Infrastructure must Meet Real Human Needs

The United States requires major infrastructure investment. Economic recovery will be unsustainable without a major new commitment to build for a highly mobile innovation-driven middle class renewal. The nation’s engineers have outlined in great detail the trillions of dollars required to update, upgrade, and catch up on serious maintenance deficits.

One of the worst economy-wide inefficiencies built up over the last 18 years is the national infrastructure deficit. While the Great Recession has been followed by 9 years of steadily building economic recovery, not enough of the new wealth has gone to working and middle class households, or to build the infrastructure needed to make sure the US can sustain generalized prosperity and opportunity in the 21st century.

Sustainable generalized prosperity depends on:

  • A free people protected by the rule of law;
  • innovation supported by reliable incentives;
  • the ability for all people to apply their talents;
  • and safe, expedient infrastructure open to all.

Each of these requirements is an engine of new and pervasive efficiency for the discovery and application of human talent. Infrastructure is the story of how we make sure that financial capital and natural capital align with an economy-wide acceleration of human capital expansion. In other words, sound infrastructure investment requires sound investment in other engines of human capital expansion:

  1. Education at all levels
  2. Environmental protection
  3. Public health and access to healthcare
  4. Free and independent media
  5. Economic justice and accountability

The 2016 New Climate Economy Report found investment in sustainable infrastructure is critical to ensuring future prosperity, the stability of major institutions, and the expansion of overall wellbeing.

The current administration is proposing to move $200 billion from other government programs, over the next 10 years, to support a wider $1.5 trillion investment in infrastructure. The majority of the funding is expected to come from state and local governments, but details of how these incentives might work is being left to Congress.

The major takeaway: Such a reallocation scheme risks peeling away funding from priority engines for the expansion of human capital and the conditions for generalized prosperity. Congress will need to make sure none of these engines of generalized prosperity are de-funded in order to catalyze the redirection of already stretched state and local funds to builders, who may not be building for a viable future.

Infrastructure is a framework on which we will build our future. We should put all human consideration, imagination, and collaborative intelligence into the work, and make sure we are investing in the programs that make that possible.

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