Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Pork Planning

"The United States is one of the few countries in the world to make the majority of its transportation investments without first conducting any kind of economic analysis to determine whether these investments will have any practical benefits...The results are telling."

Mary Peters, Secretary, Department of Transportation, quoted in David Leonhardt, "Monuments of Waste Pile Up in Scattershot Infrastructure Spending System," New York Times, November 19, 2008.

That doesn't speak well for the ready-to-go $18 billion of infrastructure projects as part of the next economic stimulus, much less the trillions of needed infrastructure investments. We currently spend about $400 billion per year, still not up to rates of the 1950s, and $100 billion more projects may be ready.

"The current system is so inefficient that even a minimal amount of change would represent progress."

I suspect the pressure to act may make "a minimal amount of change" seem out of reach. I like the threshold requirement that proposed infrastructure projects must serve a documented goal.

Sometimes economists just nod their heads and say, "It's all in the multiplier. No need to worry about the details." Well, we're at a point where having infrastructure projects also serve a purpose would get us more bang for the buck. My experience tells me that some infrastructure projects create more of the kinds of jobs we want than others. President-Elect Obama and Congress should include an infrastructure goals review as well as linkages to workforce training.

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