Information Exchange: Publications

Infrastructure: A Political Analysis

Author: Theordore Lowi

"The enormous American national debt is perfectly justifiable. We used it to pay for victory in World War II and the Cold War. There was waste aplenty, but the need for redundancy to sustain urgent projects through the unexpected is almost always justifiable. Also justifiable is the financing of hot war and cold war by long-term debt, because our children and their children should help pay for the victories their parents and grandparents gave them. The same goes for any large public works, whose financing should be spread across a large portion of its useful life. But $2-4 billion in accumulated and deferred maintenance costs of the 45,744-mile U.S. Interstate Highway system is evidence of the sheer idiocy of leaving infrastructure to Congress, to cost benefit analysis, to civil engineers and to consulting economists. Moreover, the unplanned and unanticipated, and, mostly unwanted, social uses of public works, especially arterial highways, have to be taken into account. If "war is much too serious a matter to be entrusted to the military" (Clemenceau) we must add that "civil infrastructure is too important to be entrusted to engineers."

     If "civil infrastructure" is translated back into ordinary language, it is part of what we have traditionally called public works, and this translation reveals the oldest policy activity of the national government of the United States. Moreover the politics of this area of public policy is familiar and well-studied. Thus, it would seem that we ought to be able to draw some lessons from this literature that can be applied directly to the phenomena of modern civil infrastructure. My task, as I see it, is to explore what, if anything, a political analysis can contribute to the understanding of infrastructure, how we got to where we are with it, and how we might improve our chances of getting to a more sustainable future."

Date Created: November 1999; Date Posted: April 2006






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