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The infrastructural humiliation of America (techcrunch.com)
127 points by boffinism 43 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 180 comments



America stopped believing in public infrastructure -- so it doesn't get any anymore.

As for private infrastructure, private investors are happy to cut all kinds of corners. It's all about profit, preferably short term, than making something lasting, and even less so, about being proud in it.

The funny thing is, not very long ago (well, 30 years or so still) people were awestruck going into the US from Asia, Europe, etc. I've visited the US many times in the past decades, but I was more impressed with the past artifacts (e.g. Route 66, Chicagoan art deco, the fabulous country side, old New York skyscrapers, New Orleans, etc.) than with modern infrastructure. Heck, third tier cities in Europe have better subways and airports.

(That said, I did appreciate the abundance of ultra-cheap consumer electronics compared to old Europe).

The other thing I think (not an expert) is too much bureaucracy -- all the busy works laws and regulations that quadruple the cost of any project, and not in a good (e.g. public safety, long term quality, etc) way.

What's funny is the US budget is still huge. Just the stuff going into military BS could provide for top notch infrastructure, and even create an environment that could still jobs from China with a better supply chain (though, of course, the US can never account for the sheer number of Chinese workers).


Americans pay a lot into public infrastructure, but we just get much less for our dollar. (An insane 10x less when talking about urban rail.)

I don't think the American voter is what is broken here. People still believe in infrastructure projects. It's the public sector that has shown they can't be trusted to complete any worthwhile project for a reasonable amount of resources.

The quintessential example of this is urban rail, which is ridiculously expensive in America:

https://www.citylab.com/transportation/2018/01/why-its-so-ex...

https://pedestrianobservations.com/2011/05/16/us-rail-constr...


Voters are the broken piece. They don't vote in local elections, they don't demand accountability, and they like to talk about non issues like weed, abortion, and funding the military industrial complex and being world police.

So few people care about voting that local budgets are subject to the approval of the family and friends of police and firefighters, so we get to pay ever increasing taxes to their unsustainable pensions. Everyone moved to 401k 30 years ago, except for police, fire, and judges. Why is that? Because they all vote, and the rest of the public sits at home watching TV.

Some people don't have enough time, etc, blah blah, but while that is a valid excuse for some, over time, I have realized people are just lazy and they don't want to participate in their communities, they don't want to read the news or go to town meetings even if they have the time. Hence it is the voters fault. It is taken for granted that we have mostly corruption free elections.


I wish local elections were non-partisan for this reason.

I know a lot of folks in far-left cities that think that public sector union benefits are much too generous -- and wish the local government would take crime more seriously -- and wonder if additional tax increases are really in order.

And yet when it's time to vote they choose the candidates on the extreme left... as a rebuke to Trump or something..? even though he has nothing to do with city politics.


Left, right, democrat, republican, it doesn't matter. In local elections, as a candidate, if you're not supporting the police, firefighters, and judges, you're not getting anywhere. Those elections are decided by a couple thousand votes, and every single government employee is going to come in and vote for the candidate that is giving more pay and benefits. Americans also have a weird patriotism fetish anytime police/firefighter issues come up, as benefits do get cut for all other government workers and teachers, police and firefighters are never touched. Obviously, it's important for the rich to have their security guards on their side.

I would love to find a place to live where the government payroll is all cash, no benefits. Pay whatever you have to, six figures and whatnot, it just has to be in cash, so that taxpayers can see and compare the costs accurately.

Pensions and health benefits are nice, since those numbers can be fudged. It gives mayors and city council members plausible deniability and lets them claim they aren't raising taxes or keeping them low, and shove the costs 20 years into the future. Most people aren't going to want to hear about the conflicts of interest on the board of trustees for pension funds or the actuarial consultant being hired by the same people benefiting from the pensions.


That's because the public sector doesn't build hardly anything anymore. They pay the private sector to build it.

There are tons of examples of the public sector doing major works throughout the history of the United States. Only now, during a time of incredible distrust in our capability to do public works, does it become expensive/impossible.


The private construction sector is simply a lot less honest and more incestuously intertwined with government than it used to be.

To give one example, the Hoover Dam was completed under budget and two years early, and cost well under one billion in today's dollars. There were actually large penalties written into the contract for various stages of the construction taking too long, e.g. $3k per day the diversion tunnels were late, and there was no additional money to be made by fucking up and running over-budget. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hoover_Dam

Contrast with construction projects today, where the goal seems, essentially, to go over budget and over time, because you get paid more that way. The government doesn't hold the companies accountable, and because of this, they purposely run up costs and billable days.

Amazing feats of construction are possible these days with modern technology, way more than what was accomplished with the Hoover Dam, but not when incentives aren't aligned.

There are plenty of other countries where the relationship between private construction companies and the government remains honest, and those citizens thus get a lot more bang for their tax dollar in infrastructure projects.


Cost plus contracts are a huge problem for efficient public funding of projects. Also see NASA'a SLS rocket versus SpaceX's falcon heavy. SpaceX's next generation rocket is going to be so far ahead of the SLS in capabilities and cost it is ridiculous to continue the NASA program. I would not be surprised if the SLS program will even survive the first launch of the BFR. Hopefully they will be able to cancel it at that point and use the funds for funding sending people to mars using SpaceX tech.


SLS is a great example because, incredibly, the contractors get paid no matter what. They don't have to achieve goals, meet timelines, or come in on budget. They simply do things and get paid for them.

Contrast with SpaceX, which has to have successful launches in order to survive. They are incentivized to succeed, and so they do. The SLS program has little incentive to succeed, so instead it turns into a game of extracting as much money as possible (which is inimical to succeeding quickly!!!).


" They are incentivized to succeed, and so they do."

Well, they have succeeded so far due to a huge amount of capital and talented people working very hard. I think more importantly is, if a system fails, that it shrinks in power and eventually disappears instead of getting bigger and stronger. A well working free market seems the best way humans have devised to do that so far.


That is a selective view of the free market. For any company under pressure to succeed there are others whose expertise is extracting, rather than producing, value. Failed projects, both private and public, are often run by such companies that are successful in what they do, just not in what they deliver.

I think if there is any comprehensive reason why companies like SpaceX, Tesla or e.g. Amazon are successful is because they are vertically integrated. The limited the amount of activity, and responsibility, not under their own control. These days the government is often prevented from doing this, and large companies often want to cut cost in the short term.

These companies have understood that their is less of an information gap these days, so there is little reason to let others take care of you core activities.


It feels like the difference between today and projects like the hoover dam is a combination of:

* Private sector grift/contract savviness

* Government corruption or lack of authority to deal with above

* Individual safety prioritized over all else - work stoppages for the most relatively minor of unsafe situations

* Environmental reviews/lawsuits

* Cost of modern materials/manpower

* Lack of will over the past 30 years to fund necessary maintenance

As a total layperson who doesn't work in either construction or government, I'd love to hear whether I'm on the right track here.


That's because the public sector doesn't build hardly anything anymore. They pay the private sector to build it.

With little in the way of warranties, or so public perception goes. So then the public sector has to pay even more money to get stuff fixed, and contractors have little to no incentive to increase quality. Germany has warranties on roads. Their roads are supposed to be good. Italy isn't as good about warranties on public projects. Their road projects are supposed to be quagmires of corruption.

