By infrastructure, I mean more than the interstate highway system for which we owe a lot to President Dwight Eisenhower's leadership. As efficient as driving on I-5 was, it was even more of a pleasure to take in the sights and experience the country along the complex web of state highways, and state and county roads.
This intricate network of roadways was, of course, not the first one in the country, when we refer to transport infrastructure. The networks of railroads and canals had been developed even earlier. The growth of railroads was remarkably correlated with the industrial revolution in the US, with the result that it is always tempting to ask economic historians whether the railroads led and triggered the American industrial revolution or whether the two simply went hand-in-hand.
Canals, railroads, and roads, along with air transport systems, are from centuries prior to this twenty-first century. While in the contemporary world, we do transport goods and passengers by these different transport avenues, there is an important difference: our economic activities are not tied to manufacturing, which dominated the American economy in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
Of course, a great deal of manufacturing happens even now in the US. But, manufacturing is not the economic prime-mover as it was when Eisenhower led the charge to construct the interstate highway system. Now, almost eighty percent of our incomes and jobs are through the remarkably varied services sector. The manner in which some of these can be bought and sold doesn't always require us consumers to travel by roads or planes, and instead our participation in the economy in increasingly electronic. Streaming movies on Netflix means we do not have to head to theaters and video-rental stores. Purchasing jeans at the Amazon website eliminates the need to drive to the nearest mall. But, the infrastructure required to facilitate the rapidly growing cyber-economic activities do not seem to be the best in the world, unlike how the road systems complemented the previous economic landscape.
When it comes to the information superhighways, the US does not seem to have the numbers that will wow the rest of the world. A recent report pegs the US with a number twelve ranking in a global comparison of average broadband speeds. At an average speed of 6.7megabits-per-second (Mbps,) the US considerably lags behind the chart topper, South Korea, where internet connectivity speeds averaged at 15.7 Mbps.
This lagging behind in the twenty-first century highways ought to concern us in the country that created the internet in the first place.
Instead, we are obsessed with winning the old-school infrastructure race; an example is this one, which asks:
"When will Americans realize we're losing the infrastructure race to China?"Ahem, we are not losing any race, especially when it comes to roads and bridges.
Speaking of bridges and losing to China,
Oh, man, China’s infrastructure! President Barack Obama has praised China’s infrastructure investments and has frequently argued that we’ve got to follow in their footsteps.I will mention it for the umpteenth time in this blog: China or India is not our competition!
Cue the sad trombones (via BBC):
A section of a multi-million dollar bridge in China that opened in November has collapsed, leaving three people dead and five injured, state media say.This is the sixth major bridge collapse in China in a year. We can only hope the firms who built these bridges aren't the same Chinese firms that have been contracted to build bridges here in America.
Four lorries fell off the Yangmingtan Bridge in Harbin City, Heilongjiang province, when part of it collapsed, Xinhua news agency said.
Shoddy construction and over-loading have been blamed for the incident, it added.