Updated: Apr 5
Trump had several empty marketing slogans he used to appeal to poorly-educated voters, slogans that helped him win the 2016 GOP nomination and slogans that helped him beat a fatally-flawed Democratic candidate in the general. Two of the best known and most-repeated were "Drain the Swamp" and, of course, "Make America Great Again."
Four years later some voters-- if not Trump's base of morons-- could look around and see that the fetid Washington swamp was worse than ever in U.S. history and the Trump and his regime had been more corrupt than anyone imagined possible. The swamp still needs draining. And it still will when Biden is done in the White House.
As for making America great again, no matter what metric you use-- other than, perhaps, "owning the libs," Trump failed. There is nothing greater about America after 4 years of Trumpism, not spiritually, not economically, no in terms international status or moral authority. And certainly not in terms of physical infrastructure, the one metric some people thought Trump might understand and be able to accomplish. But, no, U.S. infrastructure hasn't improved-- quite the opposite; it has continued to deteriorate and fall to pieces, proving once again that "the market" can't make decisions for the commons of this kind of a scale.
Over the weekend, the Wall Street Journal published a report by James Areddy, What the U.S. Can Learn From China’s Infatuation With Infrastructure. China's "command-style political system" has made the U.S. appear backward in comparison. Biden is using competition with China as a shockingly major focus of his inadequate infrastructure proposal.
Areddy reported that Biden "says more than $2 trillion to fix bridges and mass transit, modernize airports and refurbish neighborhoods, extend broadband internet coverage and replace lead piping is the cost to 'outcompete China.'" That's patently absurd. As Areddy noted, "Sleek airports, grand stadiums and stylized skylines captivate visitors to China. Infrastructure may be the most tangible-- and admired-- aspect of a modernization drive that in a generation transformed a poor country into the U.S.’s primary strategic and economic rival." It will take a lot more than Biden's niggardly proposal to compete with China's devotion to infrastructure, a lot more... and America doesn't have the political will for it. The wealthy are too powerful, owning one party outright and controlling most of theater one. And they don't want to pay for it. President Incremental didn't even have the guts to request raising the corporate tax rate back to what it was before Trump and the conservatives cut it.
“There’s a real China envy,” says Thomas J. Campanella, a historian who specializes in urban planning at Cornell University who used to live in eastern China. “The Chinese seem to be able to do this stuff we used to do.”
Emulating China is another story.
China’s leapfrogging-- practically to bullet trains from bicycles-- may have limited direct application to improving American infrastructure. The two nations have different needs and diametrically opposed political systems, starting with carte blanche for Chinese leaders to order up construction.
China’s proudest symbol is the Great Wall, a 12,000-mile fortification built over centuries, and the country’s leaders laud dams and bridges as human triumphs over a landmass that is two-thirds mountainous with 1,500 rivers.
President Xi Jinping studied chemical engineering, while his predecessor specialized in hydroelectric engineering and had succeeded an electrical engineer. The U.S. tends to elect lawyers as president, though Jimmy Carter, Herbert Hoover and George Washington had engineering backgrounds.
Mao Zedong, too, pursued construction projects like a double-decker road-railway bridge spanning the Yangtze River. But by the 1980s, the nation was broke and broken after decades of misguided state planning. Roads, railways and ports were in dire shape.
Spurred initially by international aid from U.S.-backed multilateral institutions, China started building in earnest, focusing on big projects that created jobs.
...China spends three times more on infrastructure than the U.S. Figures from the Council on Foreign Relations put U.S. spending at 2.4% of GDP, compared with 8% in China.
China claims at least a million bridges, including most of the world’s highest. Of the world’s 100 tallest skyscrapers, 49 are in China.
Bill Gates publicized a remarkable statistic in 2014: China had used more cement in the previous three years than the U.S. did during the entire 20th century. U.S. Geological Survey figures show China has sustained the pace since then, producing well over 2.2 gigatons of cement annually, compared with the estimate cited by Mr. Gates of 4.5 gigatons used in the U.S. in the 100 years to 2000.
China also produces more than half the world’s steel, last year 14 times more than U.S. production, according to the Brussels-based World Steel Association. Even though China has sold more cars than the U.S. since 2009, it is nowhere near American-scale car ownership and the government has positioned rail as a viable option nationwide, with high-speed trains serving 98% of major urban areas and subways in many cities.