The US? In the past, the practice had been for 1 year warranties on road projects, but following the example of countries like Germany, Spain, Denmark, Sweden, and Great Britain, federal officials have been trying to extend that out to 5 years for all federally funded road projects. New Mexico had a 20 year warranty on one project.

(EDIT: I did some Googling, and found that some progress had been made, actually. My opinion on this was formed in the 90's, but there's new information now.)


public/private ventures seems the worst of both world. In France a few big projects of this nature got news coverage, it was a super sad view. Hospital unfit for operations. Millions sunk .. no warranties, nothing.


More like public/semi-private. Usually private money but the primary contractors have a very close relationship with the public side. Government contracts have been incestuous for a long time.


"The public infrastructure is terrible! Why should our taxes go towards this awful system?"

Rinse, repeat. There are politicians pushing this in the UK (most notably with the NHS) - starve [public institution] of cash, make it worse, bring in private companies to plug the gaps and provide a pathway to privatise the whole system. Everybody wins! /s


Same thing in Portugal. Happened with loads of public enterprises, now it's happening with trains.

Block fleet renovations, investment into long-term sustainability, disregard expert's advice |> as it all comes inevitably crumbling down, point at it and go "look how terrible the rail system is, look how terrible the state is at managing enterprises" |> when the company goes 100s of millions in the hole sell it to a private company for pennies (preferably to some well-connected friends in this fucking revolving door "democracy") |> move on dismantling the next public enterprise


Well, the opposite view, "let's dump even MORE money into this black hole" is also not a smart path forward.

New Yorkers pay handsomely for their mediocre transit -- an amount that always seems to be growing beyond inflation. And yet less and less seems to be returned for their largesse.


Partly that is because you need to allocate money for upgrades and maintenance upfront otherwise you will get stuck in a pit of having no money because of old infrastructure and having old infrastructure because you have no money.

The only way to make it work is to hold the private sector accountable of the quality they produce.


It’s important to note that in the UK a lot of people think the undercutting of the NHS by the Tories is privatization by the back door. For personal reasons (crony capitalism) and ideological reasons (small government has to be a crippled government) this appeals to people on the right in the UK and US, along with whatever passes for a Libertarian these days.


> all the busy works laws and regulations that quadruple the cost of any project

I want proof of that. I would argue that a larger problem is that politics is too involved in the actual approval process, which is corruption. A great example would be when a local city council needs to approve an apartment complex, and a bunch of homeowners come and complain because their home prices might go down.

I would argue that this occurs on any number of projects, and is probably a primary concern. If it is a complaint about environmental regulations, well, environmental regulations should get top priority at this point.

> It's all about profit, preferably short term, than making something lasting, and even less so, about being proud in it.

My sense is that we are culturally pushed towards being ostentatious about the wealth that we own. A bigger house, a nicer car, that trip to some other nation - all wasteful carbon-wise, but that's the point. The whole system is exploitative of people and environment and we are pushed to participate, and escaping that is difficult because we've built out so much infrastructure around those ideas.


>I want proof of that.

See stcredzero's comment below. I'm not an American, but that's the impression I've got from all I've read -- crazy regulations and litigation-happy climate working together to drive costs prohibitive.


To be precise, the US public has been told the government is rotten, and the play is to sell off/contract out the infrastructure to private firms, who then make huge profits and build crap.

The problem is the propaganda and the desire for private firms, who have incentives opposite the taxpayers.


I read a ~fun story about public bus companies. They get a city as a contract, replacing a public service. Naturally they gather statistics, and naturally they cut the lines below some threshold. Soon enough half the city is void of bus, the other is now of greater value with lots of buses. A pleasant conclusion maybe.


This Kirksen Dirksen video has one Sonoma landlord's brilliant take on this. On the surface, it's about stuff this guy has built, but underneath it's somewhat of a documentary about how regulations and laws progressed from post WWII to 2019, and how it has completely changed California's housing market, economy, and culture. 28 minutes, though, but I think it's worth it.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R8x4CWBMsPg

tl;dr is that houses were once dirt cheap, because fewer laws meant that people could innovate. Now, it takes $60k worth of permitting to even just add an addition to a house, and people are reduced to building sheds and outdoor "living rooms" on their deck.

(That's how much freedom we've lost by voluntarily taking it away from ourselves, basically to deny freedom to people lower down on the socioeconomic ladder.)


Agree that's a factor, but the fact that we stopped building housing to accommodate population growth and the move to cities (and California) is probably the largest one.


It has to do with trust, can't trust a public servant now to act in the interest of the public or educate themselves on the best course of action. It seems they will find a way to enrich themselves.


I hate public transp. I would rather be stuck in a traffic jam.

I have to get on and off in a packed subway during rush hour so many times that at the end of my journey I am so exhausted and sick.

I also get less sick when I travel by car.


So, let's ruin cities, pollute the environment, waste resources, and screw the poor, because some people "hate public transport".


That is not what I said. I just stated my preferences.


All of the things you liked were private infrastructure.

But you bashed private infrastructure a line earlier.

Not sure what you're going for.

And no, the military budget can't go down, look at how much German is complaining about just being asked to pay it's NATO dues.


> All of the things you liked were private infrastructure.

Route 66 was not private infrastructure, and even the private development along it was subsidized by public infrastructure.

> And no, the military budget can't go down

Yes, it can.

> look at how much German is complaining about just being asked to pay it's NATO dues.

Germany isn't complaining, and the issue isn't even about paying NATO dues but moving it's own total defense spending up to NATO targets. (And the major controversy isn't about whether to do that, but how aggressively to do so.)

And the big reason European NATO members can continue to drag their feet on that is US excessive defense spending.


>All of the things you liked were private infrastructure.

Well, Route 66 is not "private infrastructure". Neither was the Interstate system for that matter (Einsenhower and co, iirc). The skyscrapers are.

But I was talking about how the US now lacks both kinds of infrastructure.

That is, I'm not against private infrastructure per se. But I said, today's private investors "are happy to cut all kinds of corners. It's all about profit, preferably short term, than making something lasting, and even less so, about being proud in it".

>And no, the military budget can't go down, look at how much German is complaining about just being asked to pay it's NATO dues.

Then again, we don't need NATO. It was a cold war "coalition" where european governments were either strong armed into entering, paid off, or the right wingers pushed them in, in opposition to the USSR. Today's there's no real enemy, if anything NATO is constantly on the offensive expanding and pushing into Russia's neighbors. It's just a show put on to justify the huge budgets -- it's only alluring to the ex-eastern bloc countries that are actually having old beefs with Russia.

If anything, the joint NATO efforts in the middle east and around, not only do not protect, but destabilize those regions and cause more mayhem and terrorists coming into Europe.

My country, and others, have voted into power politicians that promised to get us "out of NATO", and still kept us in.


[flagged]


That's the best argument, a knee jerk reaction based on what's fashionable as "enemy du jour" in the mass media?

How about your country goes away from a history of 100 years meddling with my country's politics, including supporting a dictatorship?


I'm ok with you guys being ruled by a dictator. I don't care about you. I just want to make money.


Here's an unpopular theory: America is so pitted against eachother along a number of dimensions: class, race, ethnicity, gender, sex, political view, religion, etc etc... that we've stopped thinking of ourselves as a cohesive society. And when you don't have a cohesive society, you don't care about improving things for everyone, only for your specific tribe. Why should tribe X care about the quality of life of tribe Y, when tribe Y likely doesn't care about them?

