Investing in the future

“There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why? I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?” Robert F. Kennedy

by Stephen Seufert, The Seufert Papers, Sunday  November 25, 2012

While Democrats and Republicans squabble over spending cuts and tax increases, the American people suffer. According to revised census data, 49.7 million Americans live in poverty. As of October, there are 12.3 million Americans out of a job; with that number likely larger because many gave up looking for work. In the construction sector alone, 930,000 workers are unemployed. Infrastructure spending is a mere 2.4% of GDP, compared to 5% in most of Europe and 9% in China. The Federal Government should immediately shift unemployment and defense spending to public works spending. In turn, the manufacturing sector, which as of October has 1.1 million out of work, will begin producing trucks, bulldozers, shovels, hardhats, steel beams, etc. It’s not rocket science, it’s the economy stupid!

The United States builds more roads then any other nation but lack the year-to-year funds to repair roads when they become outdated. Our airports are among the busiest in the world yet are notorious for be congested and delayed. Rail lines across the country travel at an average speed of 70 mph, while the average speed of European rail is 140 mph and 137mph in Japan. On average, each of us will spend almost 40 hours in an idle car stuck in traffic, and waste 26 gallons of gas and about $710 a year. 86% of public transit in the United States is done through driving, while the remaining 14% is split between trains, planes and various public transit. There needs to be greater balance and choice in how we travel to lower costs not only for gasoline but for other modes of transportation.

The United States cannot continue to spend tens of billions overseas when at home millions are in poverty. Conversely, giving handouts to the poor adds little to the general welfare of the nation. Instead, the national focus must shift towards internal recovery and growth. The Federal Government should institute a long-term public works program, that not only saves jobs, but puts skilled blue collar Americans back to work. If there was the political will, the Federal Government could put one million construction workers back to work within a few months. Hire construction workers, engineers, manufacturers, etc, to rebuild and renew the United States. The ripples across the economy would spur on greater employment and growth in the private sector.

In 2008, the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission concluded that the United States needed at least $255 billion per year in spending over the next half-century to keep our infrastructure in good repair. Current spending falls 60% short of that baseline number. In a separate report, the American Society of Engineers gave America’s infrastructure a D grade and says $440 billion must be spent annually to repair existing infrastructure. Keep in mind these numbers do not include new infrastructure projects. In New Jersey alone, Governor Christie announced that the cost to rebuild after hurricane Sandy would be at least $29.4 billion. In New York, the initial recovery cost estimated by Governor Cuomo is at $32 billion, with New York City accounting for $19 billion of the $32 billion.

In order to prosper once more we need to learn how to build things with our own hands again. The national economy has become too heavily focused on mass consumption. What happens when the consumer runs out of money? The government loses revenue, cut public services, businesses lay off workers and banks withhold loans. An economy focused on the improvement of our national welfare is the only sure way to quickly combat unemployment and get the economy humming once more.

This much is clear, the current policies in place by the Federal Government are not working. Something bold and creative must be attempted to jump start the economy. This nation, if it is to endure, must realize struggles are ahead. Nearly every generation of Americans had a challenge, some greater then others. While a majority of Americans see failure and decline, I see prosperity. Reaching that prosperity won’t be easy, nothing worthwhile ever is. Bobby Kennedy once said, “Tis’ not too late to seek a newer world”.  Let’s reach that newer world together.