American infrastructure isn’t “third-world,” as many like to claim, or on the brink of utter ruination, as the perpetually apocalyptic American Society of Civil Engineers likes to diagnose in its annual report cards. Anyone who’s ever been abroad to Italy or France, to say nothing of actual third-world nations, will appreciate the United States’ relatively maintained transportation network. According to the OECD, we have roughly the right amount of infrastructure proportionate to our needs. Let’s make sure we don’t inflate the problem here.
Let’s also guard against ascribing magical properties to infrastructure investment, as some have done by suggesting Trump’s pledge to rebuild our roads and bridges could spur an economic boom. For a cautionary lesson, look at Japan, whose 1990s infrastructure spending surge coincided with a doldrums economy that became known as the “lost decade,” while also racking up unprecedented debt. So massive was Tokyo’s infrastructure investment that businessmen there like to quip that every river in the country now has a concrete bed. This sort of stimulus didn’t work in Japan and it didn’t work when President Obama’s $100 billion investment in new infrastructure projects yielded the slowest economic recovery since the Great Depression.