The article mentions "wealthy Asian nations" as an example of what things could be like in terms of quality of infrastructure. Do you know what those nations have in common? Homogeneity. Japan is 98% ethnically Japanese. Thailand is 92% ethnically Thai. China is 94% Han. It's a lot harder to consider someone "not of your tribe" when you're less diverse.


>that we've stopped thinking of ourselves as a cohesive society.

The U.S. was never thought as cohesive. It's why we started with multiple states that facilitated nations.


was america more cohesive when they did the apollo program?


Jim Crow still ruled the South, so less "cohesive" and more "forceful repression".


Yes. The immigration act of 1968 hadn't yet brought in much conflict, nor had the illegal immigration gotten bad yet. Previous waves of immigrants had pretty well assimilated by that time.


Flying into America (from Europe) is like landing in an airport stuck in a time warp from 50-70 years ago, it's so strange. The first time I landed in New York (can't remember which airport) I was really struck with how old the place was. It had more in common with fading ancient airports (such as Bangalore's old city-centre terminal—now replaced) than the (mostly) smart and clean airports we have this side of the pond (and we're still outclassed by Asia). It was a feeling that followed me around the whole trip, that America was still stuck in the era of the 80's films I'd grown up with.


Much like Europe, it really depends on the airport.

New York City has some of the worst (and oldest) airports in the nation. And yet, if you fly into neighboring Newark it's fairly nice and has great integration with the train system.

What's strange about America is you see this phenomenon where the richest cities have the worst infrastructure. As a foreigner, you may think that New York would be this shining beacon on a hill given its wealth. But, nope, the infrastructure is old, grimey and gross. Meanwhile, the facilities in smaller second-tier cities are quite nice.


Newark Terminal C is nice. Terminals A and B are still stuck with a layout that was designed right before security checkpoints really became a thing, and consequently doesn't accommodate them well.

Not coincidentally Terminal C is the exclusive domain of a single airline (United), who could finance the improvements and realize the benefits of a renovated terminal. Terminals A and B are shared between a bunch of airlines, so no individual airline has much of an incentive to finance renovations.

IMO Newark's integration with the train system is much worse than JFK's, because the Newark AirTrain is slow and unreliable, and there are often 40+ minute gaps between NJ Transit trains at the Newark Airport stop. The JFK AirTrain is speedier and more reliable, and the combined frequency of LIRR and the subway is much higher at Jamaica.


Good point, I've only been in Terminal C.

The AirTrain is handy, but it costs $5 to go a couple miles, which is absurd.


It's 'strange' because the richest cities were generally also the richest 100 years ago. That meant they were the first to be able to afford it, and used the technologies available at the time. And it's simply not worth the cost of gutting a perfectly functional piece of infrastructure because you're jealous that someone else's is nicer.


I have been to many places in the world, rich and poor, and Newark Airport isn't fairly nice, even compared to poor places. Terminal C has had a makeover, but the quality of food and service is bad, of course prices being sky high. And the Airtrain from the airport is hilariously under capacity, you get to be crammed into a tiny monorail car that barely has space for luggage, and slowly go down some tracks that are very susceptible to problems due to weather and maintenance. Also, you get to pay $5 for this and you get to pay a crazy amount for luggage carts (which in civilized countries don't cost anything).


Yeah, I recently traveled to (western) Europe for the first time and noticed that I could buy food and other stuff at the airport for completely normal prices. In the US, all the airport prices are inflated.

In addition, it wasn't extra-expensive to take public transit from the airport to the city, again completely unlike America.


To me the issue looks like lack of maintenance rather than being old and antiquated, though some might do with upgrades.

The issue much of the time is accumulated grime and disrepair. If they allowed for constant maintenance (daily, weekly cleaning and monthly repairs and other work) I think much of airport and transport infrastructure would appear better and function better.

I recall in Japan, obviously there are exceptions, but one would see proprietors dusting and cleaning rafters and other typically untouched spaces, to keep their businesses looking new and attended to, no cobwebs, dust bunnies or grime accumulation. Same with transport facilities, you see people with spray bottle and rag wiping things down constantly.

Shinjuku station, for example, is a jumbled mess of a warren with extra low ceilings and so on is not “modern”, but it’s pretty clean given 2MM daily riders.


Japanese are fastidious about keeping things clean, it's not just airports, it's everything.


New York reminded me most of Egypt. The airport, hotels and buildings all seemed to be from another time. Occasionally you'd walk past something amazing which had been well kept - Grand Central station in NYC or some of the beautiful dutch-style buildings in Harlem. Or the big museum in Cairo.

Cities like Paris or London on the other hand seem to be more modern inside but on the outside they're covered in a layer of filth that I haven't seen in the US. I guess that's what you get for having so many diesel vehicles driving around (and is why the transition to EVs is so important).


It's more likely to be soot from coal burning, which was the norm for much of these building's life.


It's diesel. We cleaned our light-grey house four years ago and it's dark grey again. We're nowhere near a coal power plant (or any heavy industry) but are in a country with a lot of diesel cars.


Fear not, petrol direct injection basically gives you the same amount of soot as any ol' non-DPF TDI engine :)


The counter-argument to that is fresh façades and glorious airport atriums are also a bit of a boondoggle.

You're right about poorly maintained public spaces however. Civic Center BART station comes to my mind.


Not entirely. The feeling imparted to you by the space you're in can have quite a profound effect, particularly if it's the kind of space you're reasonably likely to get trapped for hours at a time under stressful circumstances. Yellowing, misplaced ceiling tiles and a general sense that you're in the 1950's chapter of Portal 2 aren't great.


Completely agree. For some public transport in the US it's not just a matter of outdated facades either-- the spaces just seem have gone fully unmaintained and uncleaned for decades. I remember I had to stop and change trains at the Chambers Street station in NYC once, and it was depressing. My connection couldn't come quickly enough (see picture in [1]).

At this point a big improvement wouldn't just come from a facelift, even just a sponge, a broom and some care would make things immensely better.

[1]: https://www.amny.com/transit/nyc-subway-stations-garbage-dum...


> The audit shows that tracks in seven stations -- just 3% of the 276 underground stops -- met New York City Transit's cleaning schedule, once every three weeks. More than half the stations got between four and eight visits from an 11-person cleaning crew a year, according to the audit of cleaning records between July 2013 and June 2014.

This blew my mind. The London underground isn't exactly spotless, but it's cleaned (at least once) every day.


I'm always amazed when the T shuts down a line in Boston because trash on the track has caught on fire. We are talking a subway system that doesn't run trains from 1am to 5am and they can't even afford to hire cleaners.


Maybe not, the article discusses the fact that infra projects are 1/4 the price outside the US.


Heh. The first time I saw the famed BART in San Francisco I had flashbacks of retro-futurist art.

From what I read, they've recently updated most BART wagons, so now they look more modern. But back in 2012 it was quite funny to see them in the tech capital of the world :)


Recently I was in NYC going to the Met Cloisters museum, and I had to take a subway line that I had never been on previously for whatever reason.

The car I ended up stepping in, I recognized as being the same model used on Seinfeld in 1992, with the old orange seats.


