Watch Live: The Washington Ideas Forum 2014

It's a Tragedy We're Not Spending More on Infrastructure

In light of Friday's shockingly awful jobs report, it should be more apparent than ever just how absolutely, positively psychotic it is that the United States is not spending more money on infrastructure right now.

Public construction spending, including state, federal and local projects, has been on a staggered decline since early 2009.* Yep, even with stimulus funding. In the meantime, the country has more than a million unemployed construction workers sitting around, and their industry just shed 28,000 jobs in May, at least on a seasonally adjusted basis. 

Public_Construction_Spending_08_07_09.PNG

The cruel irony of this situation is that there's never been a better time for us to build. The interest rates on 10-year treasury bonds just hit a 220-year low. We're paying better rates than when George Washington was running unopposed for the presidency. When inflation is taken into account, we're effectively getting paid by investors to hold their cash. And barring the possibility Europe gets obliterated in a freak super-volcanic eruption, leaving T-bills as the last asset on earth that banks can hold as collateral, chances are we're not going to see deals like this again. 

But the deficit! you say. Dick Cheney is right here: The deficit doesn't really matter in this case. Most infrastructure spending is not really optional. You either fix the roads, or they fall apart. Perhaps disastrously. A 2011 study by the Urban Land Institute and Ernst & Young estimated the United States needed to spend $2 trillion to fix the country's physical plant. And unless you believe that we're going to miraculously eliminate the entire deficit in the near future, we're going to have to borrow that money at some point. We might as well do it while the financial markets are paying us for the privilege.

______________________________________

*For context, public spending is still very high compared to a decade ago. But back then, the country's economy wasn't being dragged down by a big gaping hole in demand. 

Presented by

Jordan Weissmann is a senior associate editor at The Atlantic.

Things Not to Say to a Pregnant Woman

You don't have to tell her how big she is. You don't need to touch her belly.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Maine's Underground Street Art

"Graffiti is the farthest thing from anarchy."

Video

The Joy of Running in a Beautiful Place

A love letter to California's Marin Headlands

Video

'I Didn't Even Know What I Was Going Through'

A 17-year-old describes his struggles with depression.

Video

Google Street View, Transformed Into a Tiny Planet

A 360-degree tour of our world, made entirely from Google's panoramas

Video

The Farmer Who Won't Quit

A filmmaker returns to his hometown to profile the patriarch of a family farm

Video

Riding Unicycles in a Cave

"If you fall down and break your leg, there's no way out."

Video

Carrot: A Pitch-Perfect Satire of Tech

"It's not just a vegetable. It's what a vegetable should be."

More in Business

Just In