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So You Want to Do an Infrastructure Package [pdf] (niskanencenter.org)
140 points by ruddct 28 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 173 comments



From the paper:

>Overdesign: American infrastructure is often overbuilt, not out of higher quality but out of agency turf battles, obsolete standards like NFPA 130 that have better foreign replacements, or scope creep.

>Poor procurement practices: there is improper supervision of private contractors, and things are getting worse as public agencies offload more risk to the private sector, which responds by bidding higher to hedge against the risk; there are also some one-bid contracts, for example the 7 extension in New York, leading to even higher costs.

> Poor project management: design review teams are usually understaffed and cannot respond to contractors fast, so there is little institutional capacity to build big projects. Wages for office workers are below market rate and hiring is difficult.

>Labor: in New York, the productivity of construction labor seems unusually low and wages high.

>NIMBYism: the United States makes it easy to sue, for example NEPA is enforced by lawsuit, whereas its Italian equivalent is enforced by the administrative state. Lawsuits in the US and other lawsuit-happy countries like Germany rarely win, but do delay projects, so there is defensive design, including unnecessary scope in order to buy off political support. Leah Brooks and Zachary Liscow have a paper on the growth in Interstate construction costs over the decades, blaming citizen voice lawsuits for the increase.

>Politicization of projects: the civil service is weak compared with both elected politicians and their unelected political appointees, and there is not much continuity in design.

One thing I think they missed, environmental impact studies (that aren't even associated with reduced environmental impact!) I remember Seattle's light rail project included 8 years of environmental impact review of a light rail extensions along routes that were planned along existing rail corridors!

Also, relating to overdesign, I think younger generations suffer from a cult of perfectionism. But perfect is the enemy of good. A streetcar might seem so much cooler, but a dedicated rapid bus can do more with less money!


> One thing I think they missed, environmental impact studies (that aren't even associated with reduced environmental impact!)

That wasn't missed. That's what NEPA is implicitly referring to. Environmental protection legislation is usually structured to first require the developer to create an environmental impact report (EIR). Thereafter almost everything revolves around the EIR, including the regulatory agency review as well as the lawsuits. Environmental lawsuits invariably challenge the accuracy of the EIR, or the application of regulatory agency rules to an EIR.

An EIR is to environmental regulation what construction blueprints are to the building code. You need the paperwork, otherwise you just have a bunch of people shouting and pointing fingers and making wild claims.

The issue with EIRs is who gets to challenge the accuracy of an EIR. Imagine if any old interest group could challenge construction blueprints for accuracy in court. It'd be a nightmare. Well, in some jurisdictions, like California, pretty much anybody can challenge an EIR in court. By contrast, under the Federal NEPA and most state regulations, the parties with a right to challenge an EIR are few--e.g. usually just the government agency in charge of approving it and maybe any adjacent landowners potentially impacted.

I know somebody who is a low-income housing developer in California. According to her, the cost of compiling and getting approval of an EIR under NEPA is de minimis, with very low-risk if the reviewing contractor doesn't uncover any serious problems. By contrast, because almost anybody can challenge the EIR submitted under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), and do so without any risk of punishment for frivolous or vexatious challenges, one of her biggest risks and costs is dealing with CEQA. (Because nobody wants low-income housing near them, any remotely nearby upper-income neighborhood will instinctively challenge her EIR, causing mult-year, even multi-decade delays. And this is even when zoning boards and every other government agency are 100% behind a project.)


Maybe this is an additional component to NIMBYism, but I've often noticed how public works projects get derailed from a myriad of busybodies coming out of the woodwork to halt the project based on some hitherto unknown concern. I can't help but think our public works projects are too public and it's too easy for some random Joe/Jane to have an outsized impact on the project planning.


American Electric Power Corp found that they could produce renewable hydro power in rural West Virginia for a few pennies per kWh and sell it in Washington D.C. for about twice that. To do this would require 85 miles of high voltage transmission line to transport the electricity from WV to NOVA. Guess how long it took them to build this?

17 Years. Almost all of which was permitting and licenses. Construction took 11 months.

Meanwhile, when China needed to buy greater volumes of natural gas, they set up a purchase agreement to buy it from Turkmenistan and completed a 2900km pipeline project start to finish in just 22 months.

Obviously, we don't want to ignore civil rights, but it really is absurd that to build anything in this country requires you to retain half the state bar association for the inevitable endless NIMBY lawsuits.


The railfication and arguably much of the settlement of the West in the USA happened because the government said "here's a swath of land 20/50 miles wide, go hog wild". That type of activity isn't really possible anymore, unless the government itself steps in.


This sort of opposition is usually effected through the environmental review phase, as noted. It's a cleverly named little barrier that lets a lot of meddling happen — because after all, only evil people who hate the environment would oppose environmental review. In places like San Francisco, in particular, there are many "stakeholders" who use the threat of litigation in this phase to extract concessions, whether that's NIMBYism, or preferring union labor, or some "environmental justice" concerns that can only be remedied by paying someone's favorite nonprofit — it's a shakedown.


It is legalized extortion. Every utility-scale solar project in California has at some point been sued under CEQA by labor unions looking for more money.

Same for urban housing projects and "community benefit organizations" aka neighborhood shakedown outfits.


> Every utility-scale solar project in California has at some point been sued under CEQA by labor unions looking for more money.

Which union? IBEW (electrical, wireman not linesman) has solar project labor almost completely locked down, electricians assemble the racking and panels, run all the conduit, pull all the wire, and terminate everything. Site work/concrete/buildings are the only work that falls outside the IBEW scope.

Edit: My employer does 8 figures worth of solar panel projects with union labor a year

Second edit: So CURE is a coalition of labor unions that sue to hold up solar projects while they try and force the developer to hire union labor. That’s pretty shady, there’s plenty of work to go around for everyone, no need to do shakedowns to get contracts IMO. There’s plenty of facilities that only hire union MEP contractors because the job will get done correctly, nearly all Class A office space, for example.


I was going to mention CURE but it looks like you are on it. The way I normally identify these anonymous groups is because they have the same lawyers as the unions.


Sorry if this is a dumb question but how does a labour union have standing to sue over issues that impact the environment?


Under the California Environmental Quality Act, anyone who participated in the public comments or hearings about an environmental impact report can sue whatever authority approves some project. That is why in California every EIR on any project of any kind will gather some public comments from union members. The unions are preserving their standing to sue at a later time.

Typical example is this letter sent by lawyers on behalf of labor unions, commenting on the EIR of a solar project.

https://phonyuniontreehuggers.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/01...


It is hard to argue with that. Anecdote time. My neighbors were petitioning against a library being built next to them, because:

1. It would add noise to otherwise comatose street 2. It would serve as a gathering ground for kids

Both are true complaints ( and to an extent I would even say valid ).

What happened was what seems to happen in similar cases. They were assured, the library would only remain so big, but those promises were quickly abandoned in ways not dissimilar to the way US handled Indian treaties.


But isn't #2 a good thing? Like what's wrong with kids gathering at the library, isn't that the whole point of a library?


It could certainly be a good thing, but what strikes me from the description is promising one thing and building another.

And I would add my own anecdote. The state decided to build a new office building by "selling" the land to a developer, who built the new building, that the state now leases. Also, the state passed a special law exempting this site from city zoning restrictions. The developer took out the parking lot and put up a multi level garage, for which they charge the office workers an annual fee. So the workers fanned out and park their cars along the streets in the surrounding neighborhoods, leading to congested streets and more traffic. The residents petitioned for "no parking" and "2 hour parking" signs along the streets in front of their houses. So now there's a 2-hour parking sign in front of my house, which I didn't ask for.

My point is that an innocent measure to enrich a developer had a spillover effect into the entire neighborhood. And there's still a bunch of undeveloped land on the lot, which the developer will be free to do with whatever they want. This kind of stuff fuels NIMBYism and the need for precise specifications hashed out in painful detail.


Yes and no. They don't like kids gather, because kids gathering in their mind equals trouble ( and, well, some summers I did see a swarm of kids jumping over fences and stuff; we actually had to call the cops -- but you know, kids will be kids ).

But I take your point, kids attracted to a library tend to be less likely to cause trouble. Frankly, any non-idle hands activity is better than nothing.


That's exactly why NIMBYism is so destructive -- overall it probably would be a net positive for the community. However one very loud resident (I'm exaggerating a bit) says "nah, I don't want the noise" and then the whole thing gets stalled.

But that library has to go somewhere. It has to be in somebody's backyard. Just not MY backyard.


Is the NIMBYism that is so destructive or the fact that the terms of the agreement between were not upheld. As much as I don't see an issue with a library, I assure you after I learned of that story, I watch moves by my local city hall a lot more carefully since I know I cannot take them at their word.

Trust is everything.


None of these are valid complaints akin to their rights.


I disagree. You buy a house in a given location based on its current or future properties ( say, relative silence of the surroundings ). If that property is altered in a way that does not benefit you, it could affect their property rights.

For the record, I think library is a good thing, net-wise. I understand their line of reasoning though.


> it could affect their property rights.

I don't think "rights" extend that far. That's like saying if you buy stock in a company and then a competitor does something to drive the price down, that's violating your property rights.

It's a reasonable thing to discuss and bring up at a meeting, but it's not an issue of property rights.


If we take this in the other direction, if I purchase a house on a lake, and you build a company that dumps toxic waste into that lake, should I not have some recourse?

The idea here being that there is an externality to your toxic waste dumping (both in terms of property values and the environmental/health consequences, potentially). You the dumper don't bear that cost, your neighbors do, even though the action is entirely your fault and, importantly, there's nothing your neighbors can do to prevent you from dumping the waste.


Yes, and note how many laws are on the books ( and how many scams exist ) that deal with falsely inflating and deflating the value. It is absolutely a property rights issue. Just because it seems minute to you does not make it less of a right.


I feel very strongly that value and rights are not the same thing. Nobody has a right to future value. You have a right to own stuff, and a right to speak freely about how you think the world should be, but you don't have a right to your investment paying off.


I think agree with statement as written. That said, what happens when bad actors conspire to artificially lower/increase the value? Or are you arguing laissez-faire?


People are far, far, far, far, far too entitled.


I've never been so yearning for Japanese-style federal zoning laws in North America until the past year.


By this reasoning nothing should ever change ever lest someone’s property rights be infringed?


Well, that is basically why, as a society, we have devised ways to deal with disagreements over the nature of what should be. In US that does mean civil suits if all else fails.

Not to search very far, in Colorado neighbors sued for lowered property values due to marijuana smell from dispensary.

For better or worse, US property values do make a powerful argument for people to take their rights rather seriously.


Having a pig farm setup shop next to your property reduces the market value significantly. Having a library does not, quite the opposite.

Property should be protected by law so that people are not deprived of it, but it does not follow that owning property gives you the right to be capricious.


It is a good argument, but it does not apply. Their complaint is about the increased noise-level, which, as far as humans go, we can agree it can become bothersome. We typically disagree over how much and when is too much, but noise absolutely affects property values and potential resale. Take me for example, I did not purchase a place by highway. Extreme example, but same principle applies.


Aren't library the place where you're precisely not supposed to make any noise?


I genuinely chuckled. That is for the inside of the library.

In their case, I think they were referring to noise from cars ( people dropping off kids -- this is America after all ), gatherings and so on.


Don't forget rampant corruption. In my sleepy little town of Cincinnati the FBI has been jailing city council members for colluding with contractors and taking bribes. It is so bad they said it seemed to be ingrained into the culture. Pan over to somewhere like New York that is many factors worse than Cincinnati as has been documented in The Power Broker and has likely gotten worse since. I now consider local development corruption to be the norm over the exception.

It is VERY difficult to get shovel ready for a two bedroom house, let alone a new bridge.


I don't have any evidence to back up my opinion, but my impression is that many of the countries the paper recommends emulating suffer similar corruption issues. My friends who've worked in China make it sound like bribery is a fundamental part of the process. This isn't to say that it's ok or cheap, just that I'm not sure it's a confounding factor when comparing the US to peers.


I'd say it's just the US has more money to steal.


Another facet is that the private companies are very good at finding ways that off the self designs are not suitable so they must make bespoke equipment when its not needed. For the streetcar they recently installed in Seattle, off the shelf rolling stock was not suitable because someone really wanted it to be battery powered for part of the trip and they had to extensively modify an existing design, leading to all sorts of problems.

What makes this even worse is that Seattle has extensive trolley bus (electric bus powered by overhead lines) infrastructure that works just fine, so they could have taken a trolley bus, put train wheels on it, and we would have had a faster and cheaper streetcar. Trolley busses are much safer for cyclists or anyone else sharing the road with the streetcar as the tracks pose a hazard to pretty much all other uses of the road.


