Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Respectfully disagreeing with the President on China-envy and high-speed rail

Market Pulse Archives

Aug. 31, 2011, 11:51 a.m. EDT
Obama says he will push for new infrastructure plans

By Greg Robb

WASHINGTON (MarketWatch) -- President Barack Obama on Wednesday said he wanted to have a "serious conversation" with Congress next month about funding key infrastructure projects. 

"It is unacceptable when countries like China are building high-speed rail networks and gleaming new airports while more than a million construction workers who could be doing the same thing are unemployed right here in America," Obama said in short remarks in the Rose Garden. 

Obama said he has asked federal agencies to identify key projects that have already been funded and could be speeded-up. 

Obama also called on Congress to extend a measure that funds highway construction projects by means of an existing tax on gasoline. That measure could expire at the end of September without Congressional action. 

A similar measure to fund airport construction also needs to be extended. 
With all due respect, Mr. President, I disagree with several of your claims:

1. Why is it unacceptable for China to expand its infrastructure, while a million construction workers here in the US are unemployed?  What does China have to do with it? Why aren't our million construction workers employed -- right now -- on construction such as infrastructure repair and maintenance which we have neglected for decades? What about our Nation's broken utility systems such as water, electricity, and natural gas?  What about our bridges, dams, levees, flood control (see "Irene" for evidence of negligence), and highways? We are talking hundreds of billions of dollars worth of repair, restoration and upgrades.  Shouldn't those come first?

2. We can already see the results of China's massive high-speed rail efforts: major fatal accidents, faulty construction and safety engineering, corruption, excessive risk taking and prestige building obsessions. We have no business being envious of China's high-speed rail program.  They built too much too quickly, took ridiculous risks, charged too much for train tickets and ran empty trains.  That's no role model for the US. We don't have to follow stupid decisions by greedy countries over the same cliff.

3. And yes, we should make major investments in our airports, runways, and air traffic systems (such as NextGen).  Why is there no national program for that, or the R&D, advancement and development of safer highways and non-fossil fuel powered vehicles?  

Your HSR program, Mr. President, is a mindless distraction and totally unaffordable.  Furthermore it will require importation of manufactured goods from overseas and labor forces from outside the US as well, since we have no HSR capacity in this country.  Available federal funding should be spent at home, not in China or anywhere else.

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