Sunday, July 10, 2011

It's time to spend, spend, spend

No, I'm not kidding. All across America our infrastructure is crumbling. It absolutely will be repaired--we're not about to let our interstate highway system and bridges and dams and levees and sewer pipes and plants and water pipes and power lines go away. And deferred maintenance is usually tripled maintenance--meaning that its costs vastly less to fix things before they're totally broke.

My alcoholic grandmother is a perfect example of the Republican Congress. She bought a new Chevrolet in 1956 and never added oil or got it changed. And back then engines leaked oil--you always had some drip on the garage floor.

Eventually--after about 16,000 miles as I recall--the oil level dropped to the point that the engine seized.

Now compare the cost of a new engine vs. a couple of oil changes and a few quarts in between. Not to mention the experience of driving the car at the moment the engine seizes.

That's what's going on with our infrastructure. Remember reading about that bridge collapsing in the Midwest and killing a bunch of people? That was the poster child for the cost of deferred maintenance.

And it doesn't have to be quite that dramatic. A few years ago I hit a huge pothole while driving our camper van on a local freeway. The awning above the sliding door popped open and deployed at 65mph, costing us time and money that will never be counted as part of the cost of not repairing that pothole.

Now multiple my own little example by millions, and add that to official estimates of the multiplying factors of the costs of deferred maintanance.

Right now we are firing the people needed to do all this maintenance locally, regionally, and nationally, in the name of deficit reduction. This is exactly the same as a company balancing its books by refusing to pay its bills. It is exactly the same as calling Social Security an entitlement when most of it is our money, withdrawn from our paychecks throughout our working lives, then "borrowed" by Congress to spend on other things--and now telling us they don't want to pay back the money they "borrowed" from us--and that it's really not our money anyway--that we're living too long and there aren't enough young workers to support retirees.

Well, not as long as the hedge fund manager who got $4.7B for his labors last year paid 15% on his income, like all his fellow hedge fund managers and most of Wall Street's Masters of the Universe. What tax rate did you pay on your income?

I can't see how a party can call itself "conservative" and at the same time advocate welching on debts and stepping over dollars to pick up nickels via deferred maintenance. That's not how you economize. Our infrastructure is not a luxury. It's the core of what a government provides its people--and it's going to be paid, either now for X dollars or a few years for now for 3X or even 5X dollars (plus lives lost here and there).

The time for government to economize and lay off staff is when the economy is booming and the private sector can absorb laid-off government workers. The time for government to spend--yes, deficit spend--is when the private sector isn't hiring (or in the current case, hiring plenty of workers in China and Sri Lanka etc. but not in America) and the workers are needed to do maintenance projects that have to be done anyway.

Unless the Republican Party's vision of our future is for us to once more become hunters and gatherers in the forest in bands of warring tribes of a few dozen each. Is that what they really mean when they champion a "traditional lifestyle" ?

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