It’s hard to think of the country that fostered minds of people like Benjamin Franklin, the Wright Brothers and Nikola Tesla as lazy but let’s face it — there is a lethargic orthodoxy when it comes to problem solving in America.
While we were once the ingenuity capital of the world, we are starting to lag behind countries like Japan, the United Arab Emirates and the Netherlands. Whereas, the United States is still very much an economic force not be trifled with — thanks largely to the economic reforms and deregulatory measures taken by the Trump administration — we are being outpaced across the world in one extremely important, and routinely overlooked, field: infrastructure.
No matter how you approach the issue, the fact remains that the infrastructure in this country is in dismal condition, as our bridges are decaying faster than we can replace them, the pipes that carry our drinking water are archaic, our rail system is a relic of the past and our interstate highway system is perpetually in shambles.
With all this being so, I have one key question to pose; why? The United States is the preeminent global superpower and yet our infrastructure across the country is in shambles.
Having campaigned heavily on infrastructure reform during the 2016 presidential election — along with many other things — President Trump has, in fact, began to enact top-down policy to stimulate the replacement and advancement of some of our infrastructure. The focus being placed on reform for water infrastructure and enabling communities to streamline disaster relief construction. However, this is simply not enough. The American Society of Civil Engineers predicts that the US economy will lose just under $4 trillion in GDP — between 2016 and 2025 — due to infrastructure issues affecting commerce. If it decays even further, they estimate the loss to hit $14 trillion by 2040.
We aren’t going to get anywhere by simply throwing federal grant money at the issue. When has this approach solved anything? I’m not going to sit here and say the government should not spend any money on infrastructure, because that is simply naïve and does not reflect the society in which we live. I will, however, maintain that reckless federal spending will do nothing but further entrench us in debt and likely create more problems than it would solve.
So, now what? How do we proceed? How can we move our outdated and decaying infrastructure system into the 21st century in a way that is environmentally conscientious, economical and sustainable? At the time of writing, I think there are two caveats that will set American infrastructure up for success in the future: empower American entrepreneurs and allow states and municipalities more input and control over how infrastructure is developed within its borders. The Trump Administration’s “Legislative Outline for Rebuilding Infrastructure in America” is a great example of this, but it isn’t enough to get us where we need to go.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great start, but it doesn’t really account for tomorrow. It’s a great plan for the infrastructure of yesterday. We need to elevate local leaders, municipal stakeholders, city and rural planners and find creative alternatives that utilize the infrastructure frameworks we already have built. This cannot be a top down effort aimed at rejuvenation, it must be a grassroots renaissance to awake the sleeping giant that is the goliath of American infrastructure’s potential.