As Goes the Infrastructure

Data from

The latest Monocle Magazine offered a sober view of the American decline with their article “The City Limits: New York State.”

NYC is the classic tale of a giant urban metropolis that steers a large state full of more suburban and country folk. NYC’s liberal politics and urban focus seems to infuriate that more conservative hinterlanders while NYCers complain of how their taxes and economy carry their country cousins along.

Great infrastructures are investments made by previous generations in the future continuation and prosperity of their society. Each great civilization had great infrastructure. Egypt had the Nile, Rome had roads and aqueducts, London and Paris had sewers. America is no exception, in fact we have been exceptional! We founded this nation with a post office, then laid trains (land given by government to private train companies), telephones (same as trains), post office, schools, libraries, roads, and now the Internet.

Today’s “conservative” movement has been hijacked by a lie about fiscal responsibility, that we cannot afford great social projects. In this recession, messages about responsibility resonate. However, true fiscal responsibility is about money in and money out, return on investment, and management of risks. Since WWII, the Me Generation has been withdrawing on deposits made by previous generations and paying nothing back. Today’s “conservative” movement is a ponzu game for denialist and dupes. Our nation has not been bankrupted by Obamacare, or even eight years of Bush. Individual tax payers have been increasinly asked to foot the bill of a society and are crumbling under the pressure as large corporations leverage what they can get out of our society before it crumbles.

The working class is being used like booster rocket fuel to propel the American wealthy into a global market, while they fall back into poverty.

The Monocle article shows this in the microcosm of Norther New York once prosperous cities: Buffalo, Syracuse and Rodchester. After the Erie Canal and then the rail roads, these northern cities were some of the wealthiest in the nation.  They were the home to major innovation and industry of their time: GE, Kodak, IBM. But with the decline of relevant infrastructure also came a decline in their economies. Since the 50’s, these cities have grown older, whiter, poorer, and smaller. Buffalo lost half of its population between 1950 and 2000! Kodak may have faltered, but GE and IBM reached escape velocity.

Each one of these great infrastructures allowed for explosive creation of new wealth…but it took about 20 years or a generation for the seeds to bear fruit. Now we seem to be a nation of myopic cowards, no longer looking to plant for a future beyond an immediate horizon. Fear of hard times have had people recoil from the cost of maintaining what we have let alone invest in the infrastructures that will feed the next cycles of growth. Corporate interests have demonized something that has been part of the nation since it’s founding as “socialism” and the people who don’t live in the cities rally to the cry.

We talk about fiscal responsibility, but when you look at who is paying, corporate taxes have gone down for the last 50 years while the tab has been picked up by payroll taxes. So we socialize the risk and cost of running a country, but we privatize the profits.

People working paycheck to paycheck are being squeezed and rightfully worry if they can afford this nation we live in. Meanwhile, corporations dole out large bonuses and used the saved money to build roads, telecommunication networks, and distribution channels offshore.

If we can not longer afford our roads and cities, can we afford these corporations? No great nation ever outlasted its infrastructure.

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