What is Infrastructure, Anyway?

We can all agree that it's important but not what it is.

Our former President’s attempt to use “Infrastructure Week” to distract from his various scandals became a recurring joke but never materialized in any actual infrastructure. His successor wants to spend a mind-boggling amount of money on ‘infrastructure’ and seems very much not to be joking. Yet critics argue that much of what he proposes isn’t actually infrastructure and, besides, who’s going to pay for it?

The rollout has been rather slow but WaPo‘s Heather Long has the gist of the latest proposal:

When the White House released what it hailed as its historic infrastructure plan Wednesday, it said corporate tax changes would “more than pay for the mostly one-time investments in the American Jobs Plan.”

But there’s a catch: The $2.3 trillion in spending would take place over the next eight years. It would take until 2036 — 15 years — for President Biden’s proposed corporate tax hikes to generate that much revenue.

The disconnect is one of several controversies that Biden’s proposal is already facing, especially as the president tries to garner bipartisan votes at a time when the federal deficit is already at its highest level since World War II. While there’s widespread support across the political aisle to upgrade the nation’s infrastructure, critics of Biden’s plan ― and even some of its supporters ― have raised questions whether all the spending in the plan is truly needed, whether the tax increases on corporations are excessive and why the White House is using an unusual accounting approach to capture the deficit impact.

Whether there’s “widespread support” among Republicans depends on which Republicans we’re talking about. Kevin Drum points to a new Morning Consult poll that shows 74% of self-identified Republicans supporting “improvements in U.S. infrastructure,” with the divide on how (or whether) to pay for it:

But, of course, that doesn’t mean they support this infrastructure bill. And, more importantly, it doesn’t mean Senate Republicans will go along with it. Indeed, if I had to bet money on it, almost none of them will—even though Republicans in both Houses helped overturn Ronald Reagan’s veto of a large infrastructure bill way back in 1987.

Much of Long’s report focuses on the politics of this—who will vote for it, how to pay for it, and whether we need to “pay for it” at all. Those are all interesting but let’s focus, for now at least, on the narrower issue of what the bill proposes to do:

Many economic experts agree that significant investments in roads, bridges and other infrastructure is necessary for the country’s long-term health, and spending when interest rates are this low is a wise idea. But some were surprised to see that only about 5 percent of the bill is directed toward roads and bridges, and they question why the administration is mixing other types of policies into a bill designed to upgrade the nation’s infrastructure.

For example, nearly 20 percent of the bill goes toward expanding caregiving for the elderly and disabled by building more care centers and expanding access to home-based care, and another 13 percent goes toward boosting the U.S. manufacturing sector with large investments in semiconductors and green energy. Those investments aren’t typically seen as traditional infrastructure but align with the administration’s focus on caregiving and reviving U.S. manufacturing.

“They have a giant definition of infrastructure,” said R. Richard Geddes, an infrastructure economist who advised President George W. Bush. “These social issues are very important, but they aren’t nuts and bolts. We need to focus like a laser beam.”

But Democrats argue that the nation needs not only to upgrade outdated infrastructure but to make strategic investments to build the economy of the future with electric-vehicle charging stations, high-speed broadband, child care, upgraded schools and more money for clean energy research.

“It’s going to create the strongest, most resilient, innovative economy in the world. It’s not a plan that tinkers around the edges,” Biden said Wednesday in Pittsburgh. “It’s a once-in-a-generation investment in America unlike anything we’ve seen or done since we built the interstate highway system.”

Democratic leaders in Congress are trying to figure out how many more major pieces of legislation they can pass this year. The Senate reconciliation process they used to pass the $1.9 trillion covid-19 relief package with only Democrats can be used only one or possibly two more times. Analysts say the White House wants to get as many policy wins as possible into this infrastructure package, given that it might be the last big victory Biden can get.

So, infrastructure wonks are dubious that much of the spending being promoted is actually infrastructure. Many Democrats disagree with that. The administration, however, seems not to care: they just want to do good things and see a huge infrastructure bill as a means of doing it.

