Donald Trump

Trump's Infrastructure Nationalism

Yuuge monuments do not make a country great.


Donald Trump may not have a long history as a politician, but he flip-flops with the best of them. He has done a complete switcheroo on the Iraq War (he was for it before he was against it,

Trump Tower
IoSonoUnaFotoCamera via

despite what he claims now), immigration (he criticized Mitt Romney's harsh talk about undocumented immigrants before embracing even harsher measures), and trade (he was a free trader, even defending outsourcing, before he became an ardent protectionist).

But one theme he has consistently stuck to is that he'll Make America Great Again by rebuilding its allegedly crumbling infrastructure. During the first presidential debate, he once again dissed America's roads, bridges, and airports, noting that when "you come into LAX or LaGuardia or JFK…. from Dubai, Qatar, and China," it seems like you've come to a "Third World country."

But the countries Trump is praising as models for a better America are all autocracies that have made a complete hash of things.

Consider China: A September study coauthored by University of Oxford's Bent Flyvbjerg, the world's leading authority on mega-projects, found that even though Beijing's autocrats have all the power in the world to seize property, disregard environmental consequences, and ignore safety concerns, the vast majority of the country's infrastructure projects are delayed and over budget. Worse, because Beijing's primary objective is not to facilitate commerce or fulfill some genuine economic need, but instead to dazzle the hoi polloi with the nation's engineering virtuosity, over half of its projects end up destroying rather than creating economic value. China has built entire ghost towns full of state-of-the-art apartments and offices that no one uses. "Unless China shifts to fewer and higher-quality infrastructure investments the country is headed for an infrastructure-led national financial and economic crisis, which is likely to spread to the international economy," Flyvbjerg concludes.

None of this seems to faze Trump.

Now, to be fair, Trump is hardly the first one to be fooled by the Middle Kingdom's glittering airports, highways, and high-speed trains. President Obama, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, and numerous other liberals were beating the "we are losing to China" drum long before Trump arrived on the scene.

But Trump has vastly upped the ante. He has proposed a $500 billion to $1 trillion infrastructure stimulus package—much yuuuger than Hillary Clinton's $275 billion proposal. What's more, he justifies this spending less in the name of jobs and stimulus, as is the wont of liberals, and more through raw appeals to "my airport is bigger than yours" nationalism. This is also why he needs to rally the public by wildly exaggerating the awfulness of America's infrastructure.

But contrary to his assertions, America's roads, bridges, and airports are doing just fine—even improving. The percentage of U.S. bridges rated as structurally deficient (which does not mean unsafe, just in need of repairing) has been cut in half since 1992. Furthermore, a comprehensive assessment by the Federal Highway Administration found that the percentage of vehicle miles traveled on the national highway system with "good" ride quality increased from 48 percent in 2000 to 60 percent in 2010. Something similar is true for state highways, according to a study by the Reason Foundation, where I work. But upping federal spending on roads won't do much to improve road quality for the simple reason that 80 percent of road mileage is in the hands of local municipalities, not Uncle Sam.

As for American airports, there is no doubt that many of them are dated. But that's largely because they were among the first to be built and airport design and architecture have evolved since. Tearing down perfectly serviceable structures before the country has squeezed all the value out of them just because a billionaire builder-turned-politico does not find them up-to-snuff would be economic stupidity.

If America must look abroad for lessons on airports, it should look not to autocracies like China, but democracies like those in Europe, where many major airports are in private hands and have an inherent incentive to tailor their ambitions to actual consumer need, not fanciful designs of rulers. Indeed, America is one of the few countries in the West whose airports are still predominantly government owned.

To the extent that America needs to boost its infrastructure, then, it doesn't need more spending by Washington, but more local control and privatization. This, however, would not allow a potentate to build monuments to his glory.

The tragi-comedy of all this is that Trump has become the standard bearer of a party that for the last eight years has defined itself by its opposition to mindless infrastructure and other spending by President Obama. It seems like a distant memory now, but it wasn't too long ago that Republicans were fighting tooth-and-nail to eliminate earmarks, impose sequesters, and prevent any raising of the debt ceiling—all of which will be back with a vengeance if Trump becomes president.

The choice for Republicans, then, would be whether to oppose their own party's president or go along with his demands to open the spigot. It is hard to imagine the GOP standing on principle after the havoc Trump has already unleashed on the party. So if you really worry about America becoming a Third World country, hope that Trump never enters the Oval Office and spends the U.S. into the poor house to promote his infrastructure nationalism.

This column originally appeared in The Week.

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  1. It’s ok – it’s not really socialism because it’s just for white people.

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  2. Every time someone says ‘yuuuuge’ in an article Trump gets another 500 votes.

    1. Cool so we only need another 20,000 articles in the next 4 weeks.

      Jill Stein approves this message.

      1. Something like that. I think after 8 years of Obama every comedian in the nation would be insane not to vote for Trump. Making fun of Obama, up until somewhat recently, was virtually banned for how much of it I saw. With every previous President, Democrat or Republican, groups like SNL would mock them virtually from day 1. I always thought that was especially strange, and apparently plenty of comedians were not exactly happy about it.

  3. Shikha is a yuuuuuuuge dumbