We can still build the occasional mid-range skyscraper, but there are no Panama Canals in our near future. For all the prattle about infrastructure investments, we don’t spend our money building things, we spend it paying the pensions of a vast ever-increasing bureaucracy. Our Panama Canal is our vast civil service which has kept on growing even as our economy has kept on shrinking.
Some states are already falling into the great white collar trench of our new canal that cuts across the country from end to end. California and Rhode Island will probably drown in it before too long. And the others will follow them as refugees will flee to other states, and after putting down their bags, pick up their picket signs and begin to demand more education spending and more affordable housing for the professionally homeless. There will be a thousand new laws a day and then soon enough the last penny will be fought over by an educational administrator with a Master’s Degree and a 200K salary and the Director of the Museum of Historically Relevant Graffiti by Transgender Eskimos.
Infrastructure spending is one of those neat industrial age ideas from a time when people had the peculiar idea that you built up an economy by making things. Back then the heathen savages also thought that debt was finite and that productivity was preferable to regulation. Naturally we know better. We, like the disembodied voice on the CNN earpiece, know that when borrowing terms are favorable, then we should borrow as much as possible because Indian leftist graffiti won’t preserve itself. And if the borrowing terms should turn bad, then we had better hope that some eccentric Chinese billionaires really have a taste for Alcatraz water towers, the way that American millionaires bought up statues of Lenin after the Soviet Union fell.
Where’s our Panama Canal? Carter dumped it. And if we build one today, Obama will dump it too. The flag will be pulled down and children will be taught in schools that its construction was a crime against the indigenous Southern European settlers and Mother Earth. And if they’re still using print textbooks by then, there will be a picture of some historically relevant graffiti on a water tower that the State Department paid millions to preserve for posterity.
Over the earpiece, the Ghost of Liberalism Past is urging us to spend more on infrastructure. But where is this infrastructure supposed to go? Most of the traditional power cities of liberalism are bleeding population. Some of them won’t even manage to achieve replacement birth rate and that’s in a social services system where having five children from five different fathers is a better career move than going to college.
Canals are built by people who want to go somewhere. America of 2013 is not looking to go anywhere. Its quarrelsome election was a referendum between the people who want to steal from others and the people who don’t want to be stolen from. The thieves naturally won and they didn’t do it just so that money could be used to build some canal somewhere. Or a space shuttle. Or a new transportation system. Or anything at all.
America is a service provider now. It doesn’t build anything except office buildings and the steel for those buildings come from China. The cash infusion will keep the bureaucracy going a little longer. It will increase the number of teachers with Master’s Degrees teaching students about historical graffiti and the number of social workers reaching out in 99 languages to inform new immigrants that they have the right to food stamps as soon as their feet touch the ground at JFK. It will boost the number of Federal agencies with their own SWAT teams and the amount of arts graduates given grants to recreate historical graffiti on Federal office buildings where regulations are made defining exactly which graffiti qualifies for historical preservation status. What it will not do is help anyone who isn’t already the reason that building a great work is as utterly hopeless as teaching a teacher to teach.
The role of the CNN government, of all the think-tanks and media outlets, is to make this all seem reasonable and plausible. Why not take advantage of favorable borrowing terms to increase a 16 trillion national debt to a more sensible 22 trillion or 30 trillion? Why not build another Panama Canal consisting of Federal office buildings full of bureaucrats outlawing things and funding things, dispatching SWAT teams to the homes of the former and piles of money to the homes of the latter?