Monday, December 22, 2008

Thinking Concrete

"It's everybody's wish list, everybody's favorite program. And I think that's a big mistake."

Alice Rivlin, Brookings Institution, quoted in: Lori Montgomery, "Obama Team Assembling $850 Billion Stimulus," Washington Post, December 19, 2008.

A lot is riding on the infrastructure investments of the proposed economic stimulus package -- about $350 billion. It's supposed to shock the economy into action; provide needed jobs for those newly unemployed and the long-term unemployed; and help create the conditions for long-term economic growth and innovation.

These objectives often conflict; and putting a list of projects together so quickly is certain to miss the boat and produce lots of "blowback" from bad investments.

Urbanist Joel Kotkin reminds us that: "[I]t's not that we stopped spending on infrastructure over the past decade. It's that mostly, we haven't spent on the right things."

Joel Kotkin, "Make Sure All That Spending is Well Supported," Washington Post, December 14, 2008.

A recent report on rebuilding infrastructure in Iraq concludes, "Answering whether the program met its goals to rebuild Iraq and modernize its infrastructure, the report concludes,'Generally no.'"

Karen DeYoung, "Official Report Faults Iraq Reconstruction," Washington Post, December 15, 2008.

Of course we can do better than that. Right? Over the years I've been involved in processes to aggregate ready infrastructure projects for investment. Not inspiring. Phrases like "seat of the pants" and "back of a matchbook" come to mind.

I'm overstating the problem, I'm sure. We got that one bridge right in Minnesota while New Orleans still languishes. Who in Obama's newly proposed cabinet has the moxy to oversee that infrastructure investments serve useful economic purposes and are well conceived and implemented?

Joel Kotkin concludes,"..[T]he trick is cocentrate on the basics and forget the flashy, feel-good kinds of projects that have characterized many "infrastructure" investments in recent years."

1 comment:

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