In another post, Drum breaks down another WaPo article from the previous day and creates this color-coded chart:

For him, the $950 billion in red is legitimately “infrastructure” and the $1.28 trillion in blue is “a bunch other stuff.” He caveats that this is imprecise because we lack the details.

Interestingly, while he tends to be to my left on these issues, I think that’s too stingy an assessment. With the same caveat about details, it’s actually plausible to call just about all of this “infrastructure.”

Historically, only the top line (transportation) was considered “infrastructure.” As we’ve modernized, electric grids and telecommunications networks became an essential part as well. High speed broadband, which didn’t exist 30 years ago, has now been lumped in, along with cellular towers, while landline telephone wires are increasingly obsolete.

We’ve long considered schools, hospitals, and the like as “infrastructure,” too. Some term them “soft infrastructure” to distinguish from the traditional “hard infrastructure.” If we expand the definition to include these things—and I’d argue they’re vital in a modern society—then other investments in human capital, like job training, fit. And most, if not all, of our OECD competitors invest much more than we do in things like subsidizing childcare and eldercare, recognizing that doing so is necessary to free people up to go to work.

It’s harder to fit “affordable housing,” which we’ve traditionally viewed as “welfare spending,” into the mix. But, certainly, as we become increasingly urbanized, the supply of housing affordable to those we have recently discovered to be “essential workers”—grocery store stockers and cashiers, nurses, first responders, schoolteachers, and others—is a huge problem. Whether this is something we should spend $300 billion of taxpayer money on is simply beyond my scope of expertise. But I’m persuadable that it’s an infrastructure, or at least infrastructure-adjacent, issue.

That leaves R&D and “US manufacturing.” Whether those fall into the infrastructure basket really depend on what we’re researching and developing and what sorts of subsidies/investments are being proposed for manufacturing—and what kind of industries, for that matter. So, for example, spending to return manufacturing to US shores for vital industries, especially if we’re currently dependent on China, could well be considered infrastructure spending.

I will note, however, how little attention any of this got during the campaign. We’re talking about a massive investment (albeit one over a period that will well exceed Biden’s administration, even if he serves two terms) and it seems to be coming out of the blue. I’m sure some of this was broadly hinted at on a campaign website or in various white papers but I don’t recall this is a significant topic in the debates, which devolved into contrasting styles and personalities.

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, Economics and Business, Government
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. OzarkHillbilly says:

    When I think of infrastructure I think “communal resources.” That umbrella covers a lot of territory, and I think it entirely appropriate we invest in them. The question remains of how much do we invest?

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  2. Teve says:

    His successor wants to spend a mind-boggling amount of money on ‘infrastructure’ and seems very much not to be joking.

    “$2 trillion” sounds like a lot of money. But if you consider that it is spread out over 10 years, and the federal budget is $4.5 trillion, it’s an increase of 4.4% in federal spending.

    Yet critics argue that much of what he proposes isn’t actually infrastructure and, besides, who’s going to pay for it?

    Same people who paid for the 2017 tax cut, I suppose.

    BTW that tax cut cost $1.9 trillion, so I have an idea about where we could find the money.

    ETA It’s easy to argue that this infrastructure spending should have been spent gradually over the last several decades, but we’ve let things deteriorate and now need a large effort.

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  3. Michael Reynolds says:

    The take-away from the poll clearly demonstrates that the fiscally responsible party, the party that thinks we should actually pay for things, is the Democrats. Republicans want things they won’t pay for.

    Any time you get one of these big bills you’re going to get a thick slab of pork as a garnish. It seems it’s inevitable, based on every single example ever. But it’s mostly useful things. Electricity for example, has many uses, and people seem to like it. OTOH, not sure why we need to pay for Cowpaddy, Nebraska to get broadband, but oh well, the goobers must be pandered to and who doesn’t want more and faster tweets from guys who hate the dang gubmint but love them some gubmint checks?

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  4. James Joyner says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    The take-away from the poll clearly demonstrates that the fiscally responsible party, the party that thinks we should actually pay for things, is the Democrats. Republicans want things they won’t pay for.

