Luke’s Log- Get Infrastructure Right- Online
In a piece a few years back, Walter Russell Mead argued FOR a modernized national infrastructure and AGAINST expansion of the 710 freeway in Pasadena, extended lane highways in the Eastern Seaboard, and most importantly against high-speed rail in Central California. Aside from NIMBYism and the labor unions’ proclivity to hike up the costs of any project for the fattening of their members’ wallets, Mead points to a single glaring issue with building “20th Century” infrastructure: it attempts to apply the solutions of the 20th Century to the problems of the 21st. In a world revolutionized by the internet and the digitization of the economy, we no longer need to place complete emphasis on mere physical translocation of goods and bodies:
“The challenge isn’t to move more meat; it is to move more information more effectively, and to re-engineer business practices and social organization to take full advantage of the extraordinary efficiencies that the Internet affords. The rush-hour rituals of the 20th century aren’t destined to continue to the end of time. Telecommuting, flextime and mini-commutes to satellite offices will change the way we work.
Lobbying for more highways and high-speed rail misses the point. What’s needed instead is support for advancing the Information Age economy. Government policy could reward companies that promote telecommuting and teleconferencing, for example, or otherwise facilitate the transition. (Greens take note: These and other business-friendly policies would reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.)
There is still much work to do to build the information superhighways we will need to compete in this century and the defense systems that can protect them against cyberattack. Government will have a significant role to play in creating a suitable regulatory structure and policy framework to accelerate this process. Yes, our existing roads, bridges and highways should be maintained, and in some cases enhanced. Even so, more physical infrastructure isn’t our main need at this point.
We don’t want to build the 21st-century equivalent of a new and improved national canal network. Infostructure rather than infrastructure should be the priority.”
Mead more or less hits the nail on the head. The trick to invigorating the economy of the 21st Century isn’t helping primarily goods move around, it’s helping information along its way more efficiently than ever before.
That said, there is still a crucial place for the physical movement of goods and services, as Joel Kotkin and Michael Lind have argued. But our transportation infrastructure, and our power and water grids, too, can best be helped not so much by a reconstruction of the highways of the 1950s, but by an integration of those highways with the power of the information age- digitized, gridded, centralized, and adaptable water, power, and transport infrastructure capable of servicing an economy and society housing millions more people and billions more dollars, and getting everything from water to power to information to goods to people delivered on time. to the right place.
And for that future we have a lot of work to do, but only half of it will be with a shovel. For the other half, you’ll need a computer science degree. That’s the future of infrastructure, and that’s the way we ought to invest.