The “Red Zone” for Infrastructure and the 2016 U.S. Electiong

The “red zone” is a term used in sports to denote the situation an athlete is in when, due to fatigue, they are at risk of a serious physical failure, usually a nasty injury that takes a long recovery.  Fatigue isn’t limited to human beings, or even just to organisms, however.  Metal fatigue was the cause of the first series of jet airliners meeting their end – the Comet 1’s broke up in flight as a result of metal fatigue from constant vibration.

A signficant percentage of the infrastructure of the western world, and particularly that of the U.S., is similarly in a “red zone” where material fatigue puts structures at risk of catastrophic failure, as evidenced by the collapse of the bridge on the IH-35 over the Missisippi in Minneapolis in 2007.  It’s currently estimated that in the U.S. alone close to 200,000 such bridges are in danger of catastrophic physical failure due to material fatigue.  The reason the need for infrastructure replacement is so concentrated in the U.S. is simple: the ideology that became a necessary part of getting elected by either party, brought in by Reagan in the 1980’s, views such infrastructure replacement as a public waste of private funds.   Anyone who has simply driven across the border between the U.S. and Canada and kept their eyes open has seen the vast difference in the state of repair of immediately visible infrastructure, and of course visible infrastructure is only the tip of the iceberg of what needs repair and replacement.  And that’s in a situation where a decade of Harper government based on a similar ideology has put Canada in a much worse position than it was.  The difference though between a decade of infrastructure neglect and 35 years of neglect is extremely noticeable.

This is properly the #1 issue of the next election: hidden under the rhetoric of Donald Trump’s “make America great” and the pragmatic plans of Bernie Sanders is a shared recognition of this issue on both sides, unfortunately it doesn’t extend much to the other candidates.  Trump is a buffoon, but not stupid enough to think that letting infrastructure deteriorate in the name of lower taxes is going to do anyone, the wealthy included, any good.  Sanders is an intelligent man with an awareness of the amount of work that needs to be done to repair and replace ageing, decaying infrastructure.

The cost of such repair and replacement is in reality a red herring, for the simple reason that since any money paid has to be paid to someone, at most cost can only represent a shift in the distribution of wealth.  The pragmatic issue is the amount of labour involved and precisely where that amount of skilled labour is going to be sourced.  The outsourcing of skilled labour to cheaper labour markets makes the U.S. particularly deficient in the number of available skilled labourers.

The problem with the kind of rhetoric that goes with Trump’s “make America great” is the underlying assumption that the actual work will be done by “those who don’t matter”, those who are non-white, new immigrants etc. at a labour rate that will avoid a redistribution of wealth away from those who are particularly (and in many cases absurdly) wealthy to cover reasonable wages of necessary skilled labour.  The ironic thing about Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric is that it hides what would effectively require a massive increase in immigration in order to provide labour at a lower than reasonable living wage, and would likely inspire retaliation from Americans on a scale that even the extensive police forces of the U.S. would be entirely unable to handle.

When you hear Sanders speak about “rebuilding the middle class”, he’s talking about paying reasonable wages to Americans to rebuild their own infrastructure, and thus redistributing wealth back to working Americans who have seen it taken away over the last 35 years.  When you hear Trump speak about how Americans “make too much money” to make America “great”, he’s talking about a reversion to slavery to rebuild this infrastructure without that redistribution of wealth.

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