    Pretty much everyone wants things they don’t pay for. Republicans have just been geared to read “tax increases” as being on people like them whereas Democrats have been geared to see “tax increases” as something “the rich” pay. And Biden has raised the bar from the Obama-era $250,000 a year to $400,000 a year. That’s pretty damn good money even for big city professionals.

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  5. Jen says:

    Like @OzarkHillbilly: , I define infrastructure as communal benefits.

    It’s all connected in some manner, so I do understand why it’s all lumped in together. Some aspects of our national infrastructure are in such dire shape that it’s dangerous. I’m not just talking about roads and bridges that might collapse, I’m talking about parts of our electrical grid that haven’t been modernized, and this leads directly to the “green” components of the bill. We can’t just expect everyone to slap solar panels on their roofs and have it work, the grid has to be able to manage that change in power source, and have the transformers and lines to handle two-way distributed power. Many areas aren’t equipped for that yet. Add in vehicle charging stations, and yes, you begin to see how important it is to address these issues/problems holistically rather than piecemeal.

    Affordable housing that is outside of the welfare system is desperately needed. I’m in the Northeast and it’s becoming a critical problem here. There are almost no truly affordable homes for lower-to-middle-income people. This puts a ton of pressure on the rental market, and now those prices are unaffordable. We need a range of housing; that doesn’t mean we need more subsidized housing, such as government housing, we just need more housing stock.

    Some communities have tried to force this by putting limits on square footage in an attempt to keep prices down but that hasn’t worked.

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  6. Jay L Gischer says:

    @James Joyner: James, I’m pretty sure that both Michael and I, who are Democrats, understand that tax increases are things we are going to pay.

    I think we’re in an economic climate where borrowing money (as the government) at super-low interest rates and paying it back over time makes sense.

    Finally, I’m sure that if a group of a dozen or so Republican Senators wanted to negotiate a reduction in the “social spending” in return for their votes, they would get some attention. Provided they could convince Biden and Schumer that it’s good faith, not just delay of game. But we get two reconciliation bills a year, so I think that means there is no rush.

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  7. JohnMcC says:

    I don’t actually see any widespread sticker shock. And as Teve points out, the amounts of money spread around since the big investment banks screwed the pooch in 2008 tend to cancel each other out: Tax cuts for rescue spending.

    Just for interest, I recalled the T Boone Pickens plan to upgrade the electrical grid from the ’08 cycle. You’ll recall he wanted to build really huge wind-turbine farms across the desert middle of the US and to use our prodigious natural gas resources to power vehicles. The immediate outlay was set a $1Trillion. But he claimed that we would save $300Billion annually by not buying foreign petroleum.

    So Mr Biden’s plan is amazingly expensive. (What could I do with….?) But it’s snugly in the ball park of serious plans.

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  8. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    Democrats have been geared to see “tax increases” as something “the rich” pay.

    I’m always sure to remind my friends, who are getting recovery checks, that they owe me a drink.
    50 years of trickle-down economics have produced neither the increased revenue that was promised nor any other tangible long-term benefit.
    If your goal is to grow the economy what better way than to actually invest in things that produce a tangible return…like roads and bridges and, yes, clean water systems and the electrical grid and broadband?
    Republicans have been conning America for 50 years about tax cuts for the wealthy.
    Enough, already.

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  9. Kathy says:

    Don’t get too caught up on semantics. if the provisions are worth doing, then does it matter if they are included in a nominal infrastructure bill?

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  10. Gustopher says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    When I think of infrastructure I think “communal resources.”

    I think of communal resources that let others build on them for decades. Large upfront cost for long-term use.

    Roads allow for shipping, and moving workforce’s around. Electricity allows for factories and housing. R&D, jump starting the revival of manufacturing, worker retraining… all plausible, as the investment now pays off down the road.

    Elder care? I’m not opposed to elder care, but it doesn’t seem to fit.

