As is usually the case, Merle Haggard gets it mostly right:
Why don't we liberate these United States,
We're the ones that need it the most.
Let the rest of the world help us for a change,
And let's rebuild America First.
Our highways and bridges are fallin' apart;
Who's blessed an' who has been cursed?
There's things to be done all over the world,
But let's rebuild America First.
Who's on the Hill and who's watchin' the valley?
An' who's in charge of it all?
God bless the Army an' God bless our liberty,
And back-dump the rest of it all.
Yeah, men in position are backin' away: Freedom is stuck in reverse.
Let's get out of Iraq, an' get back on track, and let's rebuild America First.
The deterioration of our infrastructure, a pre-existing condition of which the lethal collapse of the I-35W bridge is a particularly painful symptom, is not a result of inadequate "public financing," as many insist. "Public" -- meaning "government" -- financing always results in skewed priorities.
Given that the I-35W bridge, like the estimated 70,000 or "unsound" or otherwise infirm bridges across the nation, was built and maintained by the State, how can its collapse be considered an example of "market failure," rather than an illustration of the inefficiencies of statism?
To put the matter as plainly as possible: A Regime that spends so much on large-scale destruction of infrastructure abroad is probably not to be trusted with the task of maintaining sound infrastructure at home. The big money and political profit are to be found in reconstruction, after all -- something understood very well by those pioneering the new form of corporatism called disaster capitalism.
Where the hoi polloi sees catastrophe, disaster capitalists -- both those employed directly by the State, and those who work for it as nominally private subcontractors -- see job security. Government, after all, is the only entity that profits through failure, so we shouldn't be surprised to see it fail so spectacularly and so often -- or to see a growing segment of the politically wired-in population learning to capitalize on those failures.
Catastrophe -- or opportunity? It depends on whether you're a private producer, or a statist parasite.
There has been much discussion of the estimate offered by the American Society of Civil Engineers that it would cost $1.6 trillion over five years to upgrade public infrastructure nation-wide. That figure -- give or take the random hundred billion dollars -- is not substantially larger than some estimates of the final costs of the Dullard Dictator's war in Iraq (assuming that we ever get out of Iraq, which would permit us to tally up "final" costs).
From that juxtaposition can flow any number of facile slogans, of the "Less money for bombs, more for bridges!" variety.
Of course government spends much more than necessary on bombs and other instruments of wholesale destruction: The State is in the business of coercion, after all, and this won't change no matter how much is spent on infrastructure. In fact, as the irreplaceable Bill Kauffman points out, the Interstate Highway System (IHS)-- the "greatest public works project in history" -- was conceived as a wartime measure, born as a Cold War institution, and grew to maturity through large-scale dispossession of millions of helpless Americans.
The IHS, writes Kauffman, was "a socialist melding of industry and military that did more than almost any other act of government to uproot Americans. Like so many of Leviathan's projects, the IHS was conceived in wartime. In 1944, Franklin Roosevelt's Interregional Highway Committee recommended that the federal government build a 41,000 mile interstate system."
Collectivist Clown Car: IHS propaganda cartoon didn't mention the costs of federal-state "cooperation" -- such as hundreds of thousands of Americans being uprooted and chased from their homes through "eminent domain."
General Eisenhower, who had been tremendously impressed by Hitler's autobahn, embraced FDR's plans: In 1956, Ike signed into law a measure to create the "National System of Interstate and Defense Highways," which was intended to build an American version of Hitler's highway system. The same year brought the creation of the Highway Trust Fund, a malodorous mass of patronage funds stolen at the gasoline pump and used for numerous dishonest purposes -- from masking the size of the budget deficit to paying bribes to sundry constituencies.
The Trust Fund, in fact, is used for practically every purpose except infrastructure maintenance -- such as fixing a bridge known to have serious structural problems, as the I-35W bridge did.
In building Eisenhower's autobahn, Congress exploited one of the Constitution's murkier passages -- the one authorizing the Legislature to establish "post roads" -- and the document's most tragically misconceived provision, the Article V power of eminent domain. Kauffman describes the results:
"The Interstates ... forcibly displaced hundreds of thousands of persons. They uglified vast stretches of America. And hardly anyone in a position of power raised a peep. Scattered farmers, New Englanders, and poets tried to slow down the Interstatists, but they were crushed as thoroughly as a car windshield pulverizes a June bug. The Interstate's bulldozers proved as unstoppable as Soviet tanks rolling into Hungary. Resistance was almost always futile.... By the late 1960s, Interstate construction was displacing 57,000 people per year; 87 percept of the buildings demolished [to facilitate construction] were residences. In one 20-year stretch, 100,000 California houses were destroyed."
I would be interested to learn if more homes were destroyed by Eisenhower's IHS than by the Allied military campaigns he supervised in Europe.
It was during this period that a now-familiar trope was created: Comedy sketches and cartoons began to depict the plight of the intransigent homeowner standing athwart "progress" by refusing to sell his home to permit a freeway to go through. Generally skits and melodramas of that sort invited the audience to shake its collective head in condescension, sympathizing with the non-conformist but understanding that the individual simply must yield to the needs of the Collective Good.
"So shut up and move, demanded the architects of the hugest public works project in history to those protesters who stood on the quaint principle of property rights," continues Kauffman, who concludes with an ironic flourish. "I mean, really: What kind of Commie could possibly dissent from so grand an achievement as the Interstate Highway System?"
The Eisenhower autobahn is an unmixed blessing, we are told, because it helped make "these United States" into One Nation. The IHS offers undeniable advantages: It is useful to know that one can get nearly anywhere in the U.S. by navigating a handful of interstate highways, and the system has been a boon to commercial interests.
But the IHS is a two-way street where accessibility is concerned. It opened new avenues for the regulatory class and activist judges to insinuate themselves in the daily affairs of Americans, generally on the pretext of regulating "interstate commerce" -- which, thanks to the IHS, encompassed practically everything. The system also enhanced the power of Washington to regulate and, eventually, seize outright control over local police and sheriff's departments. And, speaking in purely aesthetic terms, I can't say that the homogenization of American communities brought about because of the IHS is a good or welcome thing.
And now, a little more than a half-century following its birth, the IHS is showing its age in dangerous and frightening ways. There is a certain symmetry in the fact that Eisenhower's "National System of Defense and Interstate Highways" is disintegrating at the same time our military -- having been used for every purpose except national defense -- is collapsing under the burden of Washington's imperial foreign policy.
Please be sure to visit The Right Source, and the Liberty Minute archive.