Monday, November 28, 2016

Explanations, please

The "fix infrastructure" chorus is bi-partisan. That may be a problem. Here is James Surowiecki's Nov 28 New Yorker column. It mentions that "Debt-fueled extravagance was bad for his [Trump's] companies, but it could be good for America' s economy and infrastructure ... Done right, a big infrastructure spree would boost demand and make travel more efficient."

Done right? Pure win-win? What do we know?

1. There will be pork projects, including bullet trains to nowhere. No one has suggested a vetting procedure that de-politicizes the fest. We have very little history of getting this right.

2.  Those looking for a macro-economic demand boost owe us an explanation of why the Obama stimulus of 2009 fell flat. That one took place when there was significantly more unemployment than now.

3. Stimulus dreams assume that unemployed resources are easily available and easily malleable. Neither is true. We are now told that the U.S. economy is near full employment. (To be sure, Tyler Cowen has suggested that large numbers of undocumented immigrants would like to work on these projects.) 

4. Surowiecki seems to agree with those who want the U.S. to borrow more. But the federal debt (plus unfunded liabilities) is too big and there is no plan to address it.  Servicing the debt will be a bigger problem as interest rates rise.

There are other reasons to be concerned . But start with these four. Infrastructure enthusiasts have some explaining to do.