    If it was a Logan’s Run style spinning wheel with lasers and we just killed the elderly with that… that would be infrastructure (and awful and immoral)

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  11. Scott says:

    Historically, Republicans and their Whig predecessors were in favor of nationwide projects that created wealth whether it was canals, national banks, transcontinental railroads, land-grant universities (Morrill Act), Homestead Act, Interstate highway systems, or ComSat, etc. On their way to becoming the party of George Wallace, they lost those instincts and Democrats picked them up starting with Roosevelt.

    I also put in infrastructure regulations, contract law, R&D and other activities that create the skeleton and sinew that can drive the country. Republicans have totally lost vision.

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  12. Nightcrawler says:

    What constitutes “infrastructure” is always changing because technology and the economy are always changing.

    20 years ago, reliable high-speed internet wasn’t considered “infrastructure” because we weren’t yet living in a digital world. Now, we are, especially post-pandemic. COVID-19 put organizational digital transformation initiatives on steroids.

    I like what OzarkHillbilly said about infrastructure being “communal resources.”

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  13. JohnMcC says:

    @Gustopher: I was also stopped by the ‘elder care’ and ‘home care’ segments of the spending. If you think of healthcare on a continuum it could be thought of as an expansion of hospital/medical infrastructure. But we’re not used to that.

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  14. Nightcrawler says:

    @Gustopher:

    Elder care? I’m not opposed to elder care, but it doesn’t seem to fit.

    But it does, for the same reasons that hospitals are part of infrastructure.

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  15. Nightcrawler says:

    @JohnMcC:

    True. In the U.S., healthcare is considered a luxury item. At least half the country would disagree that hospitals are part of infrastructure because they equate hospitals to theme parks or car dealerships, not to police and fire services.

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  16. David S. says:

    @Kathy‘s comment is where I’m at. I don’t care what is and isn’t infrastructure; quibbling over the definition of infrastructure is irrelevant to good policy unless it’s a word on the lawbooks. I don’t care if we name the bill “Lucky Charms”, as long as it can pass.

    And, frankly, a smaller bill doesn’t have a higher chance of passing. The chance of passage depends mostly on the spin and counter-spin, and whether or not some individual GOP Senators can still be persuaded to break ranks on it via some kind of pork despite the party-line obstructionism. Spin this as specifically beneficial for Kentucky, for example, and market it there hard to make it harder for McConnell to oppose it.

    I don’t care what the bill is called. I just want good fucking governance.

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  17. Andy says:

    I’m certainly supportive of federal “investment” in “infrastructure” but having seen how the sausage is actually made, I’m a bit skeptical regarding the grandiose effects proponents are promising.

    Like I constantly say, the details matter. Big numbers, a lot of handwaving, and promises about how great it will all be is not a plan. Appropriating money is a means, not an end.

    And, as I’ve also pointed out before to the skepticism of some here, the federal government spends very little of this money directly – most infrastructure projects are managed and contracted by states and localities with the feds footing some or all of the bill. Congress can and will put in rules and strings for any legislation, especially one with a decade-long time horizon, but after that, the various bureaucracies take over.

    Also, there is a lot more than just money. I would really like to see Congress put more focus on regulatory reform, particularly for things like broadband and the electrical grid. But the political incentives don’t really promote caring about that.

    And speaking of the electrical grid, why only $100 billion ($10 billion a year)? If we really do want to achieve the electrification of personal transport in the next 15-20 years, as many Democrats claim to want, the upgrades to the grid to support that will need to be substantial and planned, and implemented in advance.

    @Jay L Gischer:

    I think we’re in an economic climate where borrowing money (as the government) at super-low interest rates and paying it back over time makes sense.

    That would make sense if that’s what we were doing. Considering we’re running a structural deficit that was $1.2 trillion before Covid, and is likely to be significantly higher after, there is no “paying it back over time.”

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  18. Michael Reynolds says:

    @James Joyner:

    Pretty much everyone wants things they don’t pay for.

    Au contraire. I’ve voted several times to raise my own taxes, both California and Federal. Add it up and the increases are well into six figures.

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  19. Barry says:

    @Andy: “That would make sense if that’s what we were doing. Considering we’re running a structural deficit that was $1.2 trillion before Covid, and is likely to be significantly higher after, there is no “paying it back over time.””

