The high cost of low taxes: Americans don’t want to maintain America

Welcome to the future of “small government.” America’s infrastructure was once the best in the world. But we didn’t want to pay to maintain it.

David Cay Johnston: “America’s Coming Infrastructure Disaster”

For decades, America has scrimped on taking care of the public furniture, endangering people and weakening the economy as bridges rust, roads crumble, dams weaken, and water mains leak. The sudden collapse of an Interstate highway bridge in Minneapolis in 2007, killing 13, and the cracks that shut down the Sherman Minton Bridge connecting Indiana and Kentucky last year (it reopened in February) are warning signs of widespread, but hidden, dangers lurking all around us.

Even greater threats can be found among the decrepit corporate-owned infrastructure, including high-pressure oil and natural-gas pipelines that can explode without warning, electric power poles long past their replacement dates, and a telecommunications system that is far less reliable today than it was two decades ago — despite customers paying more than a half-trillion dollars for upgrades.

America’s infrastructure gets a grade of “D” from the American Society of Civil Engineers, which recommends that we spend $2.2 trillion on repairs and maintenance.

… Under the banner of deregulation, the monopolies that supply electricity, water, gasoline, natural gas, and Internet access have been hollowing out the privately owned infrastructure on which modern life and economic activity depend. Instead of putting more into maintenance, they have slashed budgets. At the same time, they earn phenomenal profits: up to 55 percent on their assets, eight times the average for all corporations.

Corporate monopolies that own railroad bridges, hydroelectric dams, and high-pressure pipelines have skimped on taking care of this infrastructure, putting lives and property across America at unnecessary risk from blackouts, collisions, and explosions, even the threat of entire towns being washed away by bursting dams.

Photo by Leon Tucker, The (Cherry Hill, NJ) Courier-Post.

KYW/CBS Philly: “Freight Train Derails, Spills Chemicals in Paulsboro, NJ; Evacuations Ordered”

Officials say a freight train derailed over the Mantua Creek, leaking a chemical called vinyl chloride, which is considered toxic and highly flammable. Hazmat crews are currently on scene.

It appears the five cars derailed when a bridge they were traveling over collapsed. Some of the trains are currently submerged in the Mantua Creek.

Rescue units have been dispatched to the scene after numerous people complained of respiratory problems. A number of people in the immediate area have been evacuated.

The U.S. Coast Guard has also been notified because the chemical might be leaking into the Delaware River.

Travis Waldron: “How Increasing Infrastructure Spending Provides a Major Boost to Our Economy”

The United States has a massive infrastructure deficit, with independent analysts finding that the country could need as much as $2 trillion in immediate investments just to bring its infrastructure up to date. With the economy recovering slowly and our nation’s roads and bridges crumbling, a new paper from the San Francisco Federal Reserve found that making investments into infrastructure has substantial short- and medium-term benefits for the economy.

Each dollar invested into infrastructure boosts state economies by at least two dollars, the paper found:

Federal highway grants to states appear to boost economic activity in the short and medium term. The short-term effects appear to be due largely to increases in aggregate demand. Medium-term effects apparently reflect the increased productive capacity brought by improved roads. Overall, each dollar of federal highway grants received by a state raises that state’s annual economic output by at least two dollars, a relatively large multiplier. […]

In other words, for each dollar of federal highway grants received by a state, that state’s GSP rises by at least two dollars.

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  • JCLOR- As I explained in the post, our budgets go UP every year and are in fact twice what they were in the 90’s.  Our crumbling infrastructure has NOTHING to do with lower taxes. zero.  If they raised taxes, the infrastructure would still be crumbling. The government doesn’t care about it, that’s why it’s like that. 

  • “Hello! What is this ‘inflation’ and ‘population growth’ thing people speak of?”
    -Chris Hadrick.

    Hint: Try showing us inflation-adjusted spending per capita.

  • Veylon

    They’d import it. The Range Rovers would gradually downgrade from Martin Aston to Daimler to Toyota to Shanghai Motors, but the parts and fuel would keep coming in.

    Also, keep in mind that luxury is relative. The 0.99% in North Korea only live good compared to the peasants. The gated communities would crumble an inch at a time, the generators would only operate on even-numbered days, and the swimming pools would turn to muck as chlorine becomes unavailable, but they’d still be heaven compared to the Outer Darkness.

    Of course, this would be after the corporate vultures have fled to places where the wheels still turn and green grass still grows, leaving us with what amounts to a Cargo Cult of Randians determined to bring back the planes if they can just reduce taxes a little more.

  • Turcano

    What do you mean?  The song came out in 1933 and was popularized in 1973.

