Some Recent Notes on Infrastructure

Let's agree on a definition: Infrastructure consists of those systems upon which our society relies. It is more than bridges and roads and rail. It is more than the electric grid and gas lines and steam. It is more than the financial structures that move our economy. It is more than schools, hospitals, and prisons. It includes our governance, our housing, and the policies that ensure all of these systems remain intact.

1.  I was catching up on some of my Internet reading today and noticed a bit of infrastructural talk. While I read about more high-speed rail project stalling and cancellations, I also read a bit of heavy-hearted sanity by Scott Huler on the necessity of taxes in order to build and maintain our infrastructures. If you choose not to follow the link, I'll excerpt the ending:

After a year of begging people to want to pay taxes, I’m tired of the frowny faces. I’m tired of the insane arguments. So I’m genuinely asking: What’s the solution? We can’t live without clean water, without sanitary sewage treatment. We need roads and transportation and oversight on power and communications. We need somebody to make sure the people running nuclear plants keep them safe – and to help protect us if something goes wrong. This always seems to be the government’s job. I personally am glad for that.

But if it’s not with tax money, then I want to know: How do we pay for all this? We need the money; we can’t do without the systems. If not from taxes, where does it come from?

I’m begging: somebody give me an answer.

I have no original answer. After studying the nature of several different and overlapping infrastructures (transportation, utilities, economic, political and governmental, health care, education), I can offer nothing more than an agreement. I am officially at a loss. 

If we don't quickly acknowledge that each of us will suffer when these systems fail and thus that each of us needs to chip in to maintain them, then we will soon lose these infrastructural systems. There are certain things that we need our government to provide. The most commonly agreed upon infrastructure requiring government provision are roads. We need our roads and expect our local, state, and federal governments to maintain them. Have we forgotten that we are the government? As trite and cliche as this is about to sound, I'll forgo my better judgment and just say it: For, Of, and By.

The truth is, however, that there are all those other infrastructural systems upon which our entire society relies as well. If we can't house our citizenry, our economy suffers. If our economy suffers, so too does a world of other things. If we can't supply our younger generations with an (at least) adequate education, we all suffer. Not just those of us who can't afford a good education -- seriously, all of us. If we can't provide reasonably affordable healthcare, more than the sick will suffer. That's fewer people in the work force. That's less overall productivity. That's a lower general life expectancy. That's another world of problems.

Generally speaking, the quality of our many infrastructures are those things that define our quality of life. Because I am at a loss of what else to say: Do with it what you will.

2.  Here's a moment to note that at least one more infrastructure is getting some governmental policy attention.