IMO streetcars in general are a pretty bad investment, as they are generally just a way of making a bus, but more expensive and stuck on rails. (Streetcars are not usually grade-separated.)

I learned recently that part of why streetcars have been in vogue is that the Obama administration made a big push for them in order to have some visible progress on their transit plans.


> IMO streetcars in general are a pretty bad investment, as they are generally just a way of making a bus, but more expensive and stuck on rails.

The value of a streetcar or a bus depends on the volume of passengers that are served. The more people, the more a streetcar (maybe) makes sense.

At some point you have so many buses and so many drives (salaries, benefits, 401k/pensions) that the main cost on the line becomes people and not equipment. (More buses also need more mechanics, etc.)

There is a range of average daily ridership where buses, bus rapid transit (single/double lanes), light rail, and heavy rail each make sense.

* https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Passengers_per_hour_per_direct...

One should also keep in mind that good transit is about networks: a random route here or there is not useful. Vox made a video outlining this:

* https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-ZDZtBRTyeI

* https://www.vox.com/videos/21529609/usa-public-transit-train...


> IMO streetcars in general are a pretty bad investment, as they are generally just a way of making a bus, but more expensive and stuck on rails

With much bigger capacity and also faster. Even BRT with multiple buses one after the other has lower capacity, and unless all buses are electric, also pollutes more and makes more noise.


> Streetcars are not usually grade-separated.

Although I'd argue that unless you really need (or reasonably expect to need) the capacity of a full-scale subway(-like) line, demanding 100 % grade-separation might again falls under the "overdesign" point: Properly done signal priority and dedicated lanes where necessary can get you quite far without requiring you to tunnel/elevate all the way or build a bridge/underpass at each crossing street.


Right, my point is you can do all this with a bus or BRT without needing the extra expense of using a streetcar.


> they could have taken a trolley bus, put train wheels on it, and we would have had a faster and cheaper streetcar

I don't think this'd work quite as easily as you'd imagine. If you'd literally take a bus, take out its steering and replace its wheels with train wheels, the resulting contraption would have diabolical cornering abilities with regards to the tight curves typically encountered on streetcar networks.

Two-axle streetcars typically don't have a wheelbase much above 10 or 11 feet at most (and that's already pushing it – there's a reason why everybody moved on to vehicles with bogies or otherwise steerable axles), whereas modern buses have a wheelbase closer to 20 ft or so.


I was thinking one would replace the tires with train wheels, so you keep the steering system intact. The biggest downside to doing exactly this is that car traffic will not have traction as most of their tire contact patch will be on the steel rails, rather than the pavement.

Or even better, just buy off-the-shelf trolley busses, as they are cheap, and you need a fraction of the infrastructure.


For those who haven’t read the article, before talking about the above reasons - which are indeed important - it leads with:

"The difference in costs often boils down to domestic state capacity: bureaucracies in East Asia and Continental Europe tend to be better-staffed and more empowered to make professional decisions. The details are naturally more complicated, but the pattern is nonetheless clear: the countries with the lowest infrastructure costs are also the countries where the state acts swiftly, with mechanisms that limit the lag between financing and construction."


> One thing I think they missed, environmental impact studies (that aren't even associated with reduced environmental impact!)

The Atlantic has an article about exactly this happening in California[0] with increasing frequency, mostly fueled by NIMBYism.

[0] https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2021/03/signature-...


One thing I think they missed, environmental impact studies

It's mentioned in the NEPA discussion on page 9, and in the litigation discussion.


Maybe most of them stem from one common cause: large interest groups.

On the other hand, there are also deep corruptions behind large projects in China, but they get to move forward fast.

Things in the U.S. is strange, large interest groups (regulatory agencies, all kinds of big contractors, political parties) all want to take a piece from the big pie, but they don't care to move things forward. Maybe because everybody knows the things are overcomplicated anyway, and nobody is going to take the project away from them. If the heads of the large interest groups can take bribes (above millions) as those in China, I guess the projects can move much faster.

More, because bribe money is out of sight, the game becomes all about power, i.e. politics. So instead of all sides comes together to take money, they fight for power, political influence. So comes backstabbing, sabotaging.

In the old days, there were gangsters and big unions, whose lives were depended on those big projects, so they actively engaged in "persuading" politicians to push the projects and they resourcefully removed obstacles. Nowadays, gangsters are long gone, unions declined, politicians come and go, nobody is actively pushing those projects anymore.


I will say that choosing light rail is helpful in that it forces a certain minimum amount of infrastructure to be built. Dedicated BRT can be a good experience, but rarely is built that way. The same cost-cutting forces that drive the choice of BRT over rail usually keep on pushing until all you're left with is a glorified bus stop.


There are lots of dumb reasons but there are also things like we require Fire Extinguishers in our data centers to get a certificate of occupancy.


Fire extinguishers could come in handy [0]

[0] https://www.reuters.com/article/idUSKBN2B20NU


>Politicization of projects: the civil service is weak compared with both elected politicians and their unelected political appointees, and there is not much continuity in design.

This one may be especially relevant as the green line extension mentioned in the paper as possibly concluding in 2017 would've been under a new administration that especially worked to undo a lot of Obama era policies.


To me this all reads as corruption. You know why SpaceX can build a new rocket, faster, better, cheaper? Because there’s little corruption - aka bureaucrats, who’s sole job is to justify themselves.


SpaceX wouldn't exist without NASA sinking a lot of money into very risky R&D and training up a whole fleet of engineers capable of doing the work that SpaceX does. The public sector can be insanely bloated and slow - that's quite true - but it's necessary and contributes a lot to society that the private sector would never deliver.

We need balance in all things.


The Government should do things it is uniquely suited to do. Like risky, multi-decade R&D that launched the first satellites and delivered men to the moon. Once these feats become more common-place, let private industry take over and put the cost-savings into new R&D.


The point of this paper is precisely that bureaucrats, at least the right type of bureaucrats, are necessary for public works to proceed smoothly. Without (qualified, motivated) public servants, public works are driven by politics and lawyers instead of domain experts.

I've seen the same kind of things happen in the private sector. A company with no in-house IT expertise regularly gets fucked over by their contractors. This is less common now but this was rather the norm 20 years ago, even for large enterprises.


Not really. China's big projects all have corruptions, but corruption can help sort things out. Read my comment above. https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=26483703


I wonder why various administrative approvals don't have a time-out built-in. I would suggest that an approval process may take, say 6 months, and unless during this time good grounds for disapproval are found, the approval is considered granted.

