Why do we invest in infrastructure?
With Republicans taking the House in 2010, the president compromised, accepting that he couldn’t get support for vital jobs programs, such as investing in infrastructure.
It’s nothing new that politicians and pundits blur the line between “infrastructure programs” and “jobs programs.” But it’s notable that in this phrasing, “investing” (set that word aside for the moment) in “infrastructure” is not a worthwhile pursuit that has the added benefit of creating jobs at a moment of high unemployment. Here, infrastructure spending is a subset of a larger type of spending — jobs programs.
For years, we’ve been barraged by politicians, mostly of the left, insisting that America’s infrastructure is crumbling and that we’re just years away from becoming a Third World country. Thomas Friedman writes paeans to the Chinese system of infrastructure building, because it doesn’t involve messy things (also beloved of the left) like environmental impact analyses and endless public meetings of “stakeholders.” (Or, of course, public sector unions.)
Building infrastructure — at least infrastructure that can’t be built by the private sector — is certainly the job of government. But government has a fiduciary responsibility to taxpayers and the users of the infrastructure to build the best possible projects at the lowest price. These projects should be evaluated and prioritized on the basis of their economic value, not because the number of jobs they would create.
Progressives love casting themselves as the only political faction that understands and takes seriously the weighty responsibility of government. Casting a critical role of government as merely another way to create (publicly funded) jobs is the polar opposite of responsibility.