When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro. - Hunter S. Thompson

26 May 2008

The pot-holed highway to Hell

If anyone doubts the problems of US infrastructure, I suggest he or she take a flight to John F. Kennedy airport (braving the landing delay), ride a taxi on the pot-holed and congested Brooklyn-Queens Expressway and try to make a mobile phone call en route.

That should settle it, particularly for those who have experienced smooth flights, train rides and road travel, and speedy communications networks in, say, Beijing, Paris or Abu Dhabi recently. The gulf in public and private infrastructure is, to put it mildly, alarming for US competitiveness.

You might have expected that investing in US infrastructure would be a hot political topic this year. Well, no. Hillary Clinton spent the final week of her Indiana campaign standing on the back of a pick-up truck arguing for a temporary suspension of the “gas tax”, the fuel duty that pays for highways.

You read correctly. Faced with the emptying of the Highway Trust Fund, established in 1956 as the US entered a period of growth and prosperity, Mrs Clinton suggested cutting its source of funds (which she claimed could be made up by a tax on oil companies). It was more important to give Americans a summer break from $4-per-gallon petrol.

At times I wonder whether the world’s biggest economy has the will to solve its challenges or will end up wandering self-indulgently into the minor economic leagues. I expect it will get serious when the crisis is too blatant to ignore, but it has not done so yet.

On the pot-holed highway to Hell (Financial Times, May 7, 2o08)

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