You should fly into Berlin (either TXL or SXF, both are remarkible in their own ways), you might find that US airports seem like a futuristic wonderland in comparison.


People really underestimate how poorly suited our modern political structure is to accomplishing large scale public works projects.

We have loads of critical infrastructure, namely bridges, dams, etc that are long past their serviceable lifespan and are accidents waiting to happen. It's a nationwide problem and we aren't doing anything about it.

Unfortunately all signs point to a scenario where people are going to die before it gets any better.


Back in 2017, we had the deadliest mass shooting in American history - over 50 deaths and over 400 gunshot wounds (!!!!) [0] - and precisely nothing has happened. The suicide and assault rates, including school shootings and other mass shootings, has only increased over time, with more deaths every year.

No signs point towards a scenario where things get better after people die. Our political system is a sick one. Expect no change.

[0]: https://www.wikiwand.com/en/2017_Las_Vegas_shooting


> Back in 2017, we had the deadliest mass shooting in American history - over 50 deaths and over 400 gunshot wounds (!!!!) [0] - and precisely nothing has happened. The suicide and assault rates, including school shootings and other mass shootings, has only increased over time, with more deaths every year.

You're right, we should have immediately banned all firearms nationally to prevent something like this from happening again, trampling all over the 2nd amendment. (nevermind how the hell you'd implement it without a thousand Ruby Ridges and Wacos, or why you expect to find more than a third of the guns in the first place [0]) It's not like he could have crashed a plane loaded with AMFO into the crowd instead, right? Or maybe we should just expand California's gun laws nationally, since that's worked out so well to stop the mass shootings there.

You say "OMG how haven't we fixed this, it must mean we don't care" while proposing no solutions, for a problem that might not have a solution. Britain still has terrorist attacks (vans, acid, knives) and that's after banning carrying a fucking butter knife. Humans will always find ways to kill each other, (checkout improvised prison weapons sometime) let's not go too crazy hunting down one of the smallest sources.

So, maybe our response to shootings shouldn't be compared to our response to crumbling infrastructure. At least with the infrastructure, there's a path forward that almost everyone would agree would work. That's not the case with guns.

0: http://reason.com/archives/2012/12/22/gun-restrictions-have-...


> You say "OMG how haven't we fixed this, it must mean we don't care" while proposing no solutions, for a problem that might not have a solution. Britain still has terrorist attacks (vans, acid, knives) and that's after banning carrying a fucking butter knife. Humans will always find ways to kill each other, (checkout improvised prison weapons sometime) let's not go too crazy hunting down one of the smallest sources.

Britain, and specifically London, seems to rival Paris and Brussels in terms of gang violence, but you still get a lot less dead people than in the US. You're suggesting there might not be a solution, yet practically no Western state except the US has this problem in the first place.


There's a whole bunch of proposed reasons for the US's murder rate, and you're right that one of them is guns. But the US is an incredibly extreme outlier on a whole bunch of metrics, and gun ownership is just one of them.


> You're right, we should have immediately banned all firearms nationally

Yes.


Why even bring up guns in the first place if you're not willing to have a good faith discussion of the topic?


>The suicide and assault rates, including school shootings and other mass shootings, has only increased over time, with more deaths every year.

Citation needed. A cursory look at Wikipedia for suicide rates suggests that they took a dip in the late 90s but otherwise are flat from the 80.

Violent crime has been trending down for decades.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suicide_in_the_United_States

https://www.statista.com/statistics/191219/reported-violent-...


I don't think so about suicide, last year produced a lot of articles about the rise in suicides (partly it appears that women are catching up to men)[1]

1: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/to-your-health/wp/2018/0...


Sounds fair, my bad :)

Though I'll continue to argue that this is still kind of unacceptable, since a constant rate over an increased population means more people dying.


No, the deadliest mass shooting in American history was at Wounded Knee. The government, which had been confiscating guns, shot 146 people to death.

So that's 146 who died due to an effort to take their guns. Let's not repeat history.

On a similar note, there was the Waco siege. That was also an effort to seize guns. There the US government killed 76, which is also worse than the Las Vegas incident, but partly done by burning people to death instead of shooting them.


> No, the deadliest mass shooting in American history was at Wounded Knee. The government, which had been confiscating guns, shot 146 people to death.

You'd have to have a very special configuration of what to include as mass shooting for Wounded Knee to count but none of Antietam, the Lawrence Massacre, the Opelousas Massacre, the Greenwood Massacre, the Fort Pillow Massacre, the Bear River Massacre, any number of major attacks in the California Genocide, etc., to be included.

But, by the usual standards, neither those nor Wounded Knee are included in the scope of that term.


Gettysburg wins if you use this metric.


People already have died, and the primary response seems to have been to rebuild that one bridge.

Hell, people are dying every day in traffic accidents that could be mitigated with better design (or reduced by making better mass transit as an alternative, which as a byproduct is also much safer than driving).


I don't disagree with you in the slightest but I really meant on a scale that people will care about.

It's a really terrible state of affairs.


I think it’s political will more than structure. The desire to play obstructionist politics has consumed parties on all sides, to the detriment of the population at large.


That's a result of the death of the party boss system, the last vestiges of which we lost in the late 70s. It was extremely corrupt, but largely centrist politics.

The appeal to extremes and gerrymandering came afterwards. The obstructionist politics are not about willpower -- the issue is systemic.


I don't know if it's centrism that enabled infrastructure, so much as the two major parties seeing each other as legitimate rivals that could be negotiated with. Without a common enemy since the Soviet Union disintegrated, the parties have lost their sense of mutual legitimacy. There's nothing visibly* urgent enough to push us into e.g. building a continent-spanning system of highways.

*Climate change doesn't count because one side doesn't see it as a threat.


Structure is a huge part. Local projects (infrastructure being a common one) used to get a lot of funding via earmarks.

Say you have a senator who's constituents don't care one way or the other about your bill but their party affiliation requires them to vote against your bill. You toss them an earmark that they can use to say "look at how I've helped you" to his constituents next election with the understanding that he'll break from his party's default position on your bill.


Not to mention that even those who support improving infrastructure have to receive a pet project (aka a bridge to nowhere) as part of the transaction.

It's also obviously clear that at least one person in the US government doesn't like the current state of our infrastructure and would love to do something about it.


>People really underestimate how poorly suited our modern political structure is to accomplishing large scale public works projects.

Did you read the article?

There's something deeply wrong with large scale construction costs in America, but it isn't politics. Or it isn't _just_ politics. Politics and corruption can't explain 5-10x more expensive costs.

https://techcrunch.com/2017/07/09/why-so-costly/

https://slatestarcodex.com/2017/02/09/considerations-on-cost...

https://slatestarcodex.com/2017/02/17/highlights-from-the-co...


On the contrary, political structure is the only way to explain 5-10x costs.

Consider the following simple hypothetical - imagine that a project requires a single person to implement, and that person costs $100k in yearly salary (and assume for argument's sake that benefits that benefits, cost of materials, etc. are all free), and after a year of steady work, the project will be completed. Such a project would have a projected cost of $100k. Now let's assume that this person is distracted - they need to get their every decision approved, they have to pitch their work to stakeholders, etc., and as a result, the project now takes two years. Just by virtue of the project taking more time - all other factors constant - the project now costs double because the project now costs two years' salary instead of one.

