Saturday, April 21, 2012

"Pothole Nation" = Spoiled Rotten Nation

It must be great to be a liberal think be able to sit around in your ivory tower coming up with new ways to explain how America can be fixed that have no basis whatsoever in reality. The best part is, because your ideas are only ever considered by other liberals and progressives, there is never anyone around who will be willing to tell you that you're actually full of shit. This is where I, as a former member of the tribe come in.

At first glance this article, entitled "Pothole Nation," by Sam Pizzigati of the Institute for Policy Studies seems reasonable in that it decrys how America has for the past generation or two been allowing its infrastructure to slowly decay:
Investing in infrastructure used to be a political no-brainer. Politicians of nearly every ideological stripe supported government spending on everything from school buildings to bridges.

The more conservative pols would typically favor highways, the more liberal preferred mass transit. But nearly all elected officials considered quality infrastructure essential. Businesses simply couldn't thrive, even conservatives understood, without it.

This consensus remains solid — among the American people. Only 6 percent of Americans, one poll last year found, consider infrastructure "not that important" or "not important at all." Among our politicians, it's a different story. Infrastructure has become a political hot potato. Congress can barely reach any consensus at all. Lawmakers have spent more than two years haggling over a bare-bones transportation bill.

Overall, U.S. infrastructure spending has declined dramatically. Back in 1968, federal outlays for basic infrastructure amounted to 3.3 percent of the nation's gross domestic product. Last year, federal infrastructure investments made up only 1.3 percent of GDP. The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that we would now need to spend $2.2 trillion over five years to adequately "maintain and upgrade" America's roads, dams, drinking water, school buildings, and the like.

But lawmakers in Congress are moving in the opposite direction. The House's 2013 budget, if adopted by the Senate, would force massive cutbacks in infrastructure investment.

The impact of these cutbacks? Still more potholes, brownouts, and overcrowded classrooms and buses.

The irony in all this: We ought to be witnessing right now a historic surge in infrastructure investment. The cost of borrowing for infrastructure projects, the Economic Policy Institute's Ethan Pollack points out, has hit record lows — and the private construction companies that do infrastructure work remain desperate for contracts. They're charging less.

"We're getting much more bang for our buck than we usually do," says Pollack.

Yet our political system seems totally incapable of responding to the enormous opportunity we have before us. Center for American Progress analysts David Madland and Nick Bunker blame this political dysfunction on inequality.

The more wealth concentrates, their research shows, the feebler a society's investments in infrastructure become. Our nation's long-term decline in federal infrastructure investment — from 3.3 percent of GDP in 1968 to 1.3 percent in 2011 — turns out to mirror almost exactly the long-term shift in income from America's middle class to the richest Americans. And the U.S. states where the rich have gained the most at the expense of the middle class turn out to be the states that invest the least in infrastructure.

Why should this be the case? Madland and Bunker cite several dynamics at play. In more equal societies, middle classes will be more politically powerful. That matters because the middle class has a vested interest in healthy levels of infrastructure investment. Middle class families depend on good roads, public schools, and mass transit much more than rich families. Rich kids may attend private schools, and the ultra-wealthy can even commute by helicopter to avoid traffic congestion.

Some wealthy people, Madland and Bunker acknowledge, do see the connection between infrastructure and healthy economic development. But increased investment in infrastructure demands higher taxes, and lower tax rates have always been among the "more cherished priorities of the rich."

"When push comes to shove, infrastructure is likely to take a backseat to keeping taxes low," they posit. "There is a significant body of evidence that suggests a strong middle class is important for public investments."

Unequal societies — like the contemporary United States — have weak middle classes. That leaves Americans with a basic choice. We can press for greater equality. Or spend more time dodging potholes.
Notice the most basic element that is missing here? There is absolutely no mention that America is in a deep financial hole and that it is going to take a lot more than just raising taxes on the wealthy to not only get us out of our financial fix but to be able to afford a robust infrastructure repair program.

Instead we get a bunch of blather about the supposed connection between unequal societies and the lack of infrastructure spending. I'm not sure what country Mr. Pizzigati has been living in these past 40 years, but as a child and into my early adult years, I seem to remember America actually having a fairly robust middle class. Certainly, they were large enough in number that they could have voted to support infrastructure projects. But that's not what they did, is it? Nope, instead they voted for the assholes, starting with Ronald Reagan, who promised to cut their taxes. The rich might as a class like lower taxes, but they hardly have enough votes to win elections unless they pull a substantial portion of the middle class (and working class) along with them.