    Andy, we’ve played your game, and have been played by the GOP.

    Let’s spend on useful stuff (+ pork, since we are in the real world), and get some gains.

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  20. KM says:

    @Gustopher :
    Elder care is the same as daycare – someone needs to be able to supervise and deal with individuals who cannot necessarily do it for themselves and it incurs a huge cost to families as well as societies. The same people who complain they can’t work from home with kids running around distance learning underfoot would be the same people who can’t care for an elderly dementia patient wandering away or forgetting the fork in the bowl before microwaving it. Over 52 million Americans (16% of the pop) will be “elderly” and if even half of those require some sort of assistance on a regular basis, that money and effort adds up quick.

    Lastly, a logistical note: you may not have children in your life but you definitely have parents, grandparents and even great-somethings. Elder care is a fact of life Americans have to deal with, often on top of child care issues. Do you know how hard it is to get a parent into a good, affordable place when you can no longer care for them at home quickly? It might be easier to find a good daycare center. Infrastructure needs to account for our aging population and how we allot resources to them while not draining the current working generation’s paycheck to do so.

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  21. Kathy says:

    @David S.:

    Mitch wouldn’t approve a dollar expenditure on a bill he wrote himself if it benefited Biden in the smallest degree.

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  22. just nutha says:

    @Barry: @Andy: Yeah. I’d rather live in a country that pays for what it does, too, but that’s not going to happen. As far as I can see, the only Senator truly in favor of paying for stuff is named Manchin (and I could easily be wrong on that), so we’ll have to take what we can get.

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  23. Michael Cain says:

    Does anyone know if the bill includes money for the massive problem we have in the extended Rust Belt with very old combined storm and sanitary sewers that dump raw sewage into waterways every time it rains too much? Particularly since more extreme rain events are one of the predicted consequences of global warming.

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  24. JohnMcC says:

    @Andy: Just looked at the treasury.gov site. The price we paid to borrow for a 10yr T-bill today is 1.69%. For twenty years, 2.24%.

    General news consumption leads me to think that the most likely path for interest rates is up. Lots of talk about a ‘Biden boom’, at least where I read the news.

    I guess in some respect borrowed money always has caveats but if we don’t have savings we need to borrow and it’s a pretty good environment for that.

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  25. Andy says:

    @Barry:

    Andy, we’ve played your game, and have been played by the GOP.

    Let’s spend on useful stuff (+ pork, since we are in the real world), and get some gains.

    There is no “game” that I’m playing. I’m simply pointing out basic math. One can’t pay something back over time when one is running a huge structural deficit with no end in sight.

    So by all means, advocate spending on what you think is useful, but don’t believe anyone who says that current interest rates matter or that there is any intention to pay back the money borrowed or created for that spending.

    @just nutha:

    @Barry: @Andy: Yeah. I’d rather live in a country that pays for what it does, too, but that’s not going to happen. As far as I can see, the only Senator truly in favor of paying for stuff is named Manchin (and I could easily be wrong on that), so we’ll have to take what we can get.

    Yeah, there is basically no one that is actually interested in deficits, it’s all kabuki at this point. I would prefer to make the difficult choices now (actually 20 years ago) to make our system sustainable over the long term so that my kids don’t have to deal with whatever happens, but difficult choices are what our politics seeks to avoid above all other things. It’s a grand experiment that appears unsustainable on its face – I hope it doesn’t blow up in our faces one day but can’t really see how it ends well.

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  26. Nightcrawler says:

    @KM:

    The same people who complain they can’t work from home with kids running around distance learning underfoot would be the same people who can’t care for an elderly dementia patient wandering away or forgetting the fork in the bowl before microwaving it. Over 52 million Americans (16% of the pop) will be “elderly” and if even half of those require some sort of assistance on a regular basis, that money and effort adds up quick.

    I think a lot of people don’t realize that when dementia patients’ illness reaches the advanced stages, they’re literally as helpless as infants and need 24/7 care. Not only can they not be left alone, but they need someone to bathe them, dress them, feed them, change their diapers, etc. Meanwhile, as their minds deteriorate, they become frightened, angry, and even violent.

