America’s Infrastructure Bubble Is Going Pop

As Joe Biden visited Pittsburg to talk about infrastructure, that infrastructure spoke for itself. It fell the fuck down.

This was not some isolated problem. Just look at the bridges of Allegheny County. Shit’s looking as old as Clint Eastwood.

Now look at… America.Americans think they’re developed, but most Americans don’t even have a passport.For anyone flyingintoAmerica, it’s shocking.

India has better airports, Laos has infinitely more high-speed rail (America has zero), Sri Lanka has better cell phone service, and almost everyone can clear a cheque faster.

America had infrastructure once, but now it just has a bunch of unfunded liabilities.

The American Society of Civil Engineers estimated the cost for major maintenance at $5 trillion (in 2009). Since then, however, the bubble has only gotten worse. “Between 2009 and 2017, the nation built enough new lane miles to criss-cross the width of the U.S. 83 times, new roads that require $5 billion a year extra to keep in good condition.”

The problem is that no elected official gives a shit about keeping roads in good condition, when they could be cutting ribbons on new roads for re-election.

States simply neglect basic repair in favor of expanding roadways. Despite long-standing complaints about potholes, crumbling roads, and unfixed highways, they spent as much building new roads as repairing new ones, spending $120 billion on expansion from 2009 to 2014.

These new roads lead to more induced demand, meaning more traffic, more sprawling housing projects, all inflating the asphalt bubble further and further. The whole post-World War II suburban experiment has just been a big Ponzi scheme, creating long-term liabilities, not assets.

As Charles Marohn said:

Most American cities find themselves caught in the Growth Ponzi Scheme. We experience a modest, short-term illusion of wealth in exchange for enormous, long-term liabilities. We deprive our communities of prosperity, overload our families with debt, and become trapped in a spiral of decline.

Build Back Better?

What Marohn diagnoses the problem as is the entire concept of (literally) car-driven development, ie suburbs. His diagnosis is that “Our national economy is “all in” on the suburban experiment. We cannot sustain the trajectory we are on, but we’ve gone too far down the path to turn back. None of our dominant political ideologies can solve this problem. In fact, there is no solution.”

In his usual bullshit fashion of not solving insoluble problems, Joe Biden promised to ‘Build Back Better’. This is of course not going in a different direction, but just crashing with more dignity.

That bill, however, hasn’t passed at all. He did pass a basic infrastructure bill, which started out wildly inadequate andgot ‘negotiated’ down to a farce.

That bill started with an inadequate $2.24 trillion for all sorts of infrastructure (the bill is $5 trillion for basic roads alone). It then got wittled down to $550 billion, which is not even subsistence level. It’s fitting that a bridge fell down when Biden went there to talk about it.

Then remember that this money probably won’t be spent on maintenance anyways but on new roads, or even dumber shit. In Pennsylvania, $4.2 billion was diverted from bridge and road repair to the police. The Pittsburg police budget is $120 million compared to $17.6 million for infrastructure.

And it’s not even like the federal government can say anything. They spend far more destroying infrastructure in other countries. Just look at how much the blowing shit up budget is funded compared to building your own self up:

Stephen Semmler

This whole thing [pointing to America] is just a bubble, and the 2008 housing crash was just the first little pop. Forget banks, every municipality is functionally bankrupt. You can bail out a bank, but what are you going to do when the levees break? Physically bail out people? As Led Zeppelin said,

When the levee breaks, I’ll have no place to stay

What I’m talking about isn’t even factoring in impacts from climate collapse. These are just the net present liabilities. The future is even more dire.

The delusion Americans will shortly be disabused of is the very idea that there is a ‘developed’ world at all, and that they’re in it. The truth is that there is no finish line, there is no point where you can rest on your laurels, they will just wilt like anything else. The ‘developed’ world does not exist. You’re either developing or in decline, and America is in terminal decline.