Monday, February 08, 2010

infrastructure, economy, politics

Bob Herbert published an excellent op-ed a few days ago commenting on discussions at the recent "The Next American Economy: Transforming Energy and Infrastructure Investment" conference. The conference took stock of the tremendous infrastructural problems facing the US economy, with a litany of complaints: bridges, roads, the electrical grid, air transport, stressed and leaking municipal water systems, dams, levees, etc. We could add much to that list, particularly an underdeveloped spectrum in the hands of private corporations (should we just say individuals now?), and of course higher education.

Herbert observed that,
The conference was sparked by a sense of dismay over what has happened to the U.S. economy over the past several years and a feeling that constructive ideas about solutions were being smothered by an obsessive focus on the short-term in this society, and by the chronic dysfunction and hyperpartisanship in much of the government.
Let me add to that list a seemingly unrelated observation. Recent polling has found that 53 percent of incoming college freshmen do not support abortion rights. OK, well so what? The connection between the two, I think, is that we are seeing in infrastructure, social issues, educational policy, and economic forecasts the cumulative fallout of 30 years of rightward movement in US politics and society. There was a hopeful moment in the fall of 2008 where it seemed that movement my be staunched, and the flow possibly reversed. Unfortunately, the Obama administration and Democrats on the Hill have proven themselves incapable of providing leadership to encourage the budding shift.

The root of short-term obsessions and infrastructural degradation is tied exactly to the rhetorical triumph of anti-taxers, who have convinced the have-nots of US society that it is in their primary interest to prevent government from impinging on corporate prerogative. Though, of course, they don't sell it that way. The pernicious effects of the consolidation of wealth accomplished by dropping top marginal rates below 50 percent are being witnessed before our eyes. There is no money for keeping streets clear, lights on, libraries open, teachers paid, etc. Our foreign policy is being serviced with debt. States with balanced budget amendments are hogtied to address the economic crisis. But no politician will speak the truth about this situation, in large part because the institutional mandate is self-preservation.

It's hard to look at the USA currently, and not see a manifest breakdown of notions of public good, of the commonweal, of the idea that government constituted by the people expresses the will of the people. It doesn't help, of course, that mainstream media is willing to present the ridiculousness of 600 gathered teabaggers as some how representative of a mass movement. But, alas, I digress. Without a shift in political consciousness amongst the voters of this country, our infrastructure (both physical and intellectual) will continue to wither on the vine as imbeciles call for watering the tree of liberty.