The Community Connection

Investing in infrastruc­ture drives a nation’s success


Back in the late 1990s, when I was an intelligen­ce officer in the World’s Greatest Navy, I read a white paper published by the Chinese government that observed that the 20th Century was the American Century.

The paper provided a historical outline of the U.S.’s sharp rises in economic, military, technologi­cal, diplomatic, and cultural preeminenc­e, documentin­g how we outpaced all other major powers. It analyzed the many steps along the road from Teddy Roosevelt’s Great White Fleet to Mr. Gorbachev tearing down that wall, Wall Street’s rise, and the rapid expansion of our culture in far reaching corners of the globe.


But the white paper was not about America, it was about China.

China was determined that with careful study, this could be repeated, so they created a roadmap to make the 21st Century the Chinese Century.

A major contributi­ng factor to the explosive growth in the U.S. during the mid-1960s — when our economic leadership really took off — was investment in infrastruc­ture. President Eisenhower persuaded Congress to embark on a 41,000-mile journey to build the nation’s interstate highways. The interstate system, by definition, employed people across the nation in a huge range of specialtie­s: machine operators, miners, constructi­on workers and steel workers obviously, but also engineers, lawyers, equipment manufactur­ers, secretarie­s, accountant­s, and managers. Every one of these good paying jobs lead to economic opportunit­ies for interstate workers. They used their income to buy things that in turn employed other people (cars, houses, picket fences, and apple pies).

More importantl­y, it provided the interconne­ctivity required for the next evolution in our economy. With the interstate system, raw materials for glass could be easily shipped to factories making car windshield­s, windows, television screens, and martini glasses. Those products then traveled the interstate­s to get to the auto factories in Detroit, housing developmen­ts in New Jersey, the Zenith factory in Chicago, and into the stores in all the places where consumers would buy them and shipyards where they would be exported.

The real rewards of that major investment came in the continued explosive economic developmen­t of the next several decades. By 1985, the U.S. accounted for more than 1/3 of the world’s total GDP.

China started spending heavily on infrastruc­ture in the early 2000s and by the mid-2000s their GDP started to take off. China moved from the seventh highest GDP in 1980 to the second highest in 2010. These investment­s were costly and have caused a major shift in how and where millions of Chinese people work and live, but it is easy for an authoritar­ian regime to make an agenda happen.

The story of economic and cultural growth in both the U.S. and China tells us that infrastruc­ture is not only a sure bet in terms of economic return, but also a worthy investment in quality of life for citizens.

Not only that, there is widespread popular support, making infrastruc­ture investment an easy and safe political move.

The U.S. may never recapture the manufactur­ing segments we have lost, but a massive investment in a modern infrastruc­ture would not only bolster our economy at a time when we are trying to recover from a devastatin­g pandemic, but also prepare us to compete in the future world economy and work towards tackling daunting environmen­tal challenges.

While some in Washington are advocating for a stitch, we are past needing nine. If we want to prove that our democracy can not only be competitiv­e but can still lead, then we need to take a page from our own book, one that has proven successful for us before.

There is no investment in America, its workers, and our future that is too big.

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