Infrastructure is the talk of the town in Washington D.C., as President Biden and his party continue to unveil new components of his infrastructure bill. The president’s 2.2 trillion dollar proposal would upgrade roads, bridges and schools, subsidize electric vehicles, and even weatherize homes. But Biden’s infrastructure bill isn’t only focused on buildings and things we can see, but also focuses on investments into the American people. While everything being proposed by the president sounds idealistic, the million-dollar question is whether or not it is worth investing trillions of taxpayer dollars into.
Professor Saxon of Bellevue College had this to say about the importance of improved roads and bridges: “I think it’s very easy to see the results of investing in these types of infrastructure, though it can be quite difficult to measure the benefits of these investments. This is because roads, bridges and schools are typically what we call public goods, meaning people can use them without having to pay directly for them.” Roads and bridges might not have a clear, measurable value in the economic sense, but we can look at how critical our infrastructure has been in transporting goods and services. When soon-to-be president Eisenhower went on a cross-country trip from the east to the west coast, it took him over 50 days to complete his journey. During his presidency, he built a new highway system which now cuts down that time to two-and-a-half days. Part of the reason the U.S. developed such a robust economy is because we stand between Europe and Asia and can easily trade with both regions. Cutting down on transportation from east to west is vital when delivering perishable essential goods like food and water, and upgrading our roads and bridges will ensure that the two-and-a-half-day travel time from east to west can be reduced.
The infrastructure bill also hints at the administration’s aim to keep the blue-collar job market healthy, as is the case with the 213 billion dollars slanted towards weatherizing homes. The administration has already conceded that this portion of the bill would mainly “put union building trade workers to work upgrading homes and businesses to save families money.” Although officially meant to be a carbon emission reduction strategy by making homes hold their internal temperatures for more extended periods of time, it is the consensus of climate experts that it does very little to reduce total carbon emissions. But that is not the primary objective of this program. The administration has heavily targeted the oil and fossil fuel industry to convert them into environmentally-friendly industries. In short, the president aims to stop pumping oil someday. To lighten the effect of essentially gutting an industry, this program would create a short-term solution for putting these people to work while transitioning into an energy-clean future.
Electric Vehicle subsidization, while not seemingly economically valuable for the short-term, is undoubtedly an essential step towards a sustainable energy demand and supply market. In the 1980s, during the Arab oil embargo in which the Middle Eastern states resolved to deny America access to their oil markets, we saw the dark monetary future that lay ahead of us if we didn’t lighten our thirst for oil. When the Arab states left this nation with no reliable source of petroleum, the immediate effects of the embargo did not take long to become noticeable to the average American. Lines at gas stations piled up, local areas were forced to consider temporary blackouts to conserve oil reserves, and the dollar inflated while the economy stagnated. All of this occurred within six months between October 1973 to March 1974. If a short stint without oil was a full-blown crisis, then when the world’s petrol supply runs dry in 2062-2094, we won’t just be facing a crisis but a recession of the likes the world has never seen before. One where factories, cars and power plants would have to rely on a strategic reserve capable of fueling our current oil consumption for a disappointing 36-day period. Subsidizing electric cars and clean energy is not an investment for today but rather for tomorrow. So that the day when the oil taps pump their last drops of oil, we will have a large enough infrastructure of oil-independent machines and energy sources so that our children will not have to face another great recession.
Our education system is by far one of the best tools to utilize for long-term economic growth. After all, the more educated a population is, the more innovative and efficient it shall become. Professor Saxon had this to say on education: “Educating our workers was a huge part of why America was able to become the trading power it is today.” Thus, the future of nations relies on providing their children with an education suitable for later life in their respective industries. This holds even more true for the United States, which is classified as a tertiary society. Ours is a country where the manual laborer is rapidly being replaced by the cashier, lawyer and business person. The days where a steelworker can go out and make enough money to own a suburban house and two cars are now long gone. Instead, America’s new ticket to the middle class exists almost entirely through the high-school-to-college pipeline. With college becoming ever more important as a mechanism to enter the middle class, it becomes more critical that the government does everything in its power to deliver students from kindergarten to the point where a student is ready to go to college. To see the importance of investing more in schools, we would only need to focus on Foster High School in Tukwila, Washington. Foster in 2014 had a troubled history of staff quitting, inadequate textbooks and a measly graduation rate sitting at 55%. It seemed as though the school was doomed to be a backwater where the flip of a coin could roughly predict the chances of a student graduating. Indeed, the school was not an attractive place for experienced educators and professionals to work at. That all changed when the school received nearly 259 thousand dollars from President Obama’s race to the top funds for underprivileged school districts. With these funds, the school could invest in retaining teachers, providing more AP classes and creating summer classes for students to make up for failed courses during the normal school year. One year later, the graduation rate skyrocketed to 70% in 2015. Investing in schools yields results and can produce more people ready to join the middle class and fill high-level vacancies such as those in the technology industry.
Biden’s bill is a resolution to solve tomorrow’s problems today. In any economic model, one must ask themselves: “Is there a profit to be made from this investment?” The simple answer to this 2 trillion dollar bill is a resounding yes. Biden is not only securing our environmental future by getting rid of our consumption of oil, he is also securing our economy from a future depression while at the same time pushing for more people to enter white-collar jobs through the education system before America becomes an entirely service-based economy. Simultaneously, his updates to rail, road, and bridge networks will make America feel a lot smaller by cutting down on travel times between cities.