Jeffrey D.Sachs has some good ideas and makes compelling arguments about postmoderrn infrastructure building (“Play the long game on infrastructure”), but consider some of the examples he cites.
The transformative Erie Canal: Funding was rejected by the federal government, and the highly speculative project was barely approved by the New York State legislature, with every vote of the New York City delegation opposed, as they saw a costly upstate boondoggle instead of an enriching city windfall.
The essential Interstate Highway System: It gained congressional approval only after 20 years of rejection led by doubters such as Virginia Senator Harry Byrd Sr., who said, “Nothing has been proposed during my 22 years in the United States Senate that would do more to wreck our fiscal budget system.”
China: Yes, they’ve built lots of high-speed rail, but they’ve ruined their environment and damaged their culture with barely regulated, breakneck industrialization; dangerous dams; and rail on bad steel that will likely fail to meet its design lifetime, posing the risk of mass casualties.
The US post-automobile age? Fine, bring it on, but only after time well spent on study before the money flows.
The writer is the author of books on the creation of the Erie Canal, the New York City water supply, and the Manhattan street grid.