When you have a political structure whereby Federal funding mixes with environmental review mixes with state funding mixes with private funding mixes with local permitting mixes with multiple state and local bodies each with their own permitting setups etc. - you have a guarantee that the process will be slower than molasses.

Then you have foreign countries with transit authorities having sole oversight and dedicated funding getting projects done in a fraction of the time.

You can argue that having three people paid $60,000 each to do the work of one foreigner making $10,000 a year in Asia is a 18x increase in costs. And you would be correct if labor costs were actually the majority of the overall cost. But they're not - administration is.


We had roughly the funding situation we have now under the much more corrupt party boss system but projects came in on time (and cheaper than now...still often overbudget).

As bad as grift and corruption are, it did ensure that everyone had skin in the game and that money flowed in two directions. Mostly everyone had to make good on their promises. At the extremes there are bad examples of corruption where nothing got done, sure, but nothing getting done is the norm now with very little corruption.

Basic game theory predicts how these systems will play out. I really wonder why people are surprised with the results we get today.

The biggest cost overruns today are from delays.


Actually, I think it's arguable that financial market deregulation in the US is largely responsible for the increased costs.

https://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2019/02/real-reason-stock-bu...


>Politics and corruption can't explain 5-10x more expensive costs.

Corruption can explain any increase in cost, if your hands are in the money purse you can steal as much as you want.


Stop making up things and seeing past with rose colored glasses. Accidents due to things like bridge collapse are much lower than in past, and much lower in US/developed countries than in thailand. Google "thailand bridge collapse" to see the cases.



The point is, is it better in the past and how much of this can be corrected by politicians being serious about it, not that it is not perfect now.


I've noticed that a lot of people want to attribute the public works shortcomings to a lack of funding.

As someone who currently works for a local government organization that manages public transportation for the region I'm not sure that's the case.

I think the author correctly recognizes it as America's problem with "cost disease'". The organization I work for receives billions of dollars yearly and most of it is pissed away.

Our websites, for example, often get built by consultants. Sometimes to the tune of millions of dollars. These websites are usually your typical CRUD apps too so you might think they'd be done well for millions of dollars. Nope, they usually have garbage for a code base. The code is so garbage that we usually have to keep paying them to maintain the websites because we don't understand how their mess works.

The worst part is that these websites are often rebuilt a few years later. They're built again, by another consultant, with the hopes that they'll better suit our future needs.

This is just the massive waste of money that I've noticed from within my department. I can only imagine how bad it is within others.

We all know that large corporations are far less efficient than smaller companies. So why do we keep letting public organizations turn into bloated behemoths?


"Paris’s metro was inaugurated in 1900, but its well-maintained system continues to run excellently and expand continuously."

Any daily commuter in Paris will tell you that this is untrue. Trains are often extremely full, delays happen frequently and many stations are deeply run down.


I also felt that the article made European transport systems appear better than they really are in order to make a point. That being said it is true that the metro keeps expanding (they're currently expanding the line 14 towards the north, hopefully in order to take some of the load of the extremely overcrowded line 13) and they've also extended one tramway line recently. On top of that public transportation in Paris is heavily subsidized and pretty cheap, a lot cheaper than London for instance.

On the other hand it's true that many Parisian stations are simply disgusting and could urgently use a renovation. Given how hugely touristic Paris is it's quite shameful really.


Yeah I'm also not a big fan of the French metro, and as a Dutchman living in Germany I can say that the German also leaves quite something to be desired. I can't imagine what the American system must look like if it's made out like that.

Anyone here who lived in the Netherlands as well as the USA to compare?


>and as a Dutchman living in Germany I can say that the German also leaves quite something to be desired.

Where in Germany do you live? I was just in Munich and the U-bahn there is fantastic compared to anything I've ever seen in America. It was crowded during rush hour, but aside from that, everything was clean and organized, and the trains were really quite smooth to ride on unlike the ones in DC and NYC.


I guess in big cities like Cologne, Berlin and Munich, it's probably equivalent. In and around Aachen, the bus schedule is more of a "definitely not before" schedule (e.g. "09:30 Bushof" does not mean "bus will be around 09:30 at the bushof", it means "bus will definitely not be at the bushof before 09:30, but some time after that, and before the next one is scheduled to go").

It's not reliably late, either: some days it's 1 minute late, some days 10.

You also can't see when it will be late: there does not seem to be live tracking that tells you within a minute when the bus will actually be there. I only recently found the website from the local company that can tell the difference between "within 5 minutes on time" and "more than 5 minutes late". It tells you "+3" (rounded to the minute it seems) but that could mean anything between +3 and, say, +8, and after the departure time +3 minutes, it just removes it from the departures list, even if you're standing at the stop and you're sure quite sure it hasn't left yet...

Deutsche Bahn and Öffi claim to have realtime data but they don't.

Having to get info from disparate companies is another thing: in the Netherlands there is a collective of public transport companies (iirc it's NDOV) that creates a common standard that apps and websites can use for information (things like the coordinates of all stations and stops, schedules, and delays precise to a few seconds).

It just seems like a big mess, probably due to the lower population density. On the upside, that lower density means you actually have nature: I can drive an hour and be in the middle of nowhere. Having that space is kind of nice. That just doesn't exist in the Netherlands (there doesn't seem to be any place more than 500 metres removed from any road, path or building).

That said,

> compared to anything I've ever seen in America

I haven't been to the USA so I can't make that comparison. Like I said, I can't imagine what the American system must look like if it's made out to be so much worse than Germany.


As a New Yorker taking the Metro in Paris was decidedly underwhelming. It didn't seem appreciably cleaner or dirtier or more os less safe & reliable than the NYC subway.


It's a shame, to the point that I have dreams of starting a lavander club to spread flowers onto the decks


I have to agree here. Was in Paris last February and "underwhelming" was exactly the word that came to mind. I've been on the mass transit systems in most of the major metro areas in the US, and have been fortunate enough to ride on a handful in Europe. If one system stands out to me, I'd have to say the underground in London.


intra-paris subway as few delays, it's choke full quite often that's true, it stinks, finding it's way out is NP-complete

outer rim paris on the other hand will show you what a delay is

mainstream theory is that national company was more interested by luxury high speed rail than true public transportation. Which is also cited as one cause for the yellow vest thing because bad public transportation => more car rides => people super angry if oil taxes increase.


Everything is relative. I complain often since I've been taking line 13 regularly, but in general it holds up very well in comparison with other systems.


Many subway stations in Paris are very old; comparing RER stations to stations of newer subways (e.g. Amsterdam) would be more fair.


For my own reference, can you compare Paris's metro to Marseilles?


The Moscow subway is quite beautiful as well. My grandparents were shocked when I took them into the NY subway for the first time. I guess they were expecting something like this: https://www.google.com/search?q=moscow+subway&tbm=isch


As an expat living in Zurich, I can say that it is difficult to explain to American's what they're missing.


Population density, small landmass, and extremely high per capita GDP?


I really don’t see how this keeps coming up as an excuse. East coast corridor is at least as dense and is not far off in purchase power per capita. Plus you could as well compate to China, another huge country with low density of purchase power, and look how they‘re charging ahead in infrastructure. It‘s the political system - not to say that the US should adopt China‘s of course, just that it‘s a better explanation of what goes wrong.


All chinese subways are in large densely populated cities.