  • Since I’ve never heard of the reference before it’s safe to say Jim Stanford either didn’t, or couldn’t slip it past his editor.

  • reynard61

    If’n ya wanna *git* ta Galt’s Gulch, ya might wanna thin’ ’bout fillin’ all them potholes in th’ road so’s ya don’t bust all them tars on yer purty li’l li-mo-zeen…

  • The priorities of the government are the problem.

    Agreed.  This is the gist of Fred’s post.  We don’t spend enough money on infrastructure.

    We spend way way more than we did when we had the best infrastructure in the world.

    Now, you’re undermining your own argument.  It’s spending priorities that matter most.  You then proceed to try and scare everyone with big numbers.  

    As I explained in the post, our budgets go UP every year and are in fact twice what they were in the 90’s.

    … and?  If a greater percentage of that money were spent on infrastructure, our bridges wouldn’t be falling down.

    Our crumbling infrastructure has NOTHING to do with lower taxes. zero.  If they raised taxes, the infrastructure would still be crumbling.

    So … all those spending numbers you quote are meaningless?

    The government doesn’t care about it, that’s why it’s like that.

    Luckily, you finished with some overly simplistic pedantry.  The government, as you conveniently forget, is us.  They don’t care because we don’t care.  Government’s priorities are messed up because ours are.

  • “Yes, it’s a marvelous network,” said Hummin, “but you don’t see it at its peak. When I was younger, it was quieter than it is now and there are those who say that there wasnt as much as a whisper fifty years ago–though I suppose we might make allowance for the idealization of nostalgia.”

    “Why isnt it that way now?”

    “Because it isnt maintained properly. I told you about decay.”

    Seldon frowned. “Surely, people dont sit around and say, We’re decaying. Lets let the Expressways fall apart. ”

    “No, they don’t. It’s not a purposeful thing. Bad spots are patched, decrepit coaches refurbished, magnets replaced. However, it’s done in more slapdash fashion, more carelessly, and at greater intervals. There just aren’t enough credits available.”

    “Where have the credits gone?”

    “Into other things. We’ve had centuries of unrest. The navy is much larger and many times more expensive than it once was. The armed forces are much better-paid, in order to keep them quiet. Unrest, revolts, and minor blazes of civil war all take their toll.”

    “But it’s been quiet under Cleon. And we’ve had fifty years of peace.”

    “Yes, but soldiers who are well-paid would resent having that pay reduced just because there is peace. Admirals resist mothballing ships and having themselves reduced in rank simply because there is less for them to do. So the credits still go–unproductively–to the armed forces and vital areas of the social good are allowed to deteriorate. Thats what I call decay. Dont you? Dont you think that eventually you would fit that sort of view into your psychohistorical notions?”

    From Prelude to Foundation by Isaac Asimov.

  • Dan Audy

    Why here Chris Let me Google that for you.

    Now admittedly the bulk of the years you reference aren’t available in the first page I looked at from that ( but from it we can tell that the inflation adjusted per capita spending remainded relatively flat between 1986 and 2002.  Given the growth rate remains fairly steady in the other years listed we can tell (or you could chart it yourself, your a big boy you shouldn’t need us to show you this stuff) that government spending per capita should remain close to flat for the remaining years with the exception of 2010 where the is a significant spike as the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are moved into the budget instead of hiding in magic fairy land where Bush thought he could avoid the consequences of paying for them.

    What I came across however that was really, really interesting while Googling that for you was this Inflation Adjusted Public Debt Chart.  I think overlaying that chart with presidential terms would perhaps be the best illustration of the impact of economic policy I can think of.   It shows a MASSIVE increase starting in 1981 (Reagan’s first budget) and continuing to rise throughout the Bush 1 years and the leveling off and starting to drop during Clinton and resuming the climb under Bush 2.  Supply-side economics don’t work.

  • JCLOR- You’re repeating what I said as an attempt to refute what I said.

    The government has the revenue it needs for us to have the best infrastructure on Earth, it just chooses to spend it on something else. If they had even more revenue they would spend it on what they are spending it on now: war, subsidies for the well connected,  spying on people, etc 

    “The government, as you conveniently forget, is us.  They don’t care because we don’t care. ”

    If you don’t care why are you talking about it? (kidding)  The government has it’s own interests. This is inevitable under all systems of government.  There is no mechanism by which voters can vote for individual policies that effect them. they select a person to represent them and hope for the best. You can’t fairly say “We” don’t care about infrastructure. We , our individual selves, are not up there on the Senate floor. 

    Dan- I have no doubt that  Reagan and co racked up huge deficits with their weird corporatized  DC /Wall Street version of the “free market”. 

    neutrino- the population didn’t DOUBLE between now and the 1990’s. 

