Dorothy van den Honert: US needs another infrastructure plan


PITTSFIELD >> If Mommy and Daddy make x dollars between them, the kiddies can't spend more than that. It is a simple fact of family finances. If people try to use the same family plan for national finances, it doesn't work. This is what the tea partiers and solid Republicans are doing when they get bent out of shape over raising the debt ceiling.

A little history is interesting. When FDR was faced with the extreme poverty of the Depression that Hoover left him he hired thousands of people for various jobs the country needed. It was called the WPA, among other things, and Republicans were enraged.

The hatred toward him was so vitriolic that I even remember hearing how people talked when I was a little kid. My Democratic father, who had been an editorial writer for the Baltimore Sun for years, quit his job because the owners of the paper wouldn't let him publish anything that was even polite toward Roosevelt!

Why were they so furious? Because Roosevelt had to borrow the money (sell bonds) to pay the workers' wages. Of course, the jolt of spendable money for the millions of jobless gave the economy what it needed to get going again.

Fast forward to World War II, at the end of which Europe was smashed into rubble. The Marshall Plan, named after General George Marshall, lent Europe the money it needed to rebuild. A time frame was put on the loan and strict rules were made about how it was spent and how it was repaid. Miraculously, Europe recovered and the US did not go broke. In fact, we did quite well after the war with industry booming, and babies popping up all over the place. I remember. We had five.

Or consider the presidency of Eisenhower. He and highway advocates figured that dilapidated US roads would not allow a fast evacuation in the event of atomic war, so they devised an enormous federal highway system. Works fine.

Why didn't each of these monstrous projects leave us broke? Because the economic health of a country doesn't depend on how much money it has in its coffers, it depends on how fast the money circulates. If someone gets a job, he buys things, then other people get jobs making the things. They all pay taxes, and it goes round and round. It's not a bit like your family finances.

I believe there is a huge project that the US needs right now. With global warming producing stronger and stronger storms, we need to protect the electrical grid from the increasing ferocity of tornadoes and hurricanes.

So here's one answer. Put the entire electrical grid underground, as it already is in Europe and various US cities. No more telephone poles, wires, cables or overhead lines.

I can hear the tea partiers now screaming about the national debt. But people would be put to work, benefiting the economy. Eisenhower managed to produce his entire federal highway system without raising the national debt by a penny!

Dorothy van den Honert is a frequent Eagle contributor.


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