The Left’s ‘crumbling infrastructure’ myth
Surely you’ve heard about our “crumbling infrastructure.” It’s hardly scientific, granted, but I’ve driven all over the country and I find the contention that we’re a few years away from Third World status preposterous. Is it as bad as Democrats claim?
Thursday, President Barack Obama is back advocating for new infrastructure project investments in a speech in Jacksonville, Fla — a day after telling us that “as a share of our economy, we invest less in our infrastructure than we did two decades ago” in another much-hyped speech on the economy.
Arguing that there are Keynesian benefits to funding construction projects is one thing; scaremongering is another. While it’s true that there’s been a drop in infrastructure “investments,” it has a lot to do with an abnormal spike in stimulus spending and little to do with a right-wing scheme to eliminate paved roads.
According to a OCED report, the United States spent 3.3 percent of its GDP from 2006-2011 on infrastructure. In contrast, the European Union, with a larger GDP, has spent 3.1 percent. Actually, as Evan Soltas at Bloomberg View points out, our infrastructure spending as a percentage of GDP has been remarkable steady for a long time:
Total public construction spending has varied between 1.7 percent and 2.3 percent of GDP for the last 20 years, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. By the Congressional Budget Office’s slightly different measure, infrastructure spending has been between 2.3 percent and 3.1 percent of GDP since 1956.
“We’ve got more than 100,000 bridges that are old enough to qualify for Medicare,” the president claims. Yet, not only did a recent Reason Foundation study examining 20 years of state highway data find that the condition of America’s state-controlled roads had improved in seven key areas, but that the percentage of deficient bridges in the country had fallen from 37.8 percent in 1989 to 23.7 percent in 2008.
The World Economic Forum, which offers some more context, ranked the United States 14th out of 144 nations for the quality of its infrastructure. Which is even better than it sounds when you consider our sprawling geography (Canada being the only large country that ranked higher.) One of the reasons other nations ranked higher was due to their more modern rail systems – the type of project that has consistently proven to be a wasteful venture here at home.
As an aside, Obama likes to frame this as an issue that threatens our competitiveness internationally. Well, here are the five “most problematic factors for doing business” in the United States according to World Economic Forum:
1- Inefficient government bureaucracy
2- Tax rates
3- Tax regulations
4- Access to financing
5- Restrictive labor regulations`
And speaking of inefficient government bureaucracy: The last time we went down this road, around $90 billion of the president’s stimulus went to green energy companies (many of them now in bankruptcy) instead of repairing bridges. Another $1.3 billion went to subsidize Amtrak rather than repair the roads you actually drive on. Another $8 billion went to other rail projects (with priority for high-speed rail) that you will never use.
Could we do better? Of course. We could be more efficient. We could reexamine how we pay for our roads. But if your purpose for more spending is the spending itself (listen to Paul Krugman on alien invasions to understand why) just say so.
Follow David Harsanyi on Twitter @davidharsanyi.