Alec Foege Calls for Change
In August 2010, Paul Krugman published a piece in the New York Times titled “America Goes Dark.” He described how the United States, “a country that once amazed the world with its visionary investments in transportation, from the Erie Canal to the Interstate Highway System” was now dismantling its infrastructure.
Krugman’s main point was that the U.S. government was not investing stimulus funds in the tools needed for our own economic growth. Three decades of antigovernment rhetoric had convinced many Americans that spending taxpayer funds on anything was a waste of taxpayer funds. But government—the US government, specifically—had built this country into an innovative economic powerhouse by investing in “lighted streets, drivable roads and decent schooling for the public as a whole.”
I would take Krugman’s point one step further and argue that the American government and people helped the country grow both by investing in innovation and by committing themselves to the traditional tinkerer spirit. A sophisticated, cutting-edge infrastructure was the perfect crucible for the kind of innovation the United States embodied.
The point about the devolution of tinkering in American life is not that we have lost a physical connection to the work that we do. It’s that the notion that we can fix any problem or achieve any goal that we set for ourselves has deteriorated into a sanitized, corporatized version of what constitutes achievement.
Corporate America has grown rigid as it has grown larger. Despite the dot-com era’s many images of creative whizzes reweaving the very fabric of innovation, it remains extremely difficult for the freethinking alchemists of today to perform their peculiar strain of magic and thrive while doing it.
This was a great article much longer than the brief excerpt I have placed here. If at all possible, please go to Salon and read the whole thing. The gentleman has several books out, so you might want to look into acquiring those as well.
I have been told by people flying into the United States how run down the place looks. There are reports that say this country needs about 2.2 trillion dollars just to get even in terms of infrastructure.
Yet, these pressing needs seem to register very little as a governmental concern. We’ve already had collapsing dikes and bridges. What kind of crisis will it take to make this a critical issue that gets addressed?
Maybe the flesh is willing but the spirit is weak? Where’s that “can do” spirit that built buildings, monuments and wonders of technology? Where has that gone?
I like to read yearbooks from the 1960’s, Britannica, World Book, etc. and in them I find a spirit of optimism and a certainty of success that no longer is predominant in our culture. Much of our current angst can be traced to the thought that things are only going to get worse.
I agree with Mr. Foege, we need change.
We need to act and we can’t wait for the “road fairy” to repair out problems.
P.S. You could argue that there is no business ethics here. After all we aren’t speaking of deliberate sabotage of America’s infrastructure. Certainly I hope not. But business ethics is also a positive force. Good business ethics would embrace creativity and long term growth as manifested in infrastructure development and preservation.
From around the web,
From the web site, ASCE, American Society of Civil Engineers:
In mid-January, the American Society of Civil Engineers (asce) convened a series of five roundtables in Washington, D.C., that were
conceived as in-depth discussions of how best to address the nation’s significant infrastructure deficiencies, which threaten not only the safety
and welfare of the public but also the nation’s economic growth and competitiveness. Each roundtable had its own moderator and slate of
participants, and the participants included well-respected political leaders, policy leaders, and members of asce who are well versed on the
subject of critical infrastructure. The starting points for these discussions were the five key solutions outlined in asce’s 2009 Report Card for
America’s Infrastructure, which was released in March 2009. In essence what these roundtables were striving to achieve was to develop a
framework for giving full dimension to these solutions and securing for them positions of high visibility and high priority on the national agenda.
which was released in 2003. The 2001 report card conferred an overall grade of D+; the 2005 report card, a D; and the 2009 report card, a D. The 2003 progress report
also conferred a grade of D. These assessments have trained a spotlight on the fact that America’s critical infrastructure—principally its roads, bridges, drinking
water systems, mass transit systems, schools, and systems for delivering energy—may soon fail to meet society’s needs. The underlying threats—and these threats are quite significant—are those of deteriorating
economic strength within the global marketplace and a diminished quality of life across the spectrum of American society.
From the web site, Class Warfare Blog:
Now is the time to act to bring up the level of repair of our infrastructure. The reasons?
• the cost of borrowing the money to do this is approximately 0%. We will never get a better deal.
• the number of out-of-work construction workers is huge which has depressed the cost of labor.
• the money paid to the architects and engineers and laborers and suppliers of raw materials and truck drivers will be spent almost immediately by those folks which will stimulate the economy. Plus there is time for the money those folks spend to be spent again (by the subsequent recipients) before the next year is out, amplifying the effect. (Economists call this the multiplier effect. In this case $1 spend on construction creates well over $1 of economic activity.)
• the problems with our infrastructure will only get worse and will cost even more as time goes on. It is not like they will “heal themselves” like a cold will if you just wait.
• all of the expenditures will go to Americans and American companies. The jobs cannot be “outsourced.”
If China is willing to lend us the money to make this nation stronger, creating jobs that generate more than enough tax revenue to pay off those loans, we will be fools if we don’t act. The more we wait the more it costs us in the long run.
From the web site, Reboot Illinois:
“Over the next several decades, Illinois’ infrastructure needs will likely exceed $300 billion, yet the state does not have a comprehensive plan to address this critical need. There are real costs associated with underfunding of infrastructure: shipping and travel delays, congestion, pollution, and diminished economic growth.” State Budget Crisis Task Force Illinois Report.
And finally, from the web site, Save America’s Infrastructure:
For the U.S. economy to be the most competitive country in the world we need a first class infrastructure system—transport systems that move people and goods efficiently and at reasonable cost by land, water and air; transmission systems that deliver reliable, low-cost power from a wide range of energy sources, and water systems that drive industrial processes as well as the daily functions in our homes. Infrastructure is the foundation that connects the nation’s businesses, communities and people, driving our economy and improving our quality of life.
ASCE urges the administration and Congress to focus on policies that will create jobs and continue to grow the economy. ASCE will work with the new Congress and the President to rebuild and revitalize the very foundation of our national economy. Roads, bridges, levees, and dams not only provide security, but also allow businesses to move goods, reach global markets, grow their market share and create new jobs.