This will not work, of course. Bogus disapprovals will be issued at the last minute, then likely taken to court, which again can take arbitrarily long.


It blows my mind that an environmental impact study for a single light rail system can take 8 years, when multiple coronavirus vaccines were created, safely reviewed, then safely administered to hundreds of millions of people in record time.

Edit: yes, I get the different level of scale/need between them. My point is: big things can be done safely & responsibly without criminally wasting massive amounts of time.


An EIS can be useful cudgels to impede construction. In Seattle, one portion of a very controversial multi-use trail had an EIS that took "more than three years at a cost of $2 million. That’s less than 7 feet of trail studied per day at a cost of $271 per foot. And that doesn’t include any construction." [1] And that's from 2015, and the trail still isn't completed (lawsuits are still ongoing).

1: https://www.seattlebikeblog.com/2015/06/19/18-missing-link-v...


That's because environmental impact studies aren't really about studying environmental impact.


What do you mean? That it is used as a political tool?


Yes. As a survivor of one of these battles, when the neighbors don't want you to do something, they will throw every wrench they can find into the works. "Good faith" is nonexistent. I'm very, very sympathetic to environmental concerns, but the way I've seen this sort of thing used in real life is absolute nonsense.


Do you have some examples, just to get an idea of the problem?


My high school was a bunch of trailers on a large tract of unused but school-owned land that would eventually become a full-blown high-school. It sat next to a Tractor museum and a small marsh-type thing the opposite side of its access road. The footprint of the planned construction was only maybe twice the size of the trailers, and didn't stretch across the access road, and the land it occupies now was mostly disused fields of dirt and shrubs.

We were promised that our senior year would be in the new facility. However the school got hit with environmental studies around a specific species of endangered frog that was known to inhabit the area, and construction did not complete until 5 years later


What's crazy, viewed from outside the US, is that this kind of roadblocks seems to only apply to public works but not to private developments, or less so at least.

In Europe, public works have less barriers of that type, as it's assumed they are for the general good, whereas private projects are required to demonstrate it.


My high school was a public charter school, so it was both public and private at the same time. But I think that the environmental studies would have come up even if it were a regular public school


I'm afraid I can't get any more specific than that. There's still a lot of bad blood, and it might not be over yet.


Plenty of examples in this recent article:

https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2021/03/signature-...



It is unknowable. People who truly want the best for the environment obviously exist, but the outcomes of our environmental policies have secondary and tertiary effects that would also benefit people who wanted to make population growth and population change difficult for other reasons.

Apologies for the gross long URL, and as always correlation is not causation, but correlations are still worth thinking about: https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=redlining%2Cen...


In a lot of ways, yes. Kicking projects back for more environmental review has recently become a method to delay/soft cancel projects that are now out of vogue. FERC recently kicked a proposed LNG terminal in Oregon back for more environmental review[1], the Biden admin revoking the permit for Keystone XL, and so on. (I would note I am in support of both of those moves)

Combined with a rising 'consulting class' if you will where it is only to their benefit to drag out these studies and billable hours.

[1]https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-lng-jordancove/u-s-fe...


It's used as a political tool to block construction for NIMBY reasons, and as a way to line the pockets of those involved in the study.


No, there is a lot unnecessary red tape involved with them. They aren't used as a political pawn.


As someone who works on EIS/EIRs it blows my mind as well. But I do think that it's important to balance the interests of the community with the project, and I'm not sure that limiting litigation (as the paper suggest) would help with that.


Comparing constantly ongoing processes with an emergency response doesn't really stick.

It's an exception that got elevated to the highest priority. There must have been some efficiency gains as well but the prioritization part doesn't scale by definition.

That all said, 8 years is ridiculous. I have to wonder what work actually happened in those 8 years.


There is a slight difference in effort expended for the latter, and in effort expended and priority granted to make it fast. (And less legal system involved, which to a degree by principle is not fast)

Just look at usual vaccine development schedules, or the timeframes the mRNA developers had planned to work on before covid as a comparison. Same thing: less resources available, less willingness to spend resources in support, no special priority given, more detractors (often understandably and legitimately) getting in the way of speed -> slower process


This paper addresses bureaucracy and its effects on expense, but it sort of makes the assumption that lowering the price is the goal. It seems to me that high cost is convenient to artificially "create jobs" and bureaucracy, hence it's a feature, not a bug.

An example from my local city: our small city (33k pop) won a $10mil grant for downtown revitalization. The money is supposed to help stimulate small business growth in the downtown. The administration spends $1.1 mil tearing down a parking garage, another $600k building a parking lot on the same piece of land of the garage, and they've got their fingers crossed they can get a developer to build an apartment complex there, which means they'll have to tear up the parking lot. The cherry on top is knowing we also commissioned a report to study downtown parking trends, and know that even on the busiest day up to 80% of parking spaces are unused. But the administration celebrated the 10-12 construction jobs they created.

Anyone who has taken a basic economics course would recognize this as the Broken Window Fallacy, but our officials either don't know or don't care (my guess is the latter). Spend lots of money - create useless jobs - that's how a productive economy is supposed to work, right?


And what happened to the other $8.3 million? Isn't the root of the problem then corruption?


This is called out in the article; infrastructure is capital intensive, so, unless the resulting infrastructure is actually a good investment, you’d get more bang for your buck (in terms of a jobs program) just handing out money.


Sounds like the dealership controls the local politics.


> high cost is convenient to artificially "create jobs"

Is that where the money actually goes, though? Serious question.


It should be, and we should push for it to be. For anu given level of spending, we can either spend it well or poorly, and we should push politicians and agencies to ensure it gets spent well.


This situation shows many aspects of American governance reaching a pathological level.

You have the patchwork of local, county, state and Federal government. You have the adversarial legal and regulatory framework. And you have a powerful "anti-government" ideology that fails to even understand that most projects happen through the cooperation of industry and the state. And on the other hand you have a "left" that wants to cheer sticking-it-to whatever given corporation rather than pushing sane regulation. And you have dysfunctional ideologies around both taxation and government spending. And NIMBYism but with the opposite being developers wanting no fetters at all, etc, etc.


I feel all of those are underlined or caused by corruption. The left sees corruption of corporations, the right sees corruption of politicians. All of which leads to exactly the fracturing and ideological positioning that you describe. No nation can survive systemic corruption for very long, it is a cancer that eats away at everything.


