Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Needed: A Different Concept of Infrastructure

Several recent articles have talked about poverty in the United States.  This New York Times piece is heart-rending in its look at the lived experiences of poverty*This Salon article compares the US to other countries in terms of its infrastructure problems, poverty and rankings in various international statistics:

America has become a RINO: rich in name only. By every measure, we look like a broken banana republic. Not a single U.S. city is included in the world’s top 10 most livable cities. Only one U.S. airport makes the list of the top 100 in the world. Our roads, schools and bridges are falling apart, and our trains—none of them high-speed—are running off their tracks. Our high school students are rated 30th in math, and some 30 countries have longer life expectancy and lower rates of infant mortality. The only things America is number one in these days are the number of incarcerated citizens per capita and adult onset diabetes.
Three decades of trickledown economics; the monopolization, privatization and deregulation of industry; and the destruction of labor protection has resulted in 50 million Americans living in abject poverty, while 400 individuals own more than one-half of the nation’s wealth. As the four Walmart heirs enjoy a higher net worth than the bottom 40 percent, our nation’s sense of food insecurity is more on par with developing countries like Indonesia and Tanzania than with OECD nations like Australia and Canada. In fact, the percentage of Americans who say they could not afford the food needed to feed their families at some point in the last year is three times that of Germany, more than twice than Italy and Canada.
The destruction of labor has been so comprehensive that first-world nations now offshore their jobs to the U.S. In other words, we’ve become the new India. Foreign companies now see us as the world’s cheap labor force, and we have the non-unionized South to thank for that. Chuck Thompson, author of Better off Without Em, writes, “Like Mexico, the South has spent the past four decades systematically siphoning auto jobs from Michigan and the Midwest by keeping worker’s salaries low and inhibiting their right to organize by rendering their unions toothless.” Average wages for autoworkers in the South are up to 30 percent lower than in Michigan.

The US still does well in some good international rankings, but given its vast wealth and resources it is an underachiever when it comes to the lives of its citizens.

That quote above makes an important point.  This country is firmly bent on tearing its infrastructure apart.  By "infrastructure" here I mean something more than the term usually implies: 

All the things that a First World country is expected to have:  Not only roads, bridges, communication systems, cheap-and-efficient transportation systems, but also clean water, safe food, schools which provide the citizens of the country with the needed skills and knowledge, basic safety nets which protect them against major illness, the pains of old age and utter poverty.

The list could be continued.  The point I want to make is that politicians, of both major parties but more in the Republican party, have been tearing those down for several decades now, in the guise of globalism, "free-markets" and the desire to cut taxes.  That what is being torn down are those infrastructures, that they are what even markets ultimately depend on for good functioning, that is what seems to have become invisible to many.
*The New York Post's editorial covers the individual-responsibility view of the problem and would let the children go down the drain with the "irresponsible" parents.