  • PorlockJunior

     You sure about that not-a-Communist-operative bit? OK, so am I. But you can get a lot of dissent on the point.

    And must I mention that he’s a Jew? The alert folks have noticed.

  • PorlockJunior

    Bash your fancy car on the potholes you don’t fix?

    No kidding. My rommate in college, decades ago, grew up in Ann Arbor, where, he said, the rich people all drove crummy old junker cars. Didn’t want to break the springs of something shiny on the lousy roads that they chose to have rather than spend money.

    Probably some hyperbole there, and this was long before the invention of the SUV. But the principle was already there.


    Fixed that for you because you can’t be arsed to troubleshoot basic problems with URLs.

    God, you’re like a student who wants to be spoon-fed every answer to every question instead of doing the work for yourself.

  •  (This is a teeny tiny quibble, but gold is actually tremendously useful in making things; the only reason it isn’t common is that it’s so expensive. Ductile enough to be worked and repaired at home, inert so it needs hardly any maintenance, second-most conductive material — there’s a good reason all our clever little phone bits and smart cards are golden.)

  • J_Enigma32

     “The government, as you conveniently forget, is us.”


    I repeat this *so* many times a day, and yet, it. never. sinks. in.

    A democracy is a government OF the people, BY the people, FOR the people. When the PEOPLE start getting screwed up priorities, when the PEOPLE start ignoring the problems, and when the PEOPLE stop caring, things fall apart*.

    Keeping up a democracy is hard work. It’s extremely hard work; it requires a lot of things for a lot of people, and it’s just easier to pretend sometimes that it’s every man for himself, because it’s easier (and more infantile) to believe you just need to take care of yourself rather than realize you need to help take care of others, too.

    * to be fair to the vast majority of people, they’re either too poor (financially) or too poor (educationally) or too poor (both ways) to be the type of citizens that a democracy requires. The vast majority of Libertarians are both, and lazy to boot. Democracies don’t die because Emperor Palpatine declares himself emperor – by the time that’s happened, the democracy has been well and truly dead for a while. Democracies die when inequality rips them apart, by destroying the middle class they need to thrive, and when misinformation and a transparent media becomes dominated by one side – the corporate side.

  • J_Enigma32

     That should be “every person for themselves”. Cursed English gendered cliches.

  • Dan- I have no doubt that  Reagan and co racked up huge deficits with
    their weird corporatized  DC /Wall Street version of the “free market”. 

    Chris Hadrick actually says something BAD about Saint Ronald Reagan?


  • Tricksterson

    Just to be annoying:  Galt’s Guklch was only accesible by plane.

  • Tricksterson

    Although he’s hates the Democrats Chris H really isn’t that fond of the Republicans either.

  • P J Evans

    Just to be annoying:  Galt’s Guklch was only accesible by plane.

    Helicopter, I should think. Less work clearing space for it to land. Not that any of those guys would know how to fly one. Or clear the space.

  • thank you tricksterson. I will say that relatatively speaking 80-2000 were good years. Reagan, Bush 1 and Clinton were self made men who had decent judgement and  managed to keep us out of prolonged conflicts, didn’t sabotage the economy and didn’t spy on people and whatnot.   They didn’t see the problems they were helping to createwith the greenspan style inflationist federal reserve and the neoconservative style foreign policy though. both of those massively blew up in our face. and deficits, Reagan more than Clinton. 

    Chloe-gold is value able in part because  it’s not common. I’ts relative scarcity is why it’s been used as a medium of exchange for so many years. It used to be used in other stuff like mainframe computers till it became so expensive. Anyone have an old mainframe computer I’ll give you 50 dollars for it haha

    j enigma “I repeat this *so* many times a day, and yet, it. never. sinks. in.” and it never will. 

    I explain it this way “Obama may be the man, but he’s still “the man” ”  No matter what style of government you have, powerful people are at the top making so any of the big calls. Democracy is no different. You can see how it breaks down with stuff like the military industrial complex and the various lobbies. What good does that huge base in Iraq do anyone outside of washington?


    Reagan, Bush 1 and Clinton were self made men

    That would be the actor who made his political name by selling out his fellow actors during the communist witch-hunts; the son of the wealthy banker who made his fortune hiding gold for the Nazis; and Bill Clinton?

  • reynard61

    “Just to be annoying:  Galt’s Guklch was only accesible by plane.”
    Then mebbe ya needs ta git that thar runway fixed so’s ya don’t go a-breakin’ that thar fancy air-o-playne…

    (Airports is in-fer-struk-shur too, ain’t they?)

