What If We Invested $680 Billion in Infrastructure?

by: Ryan Avent

What if for one year — just one year — we allocated as much money for infrastructure as we did for defense?

What if? Well, this year, that would mean devoting $680 billion to investments in infrastructure. That’s more than $200 billion more than Oberstar’s entire proposed transportation reauthorization bill, which was itself a large increase over the previous transportation law. There’s probably no way we could spend all that money at once, but it would nicely capitalize an infrastructure bank, and the promise of a steady flow of funds would get states thinking about real, long-term investments.

With that kind of money you could entirely build out a national network of true high-speed rail. One year’s worth of defense spending gets you that. Which makes one wonder: where are all the economists, wringing their hands over cost-benefit analyses of these defense expenditures? Does anyone doubt that the net benefit of $100 billion spent on high-speed rail is easily higher than that for the last $100 billion spent on defense? Have a look at this if you’re unsure.

And while the gains to new investments in infrastructure (and not just in transportation) would be large, it isn’t as though we lack critical needs. What was the cost, human and economic, of the I-35 bridge collapse? Of the Metro crash and resulting limitations on service? Of the Bay Bridge shutdown? And of course, investments in infrastructure constitute positive contributions to the economy, which ultimately strengthen our ability to direct resources toward defense. Aimless defense spending, on the other hand, may well make us poorer and less secure.

I don’t get it. I’ll never get it.