China’s expanse of high-speed rail, 23,550 miles, could link New York and Los Angeles more than eight times and Beijing intends to add 30% more track by 2025. New lines are being readied for next year’s Winter Olympic Games near Beijing and in remote Tibet, the last Chinese region to host high-speed rail since construction began in 2004.
Bullet trains that travel about 100 miles between Shanghai and Hangzhou hit speeds of up to 215 miles an hour, covering the distance in about 65 minutes. It takes more than an hour and a half to go about as far on an Amtrak route familiar to Mr. Biden, between Wilmington, Del., and Washington.
What the U.S. can learn from Beijing’s rail strategy--build it and they will come-- is that infrastructure costs should be weighted in favor of broad societal benefits, rather than strict revenue projections, says Arthur Kroeber, founding partner at Gavekal Dragonomics, a China-focused research firm.
“It can be a spur to economic growth and it doesn’t need to be paid for directly,” he says.
...Chinese mayors are motivated to build boldly since they expect job postings to new cities every few years, says Silas Chiow, China director for the American architectural giant Skidmore, Owings & Merrill who regularly meets town planners. “Government officials are rewarded on how much improvement they can make physically,” says Mr. Chiow.
When Shanghai officials in 1991 invited World Bank urban planners to consider the feasibility of a subway, the visitors dismissed underground transit as doubtful considering the city sits in the basin of the Yangtze River, and they instead proposed buses, according to the bank’s official archives. Shanghai went ahead anyway. Three decades later, its metro is one of the world’s longest and busiest, carrying more than 10 million passengers daily. Dozens of Chinese cities have followed suit.
Subways allow cities to expand to places with room to erect apartment towers, which in turn fosters homeownership. “It’s a win-win circulating system for their economy,” says Mr. Chiow.
Along the way, China also became a major producer of large boring machines that cut passages through rock and beneath rivers, as well as the world’s biggest maker of subway cars.
“We need a bit of China to be stirred into our game,” says Cornell [historian Thomas] Campanella, who urges American politicians to take a muscular approach to push project approvals as if it were an emergency and de-emphasize local impact studies.
“We’re overprivileging the immediately affected residents. What we don’t do is give requisite weight to the larger society,” he adds.
Unchecked development in China has spawned problems, however, including debt and underused systems. Construction dust in many cities rivals pollution from car exhaust and industrial activity. Political graft tied to construction is common. So is thuggish behavior directed at the rare activists who challenge development plans.
...Beijing increasingly looks abroad for growth opportunities for its engineering and construction industry. President Xi’s Belt and Road Initiative envisions Chinese-made infrastructure for the developing world.
The infrastructure bullet-point card Mr. Biden gripped last week noted the U.S. was 13th globally in infrastructure quality, down from fifth place in 2002.
The ranking appears to be from a World Economic Forum global competitiveness report that put China’s infrastructure quality at 36th.
I looked at the most current World Economic Forum global competitiveness report and it really is fascinating. I've created 3 charts here based on various countries' economic transformation priorities (2020), starting with upgrading infrastructure to accelerate the energy transition and broaden access to electricity and information and communication technologies. First are the 5 countries with the highest scores. Then 10 countries with big economies:
The next one measures a shift to more progressive taxation. South africa scored the highest and Hungary the lowest.
South Africa- 65.2
And the last chart measures the update of education curricula and the investment in skills needed for future jobs. Finland did best and Greece worst.
America isn't a second rate power, although the U.S. has weak and corrupted political leadership and and a decaying and disunited society that are dragging the country in that direction. Here's something to keep in mind: next year, when it comes to infrastructure, Florida voters may have an interesting choice to make in November. Marco Rubio is so bent against clean, fast high-speed rail that when he first ran for the Senate, he compared it to 9/11. Yes, that 9/11. Alan Grayson, on the other hand, worked tirelessly for clean, fast transportation in Florida when he was in Congress. If the planned high-speed rail system between Miami and Orlando starts next year, it will link up to a light-rail system in Orlando that Grayson got funded during the Obama Administration. The difference between Grayson's record and Rubio's is even more different than day and night.