  • Ross- That’s a slightly biased view. Bush1 maybe not so much as the other two, but in my defense he isn’t very interesting. and did keep the ship more or less afloat well enough.  Clinton had some issues too.  and I didn’t like any of them all that much, just relative to immediately before (Nixon, Carter) and after (Bush 2, Drone King).  If you’d like we can saw off DC and let it float into the ocean and call it even.

  • I would make the case that Bill Clinton is far more “self-made” than Bush I or II, or Reagan, for that matter.

  • Tricksterson

    Nope, plane.  Dagney discovers GG when pursuing Galt, both in planes and she crashes into the combination mirage/EMP forcefield protecting it.  Then later when Galt is being held captive and tortured a aerial fllet is prepped to rescue them if the smaller group sent ahead fails.

  • Tricksterson

    Reagan and Clinton both had some similarities in their background.  Both came from the working class, both had fathers who were absent or distant (and also IIRC alchoholic) and yes, Reagan may have been an actor but to thextent he made it in the film industry (he never really rated more than the second tier) he earned it.

  • I think Reagan stopped being “self-made” around the time he started using race-baiting rhetoric. Then it was just manipulating the electorate and flattering other rich white guys so he could get lots of dough.

  • Turcano

    Bush fils shouldn’t even be on the list, seeing as he was about as “self-made” as Paris Hilton.

  • Tricksterson

    Ditto his father.

  • I know almost nothing about Bush 1. I think that’s why I like him relatively speaking. All the presidents should be like that. stop it with the fireside chats and rallies. keep us out of war, don’t spy on us, stay inside.

  • P J Evans

     You do realize he ran the CIA before he was president?

  • Being proud of your lack of knowledge is not a virtue.

  • Lori

    You’ve now been subjecting us to these displays of your ignorance for quite some time and I shouldn’t be surprised by them any more, yet I am. Your ignorance is quite Left Behindish in that way. I always think, “This has to be as low as it can go” and then it goes a litter lower.

    It’s morbidly fascinating in its own way.

  • Ima Pseudonym

    Yup. I’m pretty sure that what the 1%, or perhaps more accurately the
    0.01%, is gunning for a  globalized, techno-feudal society. (That 0.99%
    of the 1% would correspond to lower nobility, knights, and competent
    courtiers … who are granted wealth and power in exchange for doing the
    day-to-day dirty work for the 0.01%.) There’s no need to invest in
    roads when you have an armored Range Rover. You don’t need police when
    you have Blackwater or whatever the fuck they’re calling themselves today.
    You don’t need a power grid when your gated community has its own
    generators. You don’t need a civil society when you can jet from
    undisclosed location to undisclosed location when things go tits-up and
    the teeming hordes finally breech the gates. Etc. Etc.</blockquote

    Extending the speculation about what a mostly-fully-privatized country might look like a little…

    Some of these gated communities might be ultra-technological communities defended by private paramilitary contractors.  Others might be more like someone's idea of a historical theme park where the rich can live a perfectly idyllic, idealized version of plantation life from the 1850s onward or whatever…probably ALSO guarded by private paramilitary contractors.   Depending on how dystopic it is, there might be trained staff who are paid to cater to their employer's fantasies of being Southern gentry or whatever, or actual honest-to-"Bob" indentured servants who aren't free to leave whether they want to or not.   

    But outside these enclaves of the rich and well-to-do most everything would be falling to bits.  Larger and larger parts of the country would no longer have a functional power grid or water or roads that are safe to drive.   There's no postal system, that's been privatized too.  There's either no functional public school system, or it's in the same sorry shape as everything else.  Hospitals are places where you go to die, assuming you can scrape together the funds to go and there's one within reach.  Law enforcement fares better because they NEED it to–they're going to be suppressing everything from riots to full-blown rebellions, so the private contractors have to regularly work alongside and reinforce police to put down violent insurrection.  Otherwise, you get whatever justice you can scrape together the money to buy.  The exclusive gated communities of the rich have their own private law enforcement, of course. Things would be somewhat better closer to some of the largest cities, but the further away you go, the worse it gets.    It looks like a film of the 20th Century running in reverse with large parts of the country going, and staying, dark.  Many vital national arteries are still repaired, since those are required for transport of the essential goods and services the wealthy need, but if you happen to be living in a more remote area, you're no longer guaranteed of them providing services and power.   The rich and powerful don't come any closer to you except by the occasional plane or luxury airship you see passing far overhead.  

    Feel free to add more.   Or change.  Or whatever.  

