Infrastructure can only happen if we’re allowed to build it

This caught my eye.

This isn’t just expensive or inefficient. This is obstructive at a level only just short of an executive veto. Regardless of what sits at the top of your dream infrastructure list, this is the problem you have to solve first. Doesn’t matter if it’s high speed rail, the hyperloop, or offshore windfarms. Heck, maybe your big policy dream is universal healthcare or public education. If governments can’t build anything short of a 10X markup, then every large scale government provided solution has no value besides giving us something to argue over.

If I might put my even-more-cynical-than-usual hat on for a moment, the fact that this isn’t a top line item in every policy discussion is politically telling. This is relevant to the policy ambitions for everyone to the left of the politest anarchist you know. However, the urgency and relevance should increase exponentially as we move leftward across our political spectrum since those are the people most excited about the government actually building things. With a handful of exceptions, that’s just not what I am seeing, quite the contrary even.

Maybe it’s union indolence, conservative obstructionism, or just the quiet manifestation of all the reasons that public choice theory is actually more relevant as a left-wing school of thought than a conservative one. The fact remains that the incentives within modern politics and governance has brought us here, to a place where people want the same thing they always have: everything. And they’re willing to pay exactly as much as they always have: nothing. The difference is that our institutions used to give people incentive to bargain within the political marketplace and hammer out a deal where prices, both in dollars and political support, led to an an actual outcome where everyone ended up better off. Maybe it wasn’t as efficient as the private marketplace, but that’s almost besides the point. Sometimes the most important thing isn’t maximizing efficiency, but just managing to build the public good at all.

Instead, we seemed to have arrived at an equilibrium with enough legacy rent-seekers that the system is choking on them, with no one willing to flinch unless they continue to enjoy the previously established flow of benefits. We can try to blame this on conservative obstruction, but the fact remains that there just isn’t that much work for them to do. It’s a lot easier to tell voters they shouldn’t have to pay taxes when those taxes are disappearing into the suppurating maw of insatiable contractors, unfunded pension obligations, unplacatable union reps, and a menagerie of regulations that accomplish nothing but make a advocate 2 years removed from an overpriced BA in communications feel good about levying just one more papercut on a bloated corpse.

I have no idea if “supply-side” progressivism will gain anymore purchase than any of the other ad hoc attempts to coin a school of thought or political identity. But the idea stands, and I think it’s unescapable: if we want the government to be able to build stuff while leaving the 13th Amendment intact, they’re going to have to be able to pay market prices, and market wages, for it. Not much more, not much less.

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