So why did Americans so docilely agree to give away the store? Because even though they may want their government services, they don't want to pay for them and hate paying taxes even more. That is the very essence of Spoiled Rotten Nation. Me first and fuck the rest of you...until one day the whole stinking system collapses under the strain, as our deteriorating infrastructure will no doubt eventually do.

But it's those last two sentences of the article that really made me laugh. This November, tens of millions of delusional idiots are going to go to the polls and cast their vote for rich, Wall Street asshole Willard Mitt Romney, who will essentially be promising to do what every President since Reagan has done. And tens of millions of other delusional idiots will go to the polls and cast their ballots for President Hopey-Changey, who will blow smoke up their asses like he already has for four grueling years, until he gets reelected and then proceeds to continue doing what every President since Reagan has done. Either way, the infrastructure will remain right where it is today: fucked.

Bonus: I don't believe I have yet used a Cars song...time to correct that deficiency


  1. "Potholes" must have been the topic of the week that came off the fake left's fax machines this week! I swear, I think they are going with one message repeated over and over like the right! "Talk about potholes...the unwashed masses will understand potholes. Let's get them in a lather over.....potholes!"

    Your readers might get a kick out of this:
    Thomas Friedman is worried about potholes and this writer does something magical in responding to the latest Friedman piece.

    I know it's huffington post, but keep with me- that's what makes his piece even funnier. The comments from most of the readers show they are not bright enough to realize satire that would make Swift proud.

    Oh, and Thomas Friedman's answer to the potholes...elect Mayor Bloomberg as a third party choice for president. lol.

    1. That was a fantastic takedown. I bow in that regard to a master of deflating wakery! :)

  2. When I looked at the online newsfeed for my local paper this week, I could hardly believe it. I mean, how can we not see what's happening? It's like watching a car crash in real time: Scenes of collapse in the heartland

  3. You should see the holes on the pacific coast highway. After these past couple months of nothing but rain, wow, almost as bad as '97. If we face total systemic collapse, highway 101 will cease to exist in two maybe three years, it'll just slide into the ocean.

  4. I spoke to several friends who were in the US recently and they all expressed amazement at the visible decline in the infrastructure. This is something they do really well in mainland western Europe, in France which I know well the infrastructure is of a very high standard and very well maintained. It's a very, very bad sign when a society begins to neglect its infrastructure, it evokes things like the last days of the Roman empire.

  5. But 'Me first and fuck the rest of you' is exactly the sentiment that America was founded on.
    It amazes me that you lasted this long.

  6. Actually, my impression from visiting various countries in Europe is that America, by comparison, has NEVER maintained anything. We've been pretty good about expansion, but typically just abandoned whatever got old and worn out and moved on to the new. (It's worked so long as we had territories with nothing but hapless First Nation people in our way, who were easily dispatched.)

    That's why Europe is full of amazing old castles, churches, government buildings, museums and houses - everything from fancy castles to humble cottages.

    The mentality is to preserve and reuse, as opposed to rip down. Even comparatively wealthy people live in much tinier spaces than lower-class Americans. When I was so lucky to visit in Paris and London and Italy at various times in the past 20 years, my friends in those places, who were by no means poor, still bathed in tubs - not even handheld showers, and thought nothing of it.

    I grew up in Ipswich, Mass, which has more 17th and 18th century houses still intact than any other town in the US (which I loved!). The reason is, the first Winthrop governors lived there and expected it to be what Boston became so for a while it was prosperous. But the harbor silted in, and the town was abandoned to poverty (luckily) as wave after wave of immigrants - first Greek and then Polish - moved in to work in the lace factories, then the shoe manufacturing and clam shucking industries. They were too impoverished to tear down and rebuild and now, the town is a treasure of restored antique homes.

    1. I hear you, Gail. My hometown of Freeport, Illinois, which I've written about here before had a downtown district of classic old buildings from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Some of them still stand (in dilapidated condition), but most were torn down for ugly replacements or parking lots. The biggest tragedy was the ornate old courthouse, which had stood for more than a century before it was ripped down in the late 1970s to make way for an utterly soulless replacement.

      George Carlin's description of America as "a nation of unenlightened halfwits" comes to mind...

  7. "A nation of unenlightened halfwits". That really sums it up perfectly. Thats exactly how I feel about this nation, at this point in my life. Another brillant post with excellent comments Bill. Thank-you so much.