  • Ima Pseudonym

     Okay, I had an actual POST there AFTER the quote from Magic_Cracker where I speculated about what a fully-privatized nation might look like, with these little gated enclaves of rich people living like feudal lords and southern gentry with what amounts to Neo-Flint, Michigan stretching for hundreds of miles between them, but Disqus apparently hungered for a sacrifice and picked THAT. 

    So I’ll just cut to the primary quick and say this:  it would look like a film of the entire 20th Century running in reverse. 

  • We’re about to find out what a fully corporatized nation will look like.  The 20th century running in reverse wold be fantastic. millions of global banker sacrifices from fruitless wars would come back to life and so would liberty.

    PJ- I did know that.Lori- Bush1 isn’t exactly Lincoln or Washington in terms of his prestige. again that’s kind of why I like him. I hate them all though

  • Turcano

     You honestly believe that there is less liberty now than 100 years ago?

    It has already been well documented that you don’t know jack shit about economics, history, or anything else for that matter.  You don’t need to keep giving people more evidence.

  • EllieMurasaki

    The 20th century running in reverse wold be fantastic. millions of global banker sacrifices from fruitless wars would come back to life and so would liberty.

    And women would lose the right to vote, and men of color would de facto lose the right to vote and gender/sexual minorities would lose the right to live (unless they could pass well enough for heterocis), and people of all flavors–INCLUDING YOU, CHRIS HADRICK–would lose the right to work in somewhere safer and better-paid than the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory. Not to mention the weekend, the forty-hour work week, and time-and-a-half overtime pay.

    To name only a few examples of what we would lose if we turned the clock back to 1900.

  • Lori


    millions of global banker sacrifices from fruitless wars would come back to life   

    What does this even mean? Do you even know?

    Given that you don’t seem to know that you’re embarrassing yourself with your ongoing comments about Bush, I’m going to guess “no”.


    What does this even mean?

    I understood it to be an obscure way of saying that we would not yet have spent a lot of money on 20th-century wars.

    That said, the idea of that money “coming back to life” — even leaving aside the distasteful rhetoric of equating money with life in the context of wars — doesn’t really make sense. After all, we would also be rolling back all the actual work that people did to create the wealth which that money represented.

    But I can turn it into a kind of meaningful claim if I think in terms of debt incurred rather than wealth expended… the national deficit, for example, was many orders of magnitude lower in 1900 than in 2000.

  • Lori

    Because bankers didn’t have any part in 20th century wars. Their money was just sacrificed for politics.

    That’s quite ignorant. Which means that you probably understood it exactly as Chris meant it.

  • Tricksterson

    Keep us out o war?  Helooo, Persian Gulf?

  • Ima Pseudonym

    I’m sure he probably regards voting and intact fingers as way overrated anyway.

  • The 20th century was literally “bloody awful”. 

    trickerston- The Persian Gulf war was totally wrong but it was over pretty fast. Bush did not go on to Baghdad. The 90’s would have been very different if he had. Clinton doesn’t get off the hook on that score either. remember Albright’s gross remarks about the sanctions.

    Dave- I meant all the people who died in the wars not money coming back to life. 

    ellie- Those things did not require millions of deaths to happen

  • EllieMurasaki

    Let’s double-check what you said earlier:

    We’re about to find out what a fully corporatized nation will look like. The 20th century running in reverse wold be fantastic. millions of global banker sacrifices from fruitless wars would come back to life and so would liberty.

    This implies that you want corporations to have the power that they have lost over the past hundred-odd years. You want corporations to be able to discriminate against applicants and customers on the basis of their sex, gender, skin tone, etc. You want corporations to be able to work people sixteen hours a day for a dollar an hour, maybe Sunday off, maybe not, certainly not Saturday off, no paid sick leave or vacation time. I do not see any possible way to read your first two sentences that does not carry that implication.

    Which means the ‘liberty’ bit of your third sentence is utter nonsense.

    The people who died in wars don’t actually have anything to do with this at all.

  • > Dave- I meant all the people who died in the wars not money coming back to life.

    Gotcha. I stand corrected, and apologize for mis-reading you.
    I’m curious: why stop at 1900, though? It’s not like we weren’t merrily slaughtering one another in the 1800s as well.

  • Dave- I like the industrial revolution. city dweller

    Lori- Corporations have gained, not lost , power.  They have all the power. They don’t even have to make better stuff anymore like Standard Oil and those companies did. They just need good connections

  • And the kinds of policies you endorse would only exacerbate*, not diminish, that power.

    Take away the government – what countervailing power is there against corporations with sizable economic power from essentially dictating the conditions under which their employees work and live?


  • corporations wouldn’t have any power without the government.  You wouldn’t have to work at a corporation if you didn’t want to, you could start your own business because there would be no restrictions barring entry the way there is now.