    On that note, if you’ve not listened to Everywhere at the End of Time, you should. It uses music to simulate what’s happening in the mind of someone as their mind is destroyed by Alzheimer’s, and it’s absolutely horrifying. After listening to this, you’ll understand why dementia patients exhibit violent behavior.

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  27. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Michael Cain: It’s an oft discussed very pressing issue. The devil is in the details but I’d be surprised if there wasn’t a fair amount of money for that express purpose.

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  28. Liberal Capitalist says:

    @Nightcrawler:

    What constitutes “infrastructure” is always changing because technology and the economy are always changing.

    Nuh-uh, it is far simpler:

    “Critical ifrastructure” is the roads and airports that I use.

    “Unrequiring development, to be abandoned” is the shit that I don’t use.

    Sad, funny, but true.

    Example: The telecommunications software company for which I work for has a CEO that has a ranch in the middle of bumfuck red state nowhere. And surprisingly he has fiber gig internet right there. It’s the one lit place in that whole section of the state. Go figure.

    Anything is possible. Just not for you.

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  29. Teve says:

    @JohnMcC: yep.

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  30. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Andy: I have no doubt that it will blow up in our faces eventually, but at 69 in July with fairly serious (potentially) health issues, the likelihood that it will blow up while I would be impacted seems fairly low. As a consequence, I am no longer concerned about things where society disagrees with me. Laissez les bons temps roullez.

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  31. Michael Cain says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: I just finished skimming the summary and searching for a few keywords. Neither “sewer” nor “sewage” appear in the document. My inner cynic believes this is because Biden’s staff are already looking ahead to the fight in the Senate, where they can’t lose even a single Senator, and thinking that the infrastructure bill can’t look obviously like it’s favoring some regions over others. For example, Sens. Feinstein and Padilla may be reluctant to vote for a bill if California isn’t getting something in the neighborhood of 12% of the money.

    I would be very interested in reading a post by the current three front-pagers arguing for or against regional favoritism. Plus someone from the extended Rust Belt, where infrastructure is a more pressing problem and population is declining, at least on a relative scale.

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  32. Andy says:

    @JohnMcC:

    @Andy: Just looked at the treasury.gov site. The price we paid to borrow for a 10yr T-bill today is 1.69%. For twenty years, 2.24%.

    Yeah, the thing is, the money borrowed today for whatever purpose won’t be paid off in a 10 or 20 year term because we have a major structural deficit. That’s why the interest rate doesn’t matter much. It will get rolled over at whatever the future interest rate is (probably higher!). It’s like the old business joke: “sure we’re losing money on every sale, but we’ll make it up in volume!”

    And that’s not even considering interest payments on the debt in the budget, which are already almost $400 billion, or the size of the Medicaid program. It sure will be fun when/if interest rates double/triple in the future!

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    I have no doubt that it will blow up in our faces eventually, but at 69 in July with fairly serious (potentially) health issues, the likelihood that it will blow up while I would be impacted seems fairly low.

    I’m 52 and collectively our country may be able to keep kicking that can until I’m gone. But I have kids and younger friends and associates that I do care about a great deal. And as I responsible adult I’d prefer to deal with the problem and take the hit sooner rather than let it grow and blow up in their faces.

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  33. JohnMcC says:

    @Andy: Whoa dude! I am absolutely NOT a person likely to pretend sufficient knowledge of finance, economics and such. I have heard enough of how the Fed and Treasury work to know you’re right, that it all gets rolled up and refinanced and etc. So if you’re worried about future higher rates and feel that worry should keep us from spending on infrastructure… Well, that’s your position.

    I disagree. At the time I was born the US debt was $2.9 T in current dollars. That was 1946. It was an amazing, crippling portion of the GDP. Now it is gone. And we never ‘paid it back’. We grew and it virtually disappeared.