So are the ones in America. However, the ones in America are barely functioning and are a complete disaster.


> low density of purchase power

I think the commenter was referring to the fact purchasing power is not dense (ie, dense areas don't have as high a purchasing power)? A little confused by this too.


just to expand on this a bit:

I like looking at purchase power in general, rather than GDP - the absolute numbers don't matter so much as long as your domestic market is large enough to produce most things people need.

Secondly, the density of savings and taxes per square kilometer is giving you an idea about how much potential for development a current settlement has. That's the capital that can be drawn from directly. Density of spendings (train tickets, consumer goods etc.) is the driver for outside capital to come in trying to get a dividend. Taken all together (savings + spendings) you get the density of PPP adjusted GDP per square kilometer as a figure that matters. As you can see in [1], US and China is actually quite similar in this metric, and it's probably also still similar if you just take its coastal regions. I also think that this metric is very similar for the population belt between London and Rome, and the East Coast corridor in the US.

[1] http://mecometer.com/topic/gdp-ppp-per-square-kilometer/


Switzerland has a population density of 206 per km^2. NJ, RI, MA, CT, and MD have higher density. After all, nobody's expecting an express rail across Montana anytime soon: we're talking about the more populous part of the US.

It's hard to use "they are different" argument when your country is objectively worse than Switzerland and China.


Effective density in Switzerland is much higher, because that headline number aggregates a bunch of dense towns and cities (mostly located in valleys) with a whole lot of steep mountainsides with an approximate density of ~0.

It also helps that the topography forces development into mostly linear shapes (following the valleys), rather than radiating in all directions as normally happens in flatter terrain. Linear corridors are much easier to serve via public transit, because everything is "on the way".

Check out Switzerland on Google Earth and these features will jump out at you: https://earth.google.com/web/@46.8131873,8.22421005,1311.812...


Well, I'm sure having a linear string of cities helps, but effective density is higher everywhere: Switzerland is the norm instead of the outlier.

E.g., San Mateo and Santa Clara counties, at the center of Silicon Valley, have population density of 663 and 580 per km^2. And of course San Francisco has a whopping 7249 per km^2. They also have a string of connected cities, thanks to being constrained by the pacific and the SF bay from either side.

I don't think I have to repeat on HN what the infrastructure looks like in the Silicon Valley.

* Besides, your argument can be paraphrased as "Of course it's easier in Switzerland, because it's filled with mountains!" Think about it.


Yeah I feel like comparisons to Europe often fall flat for this reason. There are plenty of small, wealthy enclaves in the U.S. where the infrastructure is perfectly fine, but the U.S. is so big that telling someone in say, Bellevue, WA that the infrastructure in the Midwest is crumbling is the same as telling someone in Zurich that the infrastructure in Bulgaria or Turkey is crumbling.

Obviously that analogy is far from perfect, as Seattle has its own set of infrastructure problems, but extrapolating from most European countries doesn't seem particularly useful.


> There are plenty of small, wealthy enclaves in the U.S. where the infrastructure is perfectly fine

Is it though? I would assume NYC falls in that category and the subway is crumbling. The cars are old, and some of its subway stations have not only not been remodeled in years, they haven't been painted or cleaned recently either [1].

Manhattan is an incredibly rich and dense area, I'd say in theory the city is just as, or better setup for success in terms of public transport than Tokyio, Paris, or Mexico City. Yet, public transport in these cities seems to overall be of better quality than New York's.

Reading a bit into it, it seems clear that it's a matter of corruption, inefficiency and lack of will to fix things [2], not just "the way things have to be" due to external forces.

[1]: https://www.amny.com/transit/nyc-subway-stations-garbage-dum...

[2]: https://ny.curbed.com/2017/12/29/16829746/mta-nyc-subway-con...


Public transit is in better shape even in poor republics of the USSR. I rode public transit in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan and both were better than the NYC public transit. I am not even talking about CTA and SEPTA.


I completely agree that it’s not an inevitable state of affairs.

And I don’t think your point about Manhattan necessarily refutes my point. Just because a place is wealthy doesn’t mean it will have great infrastructure, but there are wealthy places in the US with good infrastrcture.

I also don’t dispute that it’s not a priority in most of the U.S. I just take issue with the idea that it’s easy to figure out what to do and we just need to look at a place like Zurich.

The U.S. is huge. It’s certainly more homogenous than Europe, but it’s big enough and variable enough that a lot of people deign to call the middle 2,000! miles fly-over country. Zurich and Istanbul are only like 1,400 miles apart, and are such drastically different places, but people expect the whole U.S. to have it’s infrastructure together when 1,500 miles gets you just halfway across the U.S.


>but there are wealthy places in the US with good infrastrcture

You're going to have to tell me what those are, because I've been all over the US and I have absolutely no idea what places these might be. All the wealthy places I've seen in the US either have crumbling infrastructure (northeast), terrible public transit, or no real public transit at all and expect everyone to get around in cars (e.g., suburban DC area).

>but people expect the whole U.S. to have it’s infrastructure together when 1,500 miles gets you just halfway across the U.S.

No, people expect the US's major metro areas to have their infrastructure together (i.e., subways), and they just don't.


i think he's referring to the healthcare system.


And our insanely expensive higher education system. And the total absence of civil protections against surveillance-based capitalism. And the lack of oversight on speculator-driven excess in the mortgage industry and stock markets.

It's death by a thousand tax cuts.


Many major metropolitan areas in the US have similar inputs, just different historical priorities.


Travel should be ~mandatory. We all need to get away from our pit from time to time to get perspective.


While America have a big problem in public and private infrastructure, I've been wondering in my head about the problem even at small scale in cities and village here in France.

We have a ton of old buildings, privately owned. Mine included, where it's a small building of 4 floors and 4 owners. One appartement per floor. It's so hard to get people into investing money without any monetary return. We fix problems after they happen. We waited for the rain pipe to break to fix it, we waited for the balcony to leak in order to fix it etc..

In Marseille two buildings collapsed right in the center of city. They were decrepit and owned by a company who never invested a dim despite problem reported. People actually died.

I wonder how many time it need to happen until we wake up?

I'm managing my coproperty, and it's so hard to even find what kind of local/governmental help we can get. We would be very happy to redo insulation and building beams if it was possible to co-finance it which public/city money.

But instead the norm seems to let 150 years old building (built with good materials) getting destroyed and build new cheap reinforced concrete one.

Is it really cheaper to pop ton of buildings which will not even last 50 years? What is there no incentive to help privately owned building maintenance?


> We would be very happy to redo insulation and building beams if it was possible to co-finance it which public/city money.

Hey, I'd be happy to accept public money to fix my own house as well. But frankly, I bought it cheaper since it had those problems so I don't see how that would be fair to my fellow taxpayers.


Ha, I have no idea on how to make that happen. But what will happen is that the city will slap a motion on the door of the building in the coming years, and we'll be forced to sell for as cheap as possible to city directly or some cheap promotor.

Which is kinda lame because giving 250K would be cheaper than buying 1M worth of land to demolish a building and build a 3M building on top of it.


>We have a ton of old buildings, privately owned. Mine included, where it's a small building of 4 floors and 4 owners. One appartement per floor. It's so hard to get people into investing money without any monetary return.

