In the Chinese city of Changsha, a businessman is constructing a skyscraper 2,750 feet tall using new mass manufacturing techniques. American infrastructure was ranked 23rd in the world in 2011 by The World Economic Forum, coming in behind Hong Kong, Singapore, Portugal, Taiwan, Belgium, Oman and the United Arab Emirates, just to name a few.
My point is simple. Great nations build big things, and we need to start building big things again in America.
One of the biggest problems with the stimulus program a few years ago was it lacked any real sense of a grand plan for our national infrastructure, which meant many regular Americans still have a hard time seeing any tangible return on the $825 billion recovery plan.
Whether the stimulus actually worked or not is a debate for the economists, but it could have been better by defining a singular vision for what we want America to look like in the twenty-first century.
The key is infrastructure, and there is no shortage of areas to choose from. Our roads and bridges and crumbling to the ground. We have a very inefficient power grid that needs massive updates to meet the challenges ahead. Large portions of the nation still lack broadband internet, which is an absolute necessity for small businesses to build and grow in new markets.
So why aren’t we tackling any of these issues on the scale necessary to do anything more than patchwork repairs? From my perspective as an elected official, it boils down to lacking the political will to have a real debate with the public about making these investments. But I think the American people are actually much smarter and well-reasoned when it comes to infrastructure than the political establishment is willing to give them credit for.
People get that real infrastructure improvements cost money. Most major roads and bridges are designed to last about 30 years; most of the infrastructure built during the Eisenhower era is nearly double that expected lifespan. We need to just acknowledge it isn’t anyone’s fault this stuff needs to be rebuilt—it just needs rebuilt.
The good news is we can use new technologies and techniques to really build the roads, bridges, mass transit, smart electrical grids, water and sewage systems and broadband internet networks that will carry us all the way into the next century.
A major infrastructure push is the single-best thing we could do to kick start the economy. We would create real jobs that cannot be outsourced. We can create true public-private partnerships and reward companies for investing here in America. Perhaps more importantly, people would see a true return on investment in both a physical and psychological sense.
In this toxic political climate where points are scored and talking points crafted around the premise of finding ways to say ‘no’ to big ideas, a sense of working toward improving America in a tangible way could just be the shot in the arm we need right now.
No plan will be perfect, but we need to not give into the temptation to criticize a big idea because we may not like a couple of the small details. We have to put aside who gets the credit and who gets the blame and just get the job done.
We won’t always agree on much as a community, as a state or as a nation, but if we can’t get together on the concept of literally rebuilding America through a new and much-needed infrastructure boom, you have to start to wonder if we’ve divided ourselves to the point of permanent paralysis.
In order to get there, elected leaders are going to have to trust the public, and the public is going to have to trust their elected leaders. And the building of that mutual trust may be the most important cornerstone to be laid if we want America to build great things again.