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The emperor indeed has no clothes and it’s apparently a feature of the argument, not a bug:

Barry Ritholtz:

U.S. on Highway to Flunking Out, by Barry Ritholtz: Roads are crumbling, bridges are collapsing, and what was once considered one of the greatest achievements of any government anywhere has fallen into embarrassing disrepair. I am of course discussing our nation’s infrastructure. … How did this happen? Credit a combination of benign neglect and anti-tax ideology run amok. …

Since 1993, the U.S. federal gasoline tax has been 18.4 cents a gallon, which finances the Highway Trust Fund. Adjusted for inflation, the tax is now about 10 cents a gallon. …

The U.S. interstate highway system, once the envy of the world, is in mediocre and deteriorating condition today … putting the U.S at a competitive disadvantage. …

The solution is simple. Raise the federal gasoline tax five cents a year for the next five years. Index it to inflation starting in the fifth year. It’s the least the U.S. can do to keep up.

See here. And here. For starters. And by the way, go check out the premise to begin with. Try here. And here. And maybe here. Or this is a good listen. They’re all biased of course.

Let’s be a little bit like economists here. Taxing and spending are the same thing. It’s a nice political and populist sentiment to blame those nasty intransigent Republicans on not allowing any taxes no way no how not ever. But quite frankly that is a pile or horse dung. A BIG pile. Allowing any spending today is the same as allowing tax increases. Allowing any borrowing today is the same as allowing tax increases. Allowing ANY involvement of the Fed conducting open-market operations is the same as allowing tax increases today. So score your nice political points by preaching to the Kool-Aided masses, but the infrastructure emperor is as naked as I was the day I was born (excepting my fuzziness of course). If the roads are crumbling, that’s on “you” big boys. Deal with it. You spend $6 trillion per year every year, with no signs of that slowing down. It doesn’t matter if you tax to fund it, borrow to fund it, print money to fund it, or even steal real property to fund it, it is being funded and it is not being obstructed. Your failure to get the roads and infrastructure in any condition suitable for a “first world nation” is a blatant, offensive and ugly admission that the whole apparatus is a failure. Yet I am the radical for even suggesting that we rethink things. It’s not like we are actually seeing a rehtinking of things, but having the idea of a more property driven approach to our collective affairs is contributing to the “culture of free-market dogmatism” that pervades, infects and destroys our society.


UPDATE: In other news, Vox reports, “Less than half of 12th-graders can read or do math proficiently” … it must be our intransigence at raising local property taxes … or the “culture” of deregulation, or that the private school monopoly is … um … oops.

As the teeny-boppers like to say. Whatever.

2 Responses to “The Infrastructure Canard”

  1. Speedmaster says:

    I think that even soft to some moderate libertarians will in large part consider roads to be a legitimate role of government. In my opinion the problem is that the govt at all levels has spent so much money on things far outside of their legitimate purview, and done a cr@ppy job with things most of us think they legitimately should be doing … you get the point.

  2. Harry says:

    Before Obama got elected in 2008, gas was under $2, and heating oil was lower than that, as I recall, about $1.40. Some Republicans, including Obama’s opponent John McCain, did not argue over those energy prices, even though a few years earlier gas was a little over a dollar, before the effects of mandated ethanol crept in and destroyed small engines. Before the light bulb mandates kicked in. We have a big effort to drive up the price of energy, and that is self-evident.

    I got a kick out of the argument that since 18.4 cents is now worth a dime in 1993, that the tax should be indexed for inflation, as in the same guys who spend and inflate the currency get to increase the tax along with the inflation they cause, so the share of the state’s claim on our wealth rises steadily if one under-discounts inflation here by a small fraction here, and over-discounts it there. So We, the Roi, will decree a tax to pay for the servants to fetch songbirds’ tongues, and we will pay for it with a tax on the candlemakers, who have not had the taxes on their candles raised since the reign of Charles the Beheaded.

    In Pennsylvania we have a liquid fuels tax which is in part distributed to municipalities on an adjusted per mile basis to fix their roads. In the experience of my brother, who was an elected Supervisor, we got enough money from the state to maintain, fix, and replace roads. Maybe a little extra, if you were careful about not just throwing money at over-maintenance just because it was in the budget. Our roads are not crumbling at all. Our biggest problem is that some of our government officials worry about how they can leverage a big pile of cash, extorted from the last real estate developer who went bankrupt in the mess Barney Frank gave us, is how to spend all of this money, other people’s money.

    That is the root of the problem, and like the provocative WC, will raise all the questions we eagerly invite. I am still an optimist about the long run.

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