This is what you get when you have a single building with multiple owners. Can you imagine having a car that's owned by 4 people? It wouldn't get maintained either. This is why in the US, condos (buildings with separately-owned units) are run by management companies who have the authority to do maintenance and repairs and to charge the owners for this if it's more than their monthly condo fee.

Of course, this isn't immune to problems (mgmt companies are frequently accused of mismanagement), but it sounds like you don't have anything like that in place, just multiple people owning pieces of the same building, with no central governance. That can never work out.

>In Marseille two buildings collapsed right in the center of city. They were decrepit and owned by a company who never invested a dim despite problem reported. People actually died. >I wonder how many time it need to happen until we wake up?

This sounds like a clear case of negligence. Here, generally there'd be a big lawsuit against the management company, and possibly investigation of criminal negligence since someone died. Criminal negligence is a crime, not a tort, and can result in the management going to prison.


Why wouldn't you be financially responsible for your own property? This doesn't make sense.


Because it's not that easy. I don't have 20K (or more) on hand to fix a building which went trough 150 years of life and lack of maintenance.


So why shouldn't you borrow the money or sell the property to someone who can properly take care of it?


This is what I'll do actually. I have no choice, and I'll do it ASAP in order to not loose too much money as the building state is devaluating as time passes.


Living in Seoul a city with an insanely good public transportation I have to say that it takes me 1,5h to commute to work.

It's crowded, it does not cover everything it's just as good as it can get.

Public transp. is not everything and wont solve all your problems.


Frequently lost in these discussions is the fact that the US Federal government does not fund most public infrastructure -- most funding and virtually all execution is provided by individual States. As a consequence, cost and quality of infrastructure varies widely by the competency and efficiency of various States. Road construction costs famously vary by over an order of magnitude when they cross a State border, and the less expensive side is often a higher quality product.

Talking about the US government when discussing the infrastructure most people talk about is misattribution. State policy creates those outcomes and all politics is local. There is no homogeneous "US infrastructure", there is a conglomeration of State infrastructures of greatly varying quality and reflecting the priorities of different States.

All of which is to say that infrastructure is not an America problem, it is a State problem. If the infrastructure in California, Nebraska, etc is dilapidated then that is the fault of the people that live in and run those States.


Conway's law:

> "organizations which design systems ... are constrained to produce designs which are copies of the communication structures of these organizations."

Perhaps that extends to society at large, too. We're still living down IBM's strawman product of the PC. Everything is legacy and ossificed. Newer open source stuff, the other half of our commons, is often fad driven and also doesn't seek to improve/replace the garbage beneath it. Unix is still lauded in these parts, but it's also long out of date.

Sometimes I think of old school networking to SDNs. A lot of stuff today in programs and in real life seems overly uncoordinated or narrow-minded. It's all the downsides of distribution systems without the benefits (not autonomous or resilient). Perhaps judicious optional centralization (aquaponics + healthcare co-opt?) Is a path forward?

In the virtual realm, Nixpkgs as a "Domesday Book" (first census in a while) of the whole realm of software in the commons (how to build, compose, and develop each piece) strikes me as another example.


In Arizona, public road construction, appears to be based on a sub-contractor ponzi scheme of doing tiny amounts of work all over the state, taking YEARS to build small roadways, repaving etc.

Tucson had a project for widening state highway 10 that took years, and it is still not done-- 10+ years after being announced.

Signs, barriers etc. go up for months with no sign of work, or when there is work going on it takes forever to complete.

As a nation, we are incapable of delivering a high speed rail system to match those in Europe or Asia.


Here we go again. Let me compare a gigantic country that was industrialized over one hundred years ago with much smaller and more recently developed countries. It’s not that we don’t have things that need fixed and maintained, but the hyperventilating about it is overdone at this point.


US states and major metropolitan areas are the comparable entities to the countries and cities mentioned in the article, and those have significantly worse infrastructure than their counterparts in Europe and Asia.

Western european countries and cities industrialized even before US states and cities. They just had very different development priorities, that were formed partly around their historical pre-automobile population density.

But it turns out that the US model (low density sprawl) has a much higher per capita long-term maintenance and replacement cost. In many cases, that cost outstrips the infrastructure's productivity in the long term.

For more background on this:

https://www.strongtowns.org/the-growth-ponzi-scheme/

Of course the US has plenty of neglected infrastructure in high density areas, too. That's a complex subject, having to do with decades of urban disinvestment.


> with much smaller and more recently developed countries.

I'll give you that European countries are smaller, though in this case I don't see the relevance (talking about trains, sure, talking about major AIRPORTS - doesn't hold), but I don't see "more recently developed". Europe covers a range, sure, but a good chunk of it has been developed at the same general pace as North American countries.

> It’s not that we don’t have things that need fixed and maintained, but the hyperventilating about it is overdone at this point.

Until I actually see anything changing, I can't agree. I don't particular advocate "hyperventilating", but I just watched the country (within the past decade or so) twice pass major tax cuts and move through a period of extremely cheap borrowing and not invest in known infrastructure maintenance needs. We're not even breaking even on the issue.


Fair, America as a whole may be vast and mostly empty, but what about the megalopolises? The whole Bay Area has more people than many European countries in a muuuuuuch smaller geography and public transit still sucks.

Most of the east coast is now so densely populated you can almost go north to south without ever leaving what one might call “a city/suburbs”, tens if not hundreds of millions of residents in a pretty damn small area when you think about it. Public transit still sucks from what I hear.

Granted, everyone always says their public transit sucks and that seems interesting too.


> much smaller and more recently developed countries

Like China?


FTFY: with much smaller and more recently developed areas of countries.

Leave Chinese cities and go into the countryside and there are primarily dirt roads.


I mean, to be fair they do have more and bigger cities than the US. China apparently has 102 cities with population over 1 million vs the US's 10 [1].

If we consider "megacities", they are at 15 vs the US's two (NYC and LA) [2].

In fact this is interesting, because although its population is huge in terms of the rest of nations-- about "a full Brazil" bigger than all of North America, and Europe (including Russia) combined [4]-- to put things in another perspective, we're talking about a country that's just 4.3 times the size of the US [3], yet it has 10x more cities and 7x more megacities.

This makes me think it's less rural than the US, which probably yields more focus on cities and less investment in rural areas.

[1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_metropolitan_areas_by_...

[2]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Megacity

[3]: https://www.wolframalpha.com/input/?i=population+of+china+%2...

[4]: https://www.wolframalpha.com/input/?i=population+of+china+-+...


You mean all those densely populated cities of 5m+ people that china has?


> more recently developed countries

Yes, like China.


The "decades newer" argument is mentioned in the article. I don't know if it's true or false, but please read at least the article before responding with a common argument.


I hate these comparisons. What's the marginal benefit to New York for gutting its public transit system to build one as nice as Bangkok? What's the marginal benefit to Chicago of gutting O'Hare to build a new airport comparable to Beijing's?

Answer: not a lot.

On the other hand, Shenzhen needed to build a new airport relatively recently to accommodate their rapid economic growth. So, they were able to tap all of the new design and building techniques that have been learned in the 70 years since the United States went through its airport boom. And the fact of the matter is capacity and necessity are what should drive the creation and updating of airports--not some inferiority complex about some other city's being nicer.


The second avenue subway extension costs $2.1 billion dollars per mile to build.[1]

[1] https://www.thoughtco.com/rail-transit-projects-costs-279879...


