Reviews | A Big, Bold, Visionary Government Can Work, If We Let It Happen
The Senate’s passage of a $ 1 trillion infrastructure package – with another $ 3.5 trillion plan looming behind the scenes – offers Americans an opportunity to examine just how badly the notions dominance of society, prosperity and the economy are often false and destructive.
After forty years of relentless, often bipartisan, corporate and anti-social pursuit of a corporate agenda, beginning with Ronald Reagan’s 1980 statement that “government is the problem,” the consensus on maximizing corporate profits in Washington , DC, is finally falling apart. The political calculation has changed to accommodate collective investment in public goods and services – and it only took the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, the most severe liquidation of working class and class wealth. average for several generations, and a global pandemic to make it happen.
In the first infrastructure bill, the United States government will allocate billions of dollars to repair badly damaged roads and bridges, remove lead pipes and toxic chemicals from water systems. previously neglected water supplies, the removal of environmental waste from post-industrial landscapes and the improvement of ailing power grids. through the implementation of clean energy sources, among many other worthy projects.
Most of these efforts will improve the quality of life of the rural and urban poor. Residents of isolated outposts will benefit from the $ 65 billion in funding for high-speed internet access, while inner-city workers and students will expect rewards from expanding public transport services .
When Transport Secretary Pete Buttigieg provoked right-wing mockery by explaining that “there is racism physically embedded in some of our highways,” he was referring to the deliberate racial segregation of urban planning. For example, the Eisenhower Freeway in Chicago displaced thousands of black residents and forced the closure of many black businesses. Its construction also branched off the white and black neighborhoods.
The Democratic infrastructure package will spend at least $ 1 billion to “reconnect” sections of alienated cities.
At a unique and perilous time when several crises are converging – COVID-19, climate change, widespread poverty and financial insecurity – the infrastructure proposal, like the pandemic relief plan that preceded it, affirms the essential role of the government in the lives of ordinary people, and establishes its capacity to strengthen a wide range of communities.
Objections to the plan range from psychotics to the deranged – such as Fox News, the fop and neo-fascist Tucker Carlson having Christian Nationalist MP Marjorie Taylor Greene on her show proclaiming that the package’s provisions to help “disadvantaged” women entrepreneurs are “disgusting” – to more classic forms of conservative ignorance. An example of the latter is Allison Schrager, economist and investment consultant at the Right Manhattan Institute, arguing that investment in the future should be led by the private sector because “when government gets involved, those decisions are made. concentrated in fewer hands “.
Yet the main economic story of the 21st century is the siphoning of wealth and power into increasingly narrow and elitist pockets. A recent Oxfam International study found that 2,153 billionaires have more wealth than the 4.6 billion people who make up 60% of the planet’s population. How much of what we call “the economy” is under the control of just one of these billionaires, like space cowboy Jeff Bezos?
Political observers and economists genuinely interested in cultivating widely shared prosperity would do well to follow contemporary inequalities. But they should also study the underrated economic policies of Abraham Lincoln, the man many historians consider the country’s greatest and brightest president.
Among Lincoln’s admirers is John F. Wasik, former reporter for Bloomberg News and Illinois Road Scholar for the Illinois Humanities Council. Wasik is the author of an insightful and important new book, Lincolnonmics: How President Lincoln Built America’s Great Economy.
At a brisk pace and in engaging prose, Wasik presents a compelling case that Lincoln’s obsession with public goods and services led to a series of policies that built modern America. In political and philosophical disregard for the US Constitution’s “state rights” conception, Lincoln created the National Railroad, various canal projects, the first public health agency, and the land grant system that led to the state universities and community colleges across the country.
Linking “Lincolnomics” with the Union victory over the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation, Wasik concludes that “infrastructure initiatives were how Lincoln created democracy through economic progress and freedom.”
Similar evaluations need to be offered when examining the policies of the Roosevelt administration’s New Deal, John F. Kennedy’s New Frontier programs, and Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society program. Without robust social spending and public investment, the economic engine of the United States, which generated a stable middle class for most of the 20th century, would not exist. Starting with the railways and extending to the Internet, private companies – far from proving the genius of the “invisible hand” of the market – depended on public infrastructure and government largesse to succeed.
Wasik also takes care to avoid the traps of sentimentality and hero worship. He courageously writes about how Lincoln’s infrastructure program routinely stole land from Native Americans, excluded black workers, and exploited the labor of the poor.
President Joe Biden, in his infrastructure plan, must maintain a fundamental commitment to justice and common sense. In its current form, the bill contains disturbing and harmful inconsistencies that contradict its noble objectives. Even as the climate crisis threatens to incinerate the planet, his Democratic administration is pushing forward some of the most devastating policies in the world. Biden is on the verge of approving more oil and gas drilling on public lands than Donald Trump, and he refuses to consider any budget cuts for the Pentagon, the world’s worst emitter of greenhouse gases.
The infrastructure bill wisely allocates funds for water programs and the recruitment of additional hot-shot firefighters to prevent and mitigate forest fires. But then he contradicts himself with grants for the ecological monstrosity of logging – a process that most conservationists say makes wildfires much more likely to burn acres and acres of land.
Despite its flaws, the infrastructure package deserves to be celebrated, as it signals a redemptive break from forty years of continued federal government downsizing, or outright elimination of social services, public programs and assistance. communal, from Reagan’s closure of mental hospitals and Clinton’s End of “Well-Being as We Know It” to Trump’s deliberate sabotage of the pandemic response.
Martin Luther King Jr. notoriously warned that “we must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools”.
The pandemic and climate crisis, along with severe class stratification, provide the United States with the perfect opportunity to choose one of King’s two options.