cannot survive without our cars. Managing contraction will involve deciding which of the roads and bridges will have to be abandoned.

        Mixing human waste with clean water and discharging the mess into our waterways was another dubious infrastructure “improvement.”

        In fact, the challenge for us and our descendants is and will be how to remove the worst features of our “infrastructure.” Such as nuclear power plants, contaminated rivers, crumbling dams etc. In my state whole departments are working on how to remove dams that have tons of contaminated soils piled up behind them waiting to “release” downstream. I would hope that someday all of that would be counted as infrastructure improvement.

        Face it, we have wrecked the place. Filling potholes will just allow the cars to go faster so I can’t use public ways safely. I love potholes. I have spent alot of my life fighting attempts to fill them.

  24. Christopher Rogers

    I love reading and listening to posters and commentators going on about “big” American problems – and there are many I know.

    Now if you think the USA is “F_ _ k’ed”, take a gander over the big pond to the UK, here we have the Prime Minister ( David Cameron) gloating over the fact that a 14 mile stretch of highway is being widened at an astronomical cost. It’s the equivalent of Obama opening a small little bridge to nowhere.

    Basically our leaders like their “big toy” projects and ignore the rest – it would seem that in these peons of neoliberalism much needed infrastructure repair is the last thing they are interested in. Indeed, its only in the last decade that the UK has begun the rollout of the electrification of its railways, where I live in Wales, we have no electric railway. Which just about sums up all the neoliberal madness.

    Still, as Marx observed: Capitalist are there own grave diggers, and what we are observing seems to back this contention up. Sad, but what can we do?

  25. s spade

    It has always seemed to me that the smartest thing was to live in Italy. If I wasn’t married to a Europhobe I would do it myself.

  26. JEB

    Thats a real funny comparison, our roads are better than Iraq. Its pretty bad we are comparing ourselves with a third world country when it comes to infrastructure.

  27. Jason

    It seems like more people will die due to accidents related to poor infrastructure than of terrorism. The US government continues to spend trillions on phony wars, “the war on terror”, which no one buys anymore while the country is falling apart.

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