Reading your front-page article of Sept. 1, 2011, “The Breaking Point,” I was struck by the many inaccuracies and errors in the supporting arguments for spending more government funds on infrastructure.
China and India spend 11 percent and 6 percent, respectively, on infrastructure, not “about 9 percent” as you state. (latest data from U.S. Bureau of Statistics)
China/India derive all funds from the government. The U.S. derives its infrastructure funds from both public and private sources, which account for 4.1 percent, not 2 percent. With the latest data showing we actually spend 2.6 percent from all government sources, saying we only spend 2 percent without incorporating all sources of funding is misleading.
China and India are emerging economies that have had little or no infrastructure until the last two decades. Therefore, they would be expected to spend more than the U.S. on infrastructure. And they are in intensive building phases while the U.S. is in a maintenance/upgrade phase. Traditionally, maintenance and upgrades require less expenditure.
China has approximately the same land mass and four times the population of the U.S., while India has three times the population. Building infrastructure for these large neglected populations to support an economic boom is one of the contributors to their large investment.
In addition, I have researched your claim that the McKinsey Global Institute study “earlier this year” reported that that “The country’s poor infrastructure is perhaps the main cause for the stall in economic growth.” I cannot find a statement even approximating this claim anywhere in any of the 2010 or 2011 McKinsey Global Institute reports, papers or findings. Quite the opposite is true. The only statement in a report I can find even approximating this assertion by MGI is on page 13 of the MGI report, “How to Compete and Grow, a Sector Guide to Policy.”
Infrastructure is listed second and included among other enablers. A call to contacts within MGI said they had no knowledge of any definitive statement you reported, as the U.S. economy is highly complex with many factors contributing to our troubled economy. Some are more important and some are less important than infrastructure.
Further, many books have been written on the fall of the Roman Empire, authored by both contemporary and ancient sources. It is arguable that one of the reasons for the fall of the Roman Empire was exactly the opposite of your claim that as the empire expanded, its expenditures on infrastructure abroad resulted in neglect of the infrastructure back home. In fact, some of Rome’s greatest infrastructure achievements were implemented back home in the later stages of the empire. Many aqueducts, roads, sewers and inventions, such as water valves, were incorporated during the decline of the Roman Empire. In fact, some historians argue that the continued level of government spending on maintenance and building for Rome’s demanding local population with a declining revenue base was one of the largest contributors to its decline.
Also, citing frivolous lawsuits such as a claim by one drunk driver that, “If the tree had not been there, then I would not have hit it!” cheapens your argument. There will always be claims by people like this, regardless of the quality of our infrastructure. What you ignore when using the lawsuit argument, is the larger number of environmental suits and studies that inhibit, prohibit and add cost to any maintenance, improvement or expansion of our infrastructure.
Space and time prohibit pointing out additional flaws and foibles in support of your argument to spend more federal money on our infrastructure. Perhaps a better article would address the examples you give of our need to repair and expand our infrastructure, with a variety of solutions. Suggestions would include, but not be limited to, public as well as private sources of funding; and reduction, streamlining or outright elimination of restrictive regulations. Since you used China as an example, I will close with my own experience. In order to reduce cost and increase the speed of infrastructure expansion in China, the centralized government gives responsibility, accountability and authority (RAA) to the local administrators and companies. They have complete authority to break down barriers and waive regulations for the greater goal of modernization. And MGI has listed government cooperation for streamlining and reduction of regulations as the first item of importance in their report on economic growth.
George N. Bullen is a resident of Oxnard.