On the Winsome Sexiness of Infrastructure, and the F-150 Theory of American Decline

Following this previous dispatch on why boring old "infrastructure" is what distinguishes a successful country from a failing one:

1) A chart showing changes in U.S. infrastructure investment. Ignore the details for the moment and look at the trend.

For the details, go to Modeled Behavior. As explained at the site, the figures graphed above show year-on-year changes in "total public and private investment in our built infrastructure." In short, we're spending less when for a variety of reasons we should be spending more. Some of those reasons: ongoing decline in infrastructure; need and opportunity to put people to work; opportunity to finance the projects at historically cheap rates. Thanks to Lorin Hochstein for this lead.

kevin_truck2_001.jpg2) Former Atlantic guest-blogger Tony Comstock writes in, about the infrastructure challenge:

A friend who is a motorhead, and an Eisenhower and infrastructure fan sums up the majesty of America socio-economic infrastructure thusly:

You're working on your 1972 F150 [eg, at right], it needs a new whats-it.

You go down to the local auto parts store and say "I need a new whats-it for my F150"

"What year?"


"Oh, 1972. We're gonna have to order one of those," the parts guy says, his voice apologizing for and conveying a sense of inconvenience.

"Oh. How long will it take to get one?"

"Tomorrow morning at the earliest," he'll say gravely. "Maybe tomorrow afternoon."

People have no idea how convenient their lives are, or how much opportunity cost is not lost and human capital is not lost because we have a socio-economic system that can get you a whats-it for a 1972 F150 in 12-24 hours. And yes, we're pissing it away.<<

3) From a reader, another theory of infrastructure:

>>A friend of mine went on a mission trip to the Jos Plateau in Northern Nigeria a year or so ago.  When he came back I asked him what he had learned.  "I learned that we should thank God for clean water and the rule of law."  We should recognize these things a public wealth and not to be sacrificed at the altar of economy and cost cutting.  We have a wealthy nation.  We just need to match that wealth with public needs.<<

4) A post at Bad Attitudes, by a young writer who chooses the name OHollern, is worth reading in the midst of 9/11 observances. [Update: he says I can give his real name, which is Michael Thompson. He is a teacher in California.] Sample:

>>By all means memorialize 9/11, but do so in a quiet, dignified way. Don't saturate the airwaves with endless, over-sentimentalized retrospectives and ceremonies. That kind of overkill cheapens the event and turns genuine grief into mere spectacle. Just for once can we not go over the top? Make it solemn and proud, modest and brief. Make it worthy of the kind of people we imagine ourselves to be, the kind of people we should be.<<

Resilience, stoicism, perspective: watchwords for the day.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

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