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After an endless succession of “infrastructure weeks,” Donald Trump has finally unveiled what he claims to be a $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan. For the New York Times’ Paul Krugman, it’s no plan at all.
That $1.5 trillion number? Pure fantasy. In reality, Trump is “only proposing federal spending of $200 billion, which is somehow supposed to magically induce a vastly bigger overall increase in infrastructure investment, mainly paid for either by state and local governments (which are not exactly rolling in cash, but whatever) or by the private sector.”
The $200 billion figure is just as meaningless. Rather than increase spending, the federal government plans to siphon off money from social programs, as well as the “Department of Transportation, the Department of Energy and other agencies that would be crucially involved in any real infrastructure plan. Realistically, Trump’s offer on infrastructure is this: nothing.”
If Trump’s proposal is anything, it’s a thinly veiled scam to privatize our roads, bridges, dams, public transportation, electrical grid, and everything else that keeps this country running. Not that we should be surprised. Krugman notes that the plan is similar to one the Trump campaign came up with in 2016: “Even then he was claiming that he could do infrastructure on the cheap, that a relative pittance of federal money could somehow generate vast investment (although the mystery multiplier has gotten even bigger this time around).”
The tragedy of this proposal is that there are numerous political and social benefits to improving the nation’s infrastructure. Anyone who’s driven on a potholed highway or attempted to use the New York City subway could tell you that “America desperately needs to repair and upgrade its deteriorating roads, water systems, power grid and more.” It’s true, Krugman continues, that “we’re no longer a depressed economy that needs public investment to put the unemployed back to work; massive infrastructure spending would have been an even better idea five years ago.”
We wouldn’t even have to steal from the poor to pay for it. As it turns out, “we can just borrow it. Despite a modest rise in interest rates, the federal government can still borrow very cheaply: The interest rate on inflation-protected long-term bonds is still less than 1 percent, which is below realistic estimates of long-run economic growth, let alone the Trump administration’s fantasy numbers. So borrowing now to pay for essential infrastructure would still be good economics.”
There are also political benefits:
If Trump just pushed ahead with a straightforward, conventional public investment plan, he could trumpet the number of workers employed on new projects. Furthermore, he could surely find a way to stick his name on many of those projects. Historically, many politicians have had what’s known in the trade as an edifice complex — an urge to build big stuff to promote their personal brand and feed their vanity. Certainly Trump of all people would find that prospect appealing.
So why doesn’t Trump, a man who fancies himself a master builder and has never refused an opportunity to see his name in lights, actually commit to a real infrastructure plan? Krugman suspects it’s because that would mean he would need to listen to experts, and “Not only do experts have a nasty habit of telling you things you don’t want to hear, their loyalty is suspect: You never know when their professional ethics might kick in.”
Instead America’s roads and bridges are left to deteriorate, all because the president can’t handle the truth.
Read the entire column.