> What happened? A cascading series of failures of imagination; failures to invest in the future; paralyzed or ideologically blinkered or simply idiotic governance; and, perhaps most of all, cost disease

The same thing happened that is biting Italy and soon Germany: Politicians like to open new buildings/roads/..., but the maintenance budget is often enough forgotten at best and ignored at worst.

And to make matters even worse: with most infrastructure, continuous maintenance over 30-40 years is cheap compared to the inevitable outright rebuild neccessary after the same timespan without any maintenance.


Isn't this because transportation is centered around cars and planes in the U.S.? You are supposed to have your own personal car to do anything. Nobody takes the bus, trains or subways, except in a city like New York City or SanFran, or if you are poor or new immigrant. Whereas in Asia or in Europe, there's a strong tradition of mass transit. Poor/Rich people take the subway to go to work, and it's ok for everyone in those countries.


A major portion of this article talks about airports.


This is an old but worthwhile lecture on the topic by the, at times bombastic and over-the-top, James Howard Kunstler: https://www.ted.com/talks/james_howard_kunstler_dissects_sub...


Maybe their infrastructure is better because it is several decades newer than ours. If it isn’t broke it doesn’t get fixed here so things have to get kind of bad before they get rebuilt or improved.

Some parts of Europe look way more modern than the US because it had to be. Much of it had been destroyed a couple times.


The "decades newer" argument is mentioned in the article. I don't know if it's true or false, but please read at least the article before responding with a common argument (additionally, someone else already mentioned it in another top level comment).


Sorry but I did read the article. If I missed that line then it was a good observation of the article or whatever anyway. What is there to add? Most of it was built pretty good the first time at least.

PS I am not humiliated by some potholes.

Decades newer is true. WwI destroyed every penny of Europe’s infrastructure. They did it again less than 30 years later.


The author wants to express how American infrastructure is bad, but he only complains about trains of all kinds (with a side of airport security). He mentions that the roads and phone networks are good, but doesn't touch anything else. Did I miss anything?


Almost ten years ago I flew from LAX to Guadalajara, which was new and amazing, quite a shocker.

They've since upgraded LAX, but the upgrades are more modest, sort of like gutting a 1960's building and refurbishing it, rather than starting from scratch.


There's the phrase: "show me your budget and I'll tell you what your priorities are", look at the federal budget and you'll see that the US "priorities" are really focused on two things. Maintaining our military and supporting social programs.

The Trump administration is negotiating a deal with the Taliban to end the war in Afghanistan, at the end of the day it will have cost us over 2,000 American lives and 2 Trillion dollars. Imagine if instead we committed 2 trillion dollars to create a 21st century infrastructure? How much dividend would that pay off as compared to this war in which we gained nothing? I highly doubt 2,000 workers would've died in the process.

Tackling the military budget is such a political football though, I understand the geopolitical needs to have such a global military, maintain bases, project force, and be at the forefront of military tech. But I wonder when American's will turn an eye and say "hey, why are we spending so much on war when we need programs at home"? As the nation gets older, inequality rises and growth maintains is sluggish pace, the American government will need to take a larger role in facilitating growth. In my opinion de-funding social programs is an absolute nonstarter, the military approaches the same position but I believe are more at risk. Time will come where the Pentagon will need to defend it's budget, especially if you get a future president on the extremes of either party.


I used to believe these lies until I actually bothered to take a look at the federal budget: https://datalab.usaspending.gov/budget-function.html

Could we spend less on military? Oh for sure, but the idea that we spend more on military than anything else is absolute bullshit.


There's something funky going on with that chart. Military spending is about 20% of the budget when you include Veterans benefits. You're right that it's smaller than the ~50% spent on SS and Meciare/Medicaid, but after those it's by far the biggest budget item.


We did not go from 700 billion to 50 billion spent on the military from 2017 to 2018, so yes, that chart (and the associated data) is bullshit.

There are a ton of technicalities involved in government budgeting and accounting though. It's just not a chart you'd want to share to make an honest point in a conversation like this.


This budget for FY18 looks completely incorrect - where is the $500b+ of defense spending?? It shows up in their FY17 budget, but has shrunk by 10x in FY18.

Try USA Facts for a more accurate, if older, view: https://usafacts.org/government-finances/spending?comparison...


I never said we spend more on the military than anything else, and the budget you provided just helps to make my point clear. The main hitters of the budget are all social services that are politically impossible to cut. The top non service line items are the VA and defense.


Massive infrastructure projects require massive amounts of money nowadays. Truth is, in North America (U.S. and Canada), the governments at all levels are effectively bankrupt.


if you control the value of the currency you owe money in, you cannot really go bankrupt.


Who needs transportation infrastructure when you have F22s, B2 Spirits, Ohio-class submarines and aircraft carriers?


What's your point ?


Money spent on defense could instead be spent on infrastructure. Seems pretty straightforward.


Reading between the lines, I took this as a comment pointing out the large difference between military and non-military spending.


[flagged]


Downvoted for saying, as I understand it, half the American population is enjoying some trillions at the cost of the other. I don't know what this 'us vs them' mentality is in America with your two political parties system, but I doubt you're correct and I'd rather see less of it.


[flagged]


> Eschew flamebait. Don't introduce flamewar topics unless you have something genuinely new to say. Avoid unrelated controversies and generic tangents.

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html


The author of this article can't seem to acknowledge the evidence staring him in the face. First, he criticizes public transportation initiatives in the United States, such as mass transit and airports. Then he says infrastructure isn't all bad here, and mentions ridesharing and telecommunications. Indeed, rideshare and telecomm are not public works here in America. Our brightest lights are the ones supplied by private enterprise. If the author could make his way outside of public-funding enclaves like New England and LA, he might also discover the many private airports that dot our country while being run quite smoothly. It's amazing what can happen when a government committee is not put in charge.


Yes you end up with such amazing privatized infrastructure wonders like Comcast.

Privatization isn’t a magic bullet.


Comcast isn't a public service, it's a private monopoly.

If it was a privatized public service then the network would be owned by the municipality and maintained by a private company under a contract which is put up for bids every few years, in the same way that the roads are owned by the municipality which puts private contracts up for bid to do road maintenance.

Privatization works when the government retains ownership over the infrastructure and never signs a contract for longer than ten years. Anything else is almost certainly corruption, and nothing in government works when the government is corrupt.


1) I didn't say anything about a "magic bullet."

2) Private enterprise is a different concept from privatization.

3) I don't believe it's mere coincidence that everything the author likes about US infrastructure is privately supplied, while everything he suggests is "humiliating" is publicly funded -- do you?


Airports are publicly funded?



Sure there is some funding, but believe a majority is paid for with fees and taxes.


The exact funding numbers, and the exact extent to which airports are controlled by the FAA, are supplied in the two links above. There is no point arguing. If you're under the impression that airports are an example of private enterprise, I suggest you review the two links I provided. If you already did, I suggest you do it again. Some things are not worth arguing about, especially when the facts are right in front of you, and this is one of them.


Why do you think this is an argument?


You need to read more carefully. There are a series of "if" statements in the above comment, along with some statements expressing my unwillingness to argue some points. Only you can say whether the "if" statements apply to you. Only you can say whether you will try to argue any of those points.




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