    And somehow we conducted numerous hot wars, a massively expensive cold war, built Interstate highway systems and went to the moon. College education became ‘normal’ and the US became cleaner and more democratic and…. Well, that sort of thing colors one’s thinking you know?

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  34. Slugger says:

    I don’t worry much about long term debt. My first house had a $60,000 mortgage. Then we moved to a place with a $120,000 when we had a child. Then $225,000. Finally, I got a $650,000 place. As my indebtedness increased, I didn’t worry, and my interest rate was a lot higher than what the government has to pay.
    America’s strength comes from ideas. Investment in R&D has been spectacularly successful. We didn’t get to the top by having our young men advance as human waves into infilading machine guns. We developed better machine guns.
    Yes, this means foregoing some current consumption, but that is how the future is secured.

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  35. Teve says:

    @Slugger: if your growth is higher than the service on your debt, you’re fine. But all my life I’ve heard hand-waving* arguments about how catastrophe is right around the corner. It never materializes but that never stalls the hand-wavers. It reminds me of my conspiracy theorist relative who insisted in 1999 that Bill Clinton was going to use the Y2K disaster to put everybody in FEMA camps, and 10 years later he still wouldn’t admit that he was wrong, just saying that “it hadn’t happened YET”.

    *(in science, math, engineering, a hand-waving argument is when you don’t have data, you don’t have a solid explanation or any mathematical theory to back you up, so instead, you wave your hands while making assertions. Bonus points for saying “It’s common sense”)

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  36. Jax says:

    @Andy: You’re 5’ish years older than me, but even I can see that this debt/deficit bullshit has been bullshit since Reagan/HW/Clinton. It only matters when Republicans are out of power, they’re totally willing to let it slide as long as the rich get tax cuts.

    When does it stop? When do we stop believing in all of that? I, personally, am done. If we’re gonna pay more taxes to make things better for future generations, let’s start doing that. In fact, we better tax harder, because we’ve ALREADY got a lot of presidential promises to pay off, since you and I were teens and twenties, really.

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  37. Lounsbury says:

    @Kathy: Yes it does matter.

    From an analytical point of view, investment versus consumption spending are different in long-term economic returns. Infrastructure is a different subject than say health care.

    Just as a company playing with its accounts to recharacterize to put Make-Up on the Proverbial Pig doesn’t change underlying reality, so the same in government accounts.

    To not be investment rather than consumption spending may or may not make it “bad” but the economics are different – and just as with a company, taking on current debt for non-investment spend can be quite dangerous. A rational analysis on debt an be quite (more ) sanguine about debt issued for non-consumptive purposes – for investment that creates future economic capacity than for current consumptive purposes.

    Analytically, one can see most of that could be called investment (except elder care, which while a perhaps perfectly valid spend is not investment properly speaking), but it does matter, calling an apple an orange does not make it an orange just because the orange is à la mode.

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  38. Mikey says:

    @Andy:

    Considering we’re running a structural deficit that was $1.2 trillion before Covid

    Given that the deficit was less than half that before the GOP tax giveaway to the 1%, I’m skeptical as to how “structural” it actually is. Seems to me it’s more a matter of the GOP only pretending to care about deficit spending when a Democrat is in the White House, along with their spending priorities consisting entirely of how best to fuck over brown people, foreign and domestic.

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  39. Andy says:

    @JohnMcC:

    So if you’re worried about future higher rates and feel that worry should keep us from spending on infrastructure… Well, that’s your position.

    That’s not my position. I just wish people would appreciate the long-term risks and tradeoffs.

    I’m not very concerned about one-time spending. The biggest problem is the structural deficit in the budget IMO. $2 trillion for infrastructure is fine assuming the details are good. $1.2 trillion each and every year just for current government services is the problem.

    At the time I was born the US debt was $2.9 T in current dollars. That was 1946. It was an amazing, crippling portion of the GDP. Now it is gone. And we never ‘paid it back’. We grew and it virtually disappeared.

    Yes, but the point is that isn’t happening this time around because of the structural deficit. Growth is not decreasing the debt – the debt is actually increasing. And we’re not fighting a temporary, existential war.

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