I remember one of my teachers in high school saying something about how my generation would have to deal with “crumbling infrastructure.” I dismissed him as a rambling old man back then, but only 10 years after he said that, we’re seeing tragedy after tragedy unfold as basic infrastructure fails spectacularly here, in the richest country ever to exist on God’s green earth. A few years ago, we had a blackout stretch from Detroit to New York City. Two years ago, the levees in New Orleans broke. Two weeks ago, a steam pipe burst under a Manhattan street, killing one and injuring hundreds. And today a bridge over the Mississippi river collapsed in Minneapolis. Example after example of tragic failures of the most basic public trust: roads, utilities, and bridges.
Obviously, accidents sometimes happen. But I refuse to believe it’s just coincidental that our public infrastructure is crumbling about 27 years after the rise of a political philosophy (Reaganomics) which actively works to privatize the entire government out to the lowest bidder. Public utilities used to be just that — publicly funded, regulated, and maintained. That system wasn’t perfect, but at least we didn’t have exploding streets and collapsing bridges. Nowadays, we’ve got Enron-esque, private, for-profit corporations running everything from prisons to health care to road maintenance and even the military.
It’s not working.
You can blame “big government” for every problem, or you can recognize that public investment is the only way to keep America strong. Our roads, bridges, pipes, power grids, airports, seaports… our very cities are old. With the rise of brand-spanking new cities in booming economies around the world, America is going to look decrepit by the time I’m middle aged (and that’s not too far down the road).
I realize that the infrastructure problem is complex, but it seems to me that a solution begins by rejecting the wrongful (and Republican) philosophy that private corporations are automatically better than public investment.
I also remember my high school teacher talking about the alphabet soup of public investment which built America back when his generation was in charge: TVA, WPA, CCC, CWA… the New Deal. Maybe it’s time for something like that once again, this time to save lives by renewing our aging infrastructure.