The Poverty of Infrastructure

Oops! We forgot the workers! Jonathan Alter more or less admits that Obama has failed on what must be his deepest long-term priority — namely, reversing (or beginning to reverse)  the ” financial and emotional body blows inflicted on organized labor and middle-class Americans in recent decades.” According to Alter, Obama needs to “deliver something big for working people who don’t see much for themselves in trade deals,” not to mention his permissive immigration plans.

Alter’s answer? An infrastructure program! “Obama should devote the rest of 2015 on the domestic side to finding the money for infrastructure.” It’s not stimulus, says Alter –it’s a “jobs program.” Maybe Obama could unlock “$1 trillion … over 10  years for rebuilding the roads, bridges, tunnels, airports, rails and sewage system.”

So who gets the jobs? Well,  construction workers — specifically, the program could “propel a whole generation of older displaced construction workers to retirement with some dignity.” OK. But what about the rest of us — all the other non-rich strugglers who also aren’t “symbolic analysts” (in Robert Reich’s phrase), who often have to compete with all the physical laborers on the planet?  And even a trillion dollars over 10 years isn’t all that much ($100 billion a year).

Is “infrastructure investment” becoming the Democrats’ version of tax cuts — a completely inadequate, go-to answer that mostly demonstrates the numbing poverty of the party’s policy agenda? You make the call!

P.S.: In the infrastructure/tax cut comparison, construction workers perform the same role as Mitt Romney’s small business owner “job creators.” Sure, we want to help them. But most people aren’t business owners. They aren’t construction workers either. …

Off-point, but …: Alter also seems to think that, if the trade deal removes “Vietnam’s 80 percent tariff on U.S. autos,” Detroit will somehow start selling U-S made cars in that Asian country (“jobs for Detroit autoworkers”). This is insane — a sign of a journalist tossing in White House talking points without thinking.  Without tariffs, Vietnam’s market will undoubtedly be served, not by U.S.-made cars but by inexpensive vehicles built in low-wage countries like India, China and Vietnam itself. The Vietnamese aren’t going to start buying Cadillacs. (Nobody seems to be buying Cadillacs, but that’s a separate issue.)