> No nation can survive systemic corruption for very long, it is a cancer that eats away at everything.

While I appreciate the sentiment, I’m not sure that’s true:

- China is managed by corrupt elite since the last century

- Russia is completely corrupt (as was the USSR)

- India seems to have systemic corruption issues

- France politicians are well known for their corruption scandals


> France politicians are well known for their corruption scandals

No, the typical scandal is about them lining their pockets, which is related but not quite the same crime.


Isn't bribe-taking the poster child "corruption" activity? Or do you mean "lining their pockets" in another sense?


Corruption is taking money in exchange of favors. The typical French scandal involved having relatives and friends getting fake jobs, typically paid for by a city government.


You're arguing semantics, they are both forms of corruption.


Yeah I would actually argue that a minimum amount of corruption IS necessary in real life. Unless you live in a utopian society with perfect laws and application of them, corruption allows to move wheels that otherwise take forever to move or may never move. Of course, corruption can also be (very) detrimental to society. But attempting to remove all corruption from it seems to be the wrong priority.


Russia is not corrupt in the same sense the US is.

In Russia, the bureaucrats can bend and break local laws, siphon out some funds, etc. But they are pretty strictly controlled by the "power vertical", up to the quasi-tzar who is Putin. This structure does not tolerate breaking its internal rules, not keeping promises, etc, and is quick to unseat a bureaucrat which failed to conform, no matter how high in the hierarchy.

This is why a number of things in Russia can be done quickly and relatively efficiently, when the higher-ups demand it. It, of course, is not very democratic and does not always align with the desires of the population, but in many cases it does.

I suspect China has a similar structure: a bureaucrat may engage in corruption as long as he fulfills the orders of CCP; if corruption interferes with it, it is eliminated.

This is the well-known efficiency of authoritarianism, e.g. of monarchy: if the monarch desires something good, that good thing can be completed very quickly and allocation of resources won't be a problem. (The trouble is, of course, that when a monarch desires something bad, the bad thing gets implemented as efficiently, for there's no counterbalance.)


Except that corrupt corporations go out of business...


It's true - Standard Oil was just minutes away from closing their doors before the breakup happened.

It depends what kind of corruption we're talking about, nepotism and waste tend to get cleaned out pretty decently in private enterprise, but exploitation along with anti-competitive and unsafe business practices thrive.


Was standard oil corrupt? from my understanding they reduced the cost of oil by a significant fraction. In fact, they out competed their less efficient rivals.

Rep. William Mason, arguing in favor of the Sherman Antitrust Act, said: "trusts have made products cheaper, have reduced prices; but if the price of oil, for instance, were reduced to one cent a barrel, it would not right the wrong done to people of this country by the trusts which have destroyed legitimate competition and driven honest men from legitimate business enterprise."

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Standard_Oil#Legacy_and_critic...


I think it's very fair to consider them corrupt - they coordinated with other businesses to make competition impossible and, as a result, forced individuals trying to make a living to be forced into bankruptcy through no fault of their own.

Now, business is a cruel world where luck plays a significant role in success, but it's healthy for society for us to try and keep the playing field of business as level as possible and the number of lives ruined by standard oil is a pretty heavy weight.


I mean, right pick Trump for president I doubt they worry about corruption.

Imo, things would be more solvable if people reacted to what parties do rather then bs they say.


You underestimate Trump supporter's perception of the existing government's corruption. So long as he existed outside the beltway consensus, and was shaking things up, some nepotism and profiteering was a small price for them to pay.

It's also important to note that Trump supporters and 'Republican Republicans' don't really intersect as much as a lot of people assume.


> It's also important to note that Trump supporters and 'Republican Republicans' don't really intersect as much as a lot of people assume.

Every single poll contradicts you - shows that Trump is wildly popular with ~80% of Republican voters.

Did I miss some big change recently?


Republican voters aren't necessarily Republicans. He activated a different base than the McCains and the Romneys of the world. The Neoconservative block that helped build the current order and the populist block that brought about Trump's victory certainly intersect to an extent, but many also broke off in support of Biden. But then you might as well call DSA and Bernie bros Democrats because they settled for Biden, and call them out as hypocrites on account of their principals conflicting with the policies and values of the clinton administration.


> You underestimate Trump supporter's perception of the existing government's corruption. So long as he existed outside the beltway consensus, and was shaking things up, some nepotism and profiteering was a small price for them to pay.

He was shaking things up in terms of dealing with immigration and such. He was shaking literally nothing regarding corruption, except adding a lot of own corruption.

Also, Trump supporters and 'Republican Republicans' are really the same. To the point that there is no opposition to Trump within republican party. Republican voters dont reward that sort of thing now.


I see American governance being stuck in different situations without a possible way out. For example, Prop 13 in California, it is clearly not a good idea long term, it will keep suffocating the state and yet I don't think it is possible to repel it, game theory is just that strong.


Many of the places in the world with better infrastructure than the US have more strict industrial regulation and, in some cases, a government that is much further to the left.


As someone that works for a civil engineering consultant in the transportation field I can attest to the bureaucracy from the State leading to higher costs. We routinely increase our bids because we know that the amount of time spent dealing with them will be large and delt with by a high paided, often highest paid, person on the project. There are quite a few things that we do to appease them people at state DOTs that we don't have to worry about when working with a City or private entity.

It come down to two things, in my opinion. First is the nightmare that is Federal funding. The State administers the funding and has to take funding for multiple Federal programs a put it toward a given project. Ultimately they pass the paperwork off to the consultant instead of doing it themselves.

Second is the number of people in positions of power that are only in that position due to time spent with the State. These individuals are ineffective at their job (see point 1), and feel they have to justify their position by critiquing stupid things. One example is when we tried to use a different san serif font and column justification on a report. We got a stearns talking to about how ariel is the preferred font and left justified is the preference of the individual. This of course took a half hour meeting that likely cost north of $500 when you account for the wages of the engineers involved.


I am genuinely curious. How did the meeting end? Did the font get changed? Did anyone say 'really?'? Obviously, the story is ridiculous, but I can't help but wonder how it worked out.


We changed the font and complained about that person over a couple of drinks. Kinda the way things go sometimes.


Anecdotally, I was writing some side-project code to help learn about new housing to support where I live, and I found this project. In the middle of a new piece of the university campus they're building, they want to use a 35 foot flag pole, instead of a 25 foot flag pole. Look at all the paperwork that generated:

https://cityview.ci.bend.or.us/Portal/Planning/StatusReferen...

Notices were put up, letters mailed, comments sought (I wrote in, in favor!).

All of that for a flagpole with a US flag right in the middle of the property.


I think it's interesting how over time, prices for goods have gone through the floor for many things (food, electronics, clothing, even automobiles, etc...) but prices for services have gone parabolic.

Construction, education, and healthcare costs have risen well above CPI for several decades, not just in the US, but in most developed countries.


A lot of the problem in the US has to do with the petrodollar system. OPEC has only been allowed to accept US dollars for their oil since the 70s.

That generates massive demand for dollars outside the US. Foreign countries obtain the dollars they need to buy oil by converting their currency to USD or by exporting goods/services to the US.

As a result, the value of the US dollar gets inflated and large parts of the US economy get "offshored" thanks to the favorable conversion ratio.

On the bright side, this system means you can import foreign goods very cheaply - but on the downside, it means exports are often not viable.

There are several industries in the US that don't reap large benefits from cheap imports. Education, healthcare, construction, and child care just to name a few.

I hope this adds some color to the phenomenon you've observed


> but on the downside, it means exports are often not viable.

A large hole is shot in your premise by the fact that the US is a wildly successful exporter of both goods and services.

There's very little evidence that the US Dollar has been too strong during the era you're referencing, save for a few brief periods of time. For example the USD was quite weak from 2004-2015, and yet education and healthcare soared in cost regardless. For most of the comparison history, the USD has not been far out of line with the value of the Euro in how they trade, and that's despite the US having a far more potent economy during that time than Western Europe.

The so called petro dollar (commodities linked dollar) has existed for most of the post WW2 era. And yet education and healthcare were reasonably priced until the late 1990s forward. The ramp in education costs is easily explained by the infinite backing of student loans by the US Government, that's a never-ending inflationary cycle caused solely by the Feds. When or if they remove that inflationary prop, the cost of higher education in the US will begin to stagnate or deflate.

It's real simple: pull the government inflation prop out from under education. Stop backing student loans so freely and to such a dramatic extent. What would happen? It'd instantly collapse, except for higher end private schools. What the universities could command in the way of prices would be obliterated overnight, they'd have to match what the students could actually afford in reality, instead of in govt-backed fantasy land.

Education and healthcare costs keep going up because the operators can keep charging more due to how those systems are structured. There's either not a competitive market to push down on prices at all (healthcare) or there's an infinite inflation prop being supplied by the Feds (education). Prices are soaring as entirely proper representatives of real inflation over that time, which you can see if you stack the USD against gold, oil, silver, platinum, housing, or new car prices over decades. It's everything else that is doing worse than real inflation, because there is generally plentiful market competition to push downward on pricing power.


I'd say it's just inflation in industries that haven't had any made any progress in efficiency - it takes the same or more effort to do the same/corresponding activity. Productivity in manufacturing has increased a massive amount, so the inflation has less of an impact.


No, it's definitely dutch diesease with our dollar exports too. See https://phenomenalworld.org/reviews/trade-wars


> but prices for services have gone parabolic.

A few years back, I had a chat with someone who helps developmentally disabled people with job training. The company she worked for billed the state $90/hour for her work, but paid her $15/hour. I'd love to know where the rest of that money went, because it certainly didn't go to those performing services, nor to their professional development, nor to disabled people.


I encourage you to look into it yourself, and if you find something egregious (and it looks like your odds are good), make a ruckus in the channels that matter to the decision makers. (Finding the decision makers will take time, too!)

Complacency in government contracts is standard, and you have to make noise before anything changes, and its work that does NOT scale. (Although I'd love to see standard data practices help reduce the time commitment required to do this kind of data activism.)

One of the best things you could do with this information is show up and yell about it at any and all public hearings. Anyway, I wish it was "sexier" to make trouble for local government that deserves it, but really its always a long paperwork slog.


> The company she worked for billed the state $90/hour for her work, but paid her $15/hour. I'd love to know where the rest of that money went

I can tell you without looking, overhead and profit. Scheduling, billing, administration, legal, interfacing with the government all costs money. It’s likely the person being paid $15/hr has a total pay package that is higher than that as well.


A lot of it is surely the expertise to navigate the bureaucracy. It's not like it's simple to setup a competing service and manage to get a government contract.


> It's not like it's simple to setup a competing service and manage to get a government contract.

In Nebraska you have to ask your competitors permission to compete with them:

"If you are allowed to drive a home health patient to get groceries, can that passenger also get her prescription filled? In Nebraska, that would be against the law unless you had permission from the government to operate a non-emergency medical transportation company. And, by the state’s certificate of need or “CON” law, the only way to get permission is for the existing transportation companies to allow you to operate."

https://ij.org/press-release/new-lawsuit-challenges-nebraska...

Things like this happen all over the place nationally. To me much of it looks like garden variety corruption as opposed to some kind of reward for figuring out how to work with the government.

https://ij.org/pillar/economic-liberty/?post_type=case


Americans love to through around "beauracracy", but the article states we have too weak and balkanized a civil service. This is a very different issue.


The economy is diverging on things vs. services because services require finicky human cooperation, understanding and knowledge, and "things" do not. Things can travel and stay on shelves, services can't.

And also, humans will tend to cheat when they can, and the longer lived a game is, the more specialized it becomes, and the harder it becomes to even recognize what is cheating and what is just "regular practice". You get something like "regulatory capture", but worse, because every element of the entire society captures another, forming a Gordian knot. Yet another path to Collapse, I'm afraid (probably a common one, I'd guess).


This effect was noticed by Baumol and Bowen back in the 60s.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baumol%27s_cost_disease


It would be really hard to cite Baumol's cost disease too often. It's a key part of many things we see going on in the economy, and therefore in society more broadly, today.


It’s the post-scarcity trap. We spend more on services merely because we can.


Makes sense that cost is proportional to skilled/local humans required.


Tangential, and not a comment on the linked report, but it's interesting to see discussion of a multi-faceted complex problem, if you want to call it that.

Everybody seems to pick out the pieces that confirms their personal opinions about What's Wrong With America, where the truth in almost all cases is 'sorta, but it's more complicated and nuanced than that'.


The reasons in this report are like root cause analysis of failures in big companies. They are not usually false but still kinda bullshitty and rarely enlightening on why things happen the way they happen.

Simply saying that 6 billion dollar project will cost 400 million in Europe so a wastage of 5.6 billion is hilarious until they give detail breakdown of costs. Maybe they can come out and say all american companies, government authorities, public, politician/ political system are dumb or just corrupt. For now I will just say they are just repeating lazy, half-assed cliches and presenting it like a report.

From this report :

"Building back flexibly requires empowering low- and mid-level civil servants to work flexibly and at arms-length with private contractors."

What does this even mean?

Should they work closely? from far to maintain impartiality? just give them verbal directions with no written record to move fast? Or it is just put all good sounding words with no cohesive meaning at all.


The thesis I believe is that in the US, the public service does not have the resources to do project management and outsources that, typically to those who also do the work and have an incentive to overcharge.

In other countries, not only are there people employed by the state who do said project management and have the responsibility and expertise, but when outside PM work is required, it has to be done by a different entity.

Nothing to do with being dumb, everything to do with bad incentives.


Because when your entire culture is based around the idea that making as much money as possible is a virtue greater than all others, there will be plenty of people breaking your systems in order to make as much money as possible.


The paper is VERY interesting, but oh boy, how bad is that first visualization... https://imgur.com/8P7Sqop

It doesn't include units in the axes and the labels are just centered there. And what do those dots even represent?


"The Most Expensive Mile of Subway Track on Earth: How excessive staffing, little competition, generous contracts and archaic rules dramatically inflate capital costs for transit in New York" (2017) https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/28/nyregion/new-york-subway-...


Quality Assurance is also a pretty big cost along with labor and materials. The cost of living in America isn't cheap and the materials you're working with (due to their size and weight) were likely manufactured domestically or, if not, were handled domestically during import.

America is also super litigious but I don't believe that contributes significantly to public works due to the limits on state and federal liability.


Much interesting analysis, but some strange mistakes as well. When NYC's Second Avenue was first proposed it was concluded that such a project was possible but would be far too complex and expensive to be reasonable. Over the next hundred years the Second Avenue Subway in NYC would be repeatedly proposed, analyzed, and then rejected as too complex and expensive to make sense. Finally the work went ahead and as usual this analysis claims that this was just another infrastructure project and that despite one hundred years of analysis revealing the extreme complexity and cost this paper claims that the work could have been done cheaply with cut and cover construction despite a hundred years of analysis rejecting the possibility of cheap and easy construction of the Second Avenue subway. Rejecting so much history seems like an awkward way of going about this analysis.


> The difference in costs often boils down to domestic state capacity: bureaucracies in East Asia and Continental Europe tend to be better-staffed and more empowered to make professional decisions. The details are naturally more complicated, but the pattern is nonetheless clear: the countries with the lowest infrastructure costs are also the countries where the state acts swiftly, with mechanisms that limit the lag between financing and construction.

In other words, states with bigger and better-run governments have lower infrastructure costs.


Compared to what other countries?

I think a lot of waste and corruption is due to winner-take-all elections. A representative that represents one party has to answer to that party. If he does not represent its interests, they will elect someone else next time.

In winner-take-all elections, you vote for your least worst option and representing one perspective doesn't as matter as much. It's easier to sell your vote to lobbyists.

But people are convinced that our elections were implemented in the best possible way, so there is a reluctance to even weigh the options.


So common are absurd freeway interchanges in Texas that we have a local term for them: mixmaster. If you search Google for that term you get results for the only interchanges Wikipedia knows of in Texas, both in Dallas. One of those is the only 5 level interchange I can find on Google:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High_Five_Interchange

Ironically, though, the largest freeway interchange in the DFW area, actually 3 almost conjoined separate interchanges occupying a tremendous land area, is only 3 levels near the DFW airport north entrance. At the widest the freeway there is 7 lanes each way, plus 2 lanes of toll each way in the center for a total of 17 to 18 lanes of traffic. Yes, it still gets gridlock. You can see it here:

https://www.google.com/maps/@32.93809,-97.0628477,4001m/data...


Multiple issues and its actually not labor. https://pedestrianobservations.com/2019/03/03/why-american-c...


The author of that blog is also the author of the linked report!


The blog is dense but pretty great reading too..


From the PDF:

> Labor: in New York, the productivity of construction labor seems unusually low and wages high.


In a word: unions


We changed the URL from https://www.niskanencenter.org/report-so-you-want-to-do-an-i... to the actual report.

We also changed the submitted title ('Why is American infrastructure so expensive?') to the actual title. Note the site guideline: "Please use the original title, unless it is misleading or linkbait; don't editorialize."

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


> bureaucracies in East Asia and Continental Europe tend to be better-staffed and more empowered to make professional decisions

The key word here is "more empowered." If the state could just say "okay we're transplanting all of the people that live here out of the way so that we can put up a hyperloop, and these are the people who are going to do it, and we'll pay them this much..." infrastructure would move a lot faster, for much less money.

Because the US government tends to have far less authority over its citizens than Europe, and especially Asia, it has many free-marketish half measures that create the worst of all possible outcomes. Because the US has to pretend to be market-driven, by allowing private companies and unions to bid on projects, as well as offer people fair market values for their properties in the way of infrastructure, you get all sorts of problems. The main one is that the government is not a normal buyer, and completely throws most markets out of whack. Just look at the "cost plus" sort of funding schemes that have existed in aerospace contracts for decades, a concept that would never in a million years have existed in the free market.

I'm not saying that the European or Asian models are better, there are definite benefits to the liberties afforded to Americans...but it is without question far worse if the objective is timely and affordable infrastructure.


> bureaucracies in East Asia and Continental Europe tend to be better-staffed and more empowered to make professional decisions

Not from what I've seen. The highway I drive every day is in the middle of an extensive refurbishment. The local government (I currently live in Europe) was given the option of shutting it down for a month, which was completely untenable, but in line with what I think the author was trying to get at. They were also given the option of keeping it running at full capacity and doing the construction work over a several year period.

They chose the latter, for obvious reasons, at a significantly higher cost, since the highway has to be rebuilt and demolished several times over to keep all lanes of traffic moving at all times.

The difference between here and the states is not the level of empowerment or the level of staff competence. They simply have a lot more money to work with, which lets them build to a higher standard of quality, do preventative maintenance on time, and refurbish or outright rebuild when it becomes necessary to do so.


> I'm not saying that the European or Asian models are better, there are definite benefits to the liberties afforded to Americans

I'm curious, what liberties do Americans have compared to Europeans? The only thing that comes to mind is owning guns, and I'm quite convinced that's a net negative, a tragedy of the commons (everyone gets theirs and the community suffers for it, as a whole).


Freedom of speech is the most notable. In general, lower taxes, fewer regulations regarding building, starting businesses, more checks and balances to government. Again, I'm not saying it's better or worse, the United States government is just more restricted in its capacity to impede individual liberties than European states, and far more so than Asian states. The rise of automation and increasing wealth inequality is putting the American model through the ringer, so we have yet to see if there's a place for it in the future.

Unfortunately, it looks like what was perhaps in need of a correction is being leveraged by the sort of authoritarian overcorrection that has been the downfall of more modern states than any other philosophy.


You do know that there is freedom of speech in Europe, right?

European tax rates are comparable with American ones, out of the rest only the bureaucracy aspect seems valid.


Europe is more heterogeneous than the states, so it's not a fair comparison.

However, if it's worth anything, there are no capital requirements for starting a company with liability protection, which isn't the case in several European countries.

Americans also aren't required to register or deregister themselves with the local government whenever they move.

I can think of other examples (the lack of television taxes, religious taxes, &c). Again though, these examples depend a lot on each country, so I'm sure you can find exceptions for each of these depending on the European country you look at.


It is easier to become prisoner in America.


>If the state could just say "okay we're transplanting all of the people that live here out of the way so that we can put up a hyperloop, and these are the people who are going to do it, and we'll pay them this much..."

That is particular is definitely a tradeoff. The US did do it with things like the Interstate Highway System but I'm actually OK with Eminent Domain being difficult to exercise today.


The US did do it with things like the Interstate Highway System

Which in part resulted in the passage of NEPA and our current morass.


Of course, even the Interstate Highway System followed existing railroad right of ways a lot of the time. Although exit ramps and feeder roads still required a lot of eminent domain exercise. (The house I grew up in lost a bunch of property to eminent domain for this reason.)


I think the problem is too much pathos is used in political debate. It's easy for the opposition of emanate domain to point to an old lady being forced out of their home as an example of government overreach. Meanwhile, for every one of those out there, there are a dozen more people stuck in poverty because they have no means of commuting to a better paying job. This doesn't make for as compelling of a story though.


US elites have managed to cut a deep gap between themselves and the ordinary American people, so that they are protected well enough to NOT worry about the reaction of middle-low class people.


Don't know anything about American infrastructure but knows a bit about Canadian ones, or to be more precise, Quebec ones.

In short: Corruption.


Man, was I confused. I thought this was going to be about Terraform or building RPMs or something.


Graft! Corruption! Why can't these papers even breathe these words?


Monopsony


[flagged]


Unions may be part of the costs, but please don't underestimate infrastructure failures that arise from in the project planning and execution phases.

For instance, the construction union may mean that you pay a man to just stand around and do nothing, but when the MTA doesn't have any idea what people on site are supposed to do to begin with, and when they scrupulously dispose of all the people with project expertise the moment Phase I of the project is over (with no concern at all for Phase II), it's hard to assign that as the root cause for the billions in cost overruns on the Second Avenue Subway.


Didn't feel like reading the article then, I take it? Just the text extract in the link provided would be a start.


Maybe they did? Quoting from the PDF:

> "It is unclear to what extent union labor is a problem outside New York, but within New York it has contributed to rampant overstaffing and wages in the building trades that are well above market rates."

Don't shoot the messenger, that's a direct excerpt.

[EDIT] For the curious, the full list of reasons is overdesign, poor procurement practices, poor project management, labor, NIMBYism, politicization of projects.


It's the only mention of union, and it has zero references or numbers included.


It does have adjectives and nouns, and they are worth considering.


That hardly makes it an accurate summation of the article, though! If the reading process is "open report, Ctrl-F, union", then I'd say the result has already been decided.


Why bother? You tell me who funds Niskanen Center and I'll tell you what the article's conclusions are.



I see. Establishment limousine liberal money. Okay:

Conclusions:

Our infrastructure is unmanageable because of cars and suburbs. We must adopt public transport and consolidate people into cities. That will make everything neat and tidy and reduce costs and save the climate. Plus, they will be far away from our enormous private estates which we intend to keep in all cases. Also, raise taxes.


[citation needed]


Page 15 of the report:

"It is unclear to what extent union labor is a problem outside New York, but within New York it has contributed to rampant overstaffing and wages in the building trades that are well above market rates. Prevailing wage laws should be used to ensure local workers earn a fair and competitive wage, not to reward special interest groups and other political insiders."


Until what? 20 years ago if we're generous, New York construction was specifically controlled by the mafia, which controlled the unions and drove up costs by restricting in a rather extra-legal manner who was even allowed to bid on a job.

Painting capture by organized crime as some necessary feature of all labor unions is probably not fair. They captured a lot of the politicians, too, and often also owned the construction companies.


Top level comment was that unions were solely to blame for the rising infrastructure costs in America. There’s 14 other pages of causes and those two sentences don’t even address outside of a single state.


Because no one has to gain from low prices. Not the people getting the contracts, not the politicians and their committee getting back donations, not the neighborhood associations suing to get compensation.

That's why they want the money coming from the federal level even if it's just for some state infrastructure: the more "fly-over" state people pay for some SV vanity train line, the better.


Fly over states are all net takers. California is a net giver.


Even more, they’re net takers partly because they’re have more expensive infrastructure. Lots of long roads and bridges that are infrequently used


The better for who? Certainly not the people from the fly-over states.


I follow cryptocurrency and they usually say: Bitcoin Fixes This. It sounds pretty silly. Bitcoin hasn't really fixed anything. It's just a generalization. But the motto draws attention to the cause of many problems in America: the US Dollar monetary system. The Dollar's reserve currency status causes other countries to flood the US with goods in exchange for the currency. It causes trade balances.

The US over time loses its manufacturing and tooling capabilities. Most infrastructure work is custom. You can't build a bridge overseas, ship, and install it in the US. You can build the parts overseas. But it'll take a lot more time and resources to design and assemble them into a bridge in the US. So the final cost ends up being more.

I live in a neighborhood built in the 1980s. Up the hill, there are neighborhoods built in the 1990s and 2000s. After 2000s, houses look pretty much the same. The houses are more expensive. But the amount of custom design decreases over time. It's got more and more expensive to build custom things in the US.

I don't think it's possible to fix these infrastructure costs until we can fix the monetary policy. I think a new crypto system can provide a solution to this problem. Until then, we're stuck with cheap and unnecessary goods while our infrastructure is slowly deteriorating.




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