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Money spent on infrastructure creates jobs now, invests in the future
Congress and the presidential candidates should agree to invest in the future through public spending on infrastructure that supports the economy.
Seattle Times editorial columnist
The federal government must spend more money to maintain, repair and build the roads, bridges, power grid and other infrastructure that support the economy.
Yes, put it on the credit card. These are basic investments in the country's future and the working lives of generations that will put them to productive use. Prepare for better times ahead.
Everyone is looking over their shoulder ducking debris from the explosion of the housing bubble, but grossly inflated inventories are diminishing. Prices are settling into a new normal. Defaults are easing and household debt is being paid down. A measure of financial sobriety returned.
Job numbers are still scary. Unemployment nudged up in May, and hinted at a slowdown. But not without surprises, especially in manufacturing. America is building cars again.
Put the construction sector back to work on public projects. If one can ignore the asinine behavior of Donald Trump and the birthers, and other tactically motivated prattle — is President Obama a socialist? — there are threads of agreement.
Even Libertarian Ron Paul supports spending on infrastructure. Republican Mitt Romney has no readily discernible opinion, as usual, though he seems partial to more military spending.
A divided Congress refuses to budge on putting people to work. Republicans are in pure gridlock mode. Befitting a complete lack of interest in responsible governance, the obfuscating GOP rhetoric is about cutting debt and ever-lower taxes.
The ready lesson for America goes back to the Great Depression, and the infusion of cash and imagination that fueled a recovery and decades of growth.
The Pacific Northwest benefits from and brags about its low-cost, green hydro power. Ask all those closet socialists in Eastern Washington about the transformation with public investments in rural electrification, water, irrigation, roads and schools. The tax benefits, subsidies and write-offs continue today.
Grand Coulee Dam and the Columbia Basin Project changed the region. Variations on those themes around the country helped the nation recover and prosper.
No one dictates what is carried across those highways or what new technology is powered with all that energy. Farm to market is just as likely to be a path to a port for delivery overseas.
Economist Robert H. Frank of Cornell University observes a practical aspect of timely investments. Saving money. In a The New York Times column, Frank notes the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials reports substandard roads cause $335 in annual vehicle damage per vehicle on the road.
Infrastructure investment is basic for government, Frank told me in a telephone call. No one expects private industry to step in and do the work, he said. The money comes from the public purse.
Put people to work building the infrastructure for a better tomorrow. Wages go right back into the economy. The velocity of those dollars is enormous. The money is spent on shelter, food, transportation, health care, education and other basics.
Spending money to save and make money is hardly a foreign concept to household budgets. The same basic thinking applies to the false economy of slashing social-service budgets in tough times. Ideologically driven austerity on unemployment insurance, public health and housing and mental-health care only cause other government and social costs to soar. Think emergency room visits, street crime, law enforcement and jail costs.
The nation cannot afford the mindless diversions that pass for political debate — purposeful distractions to avoid accountability for real plans.
Invest tax dollars in infrastructure, and track the immediate help to the economy and the predictable long-term benefits. Keep America competitive by having a country that functions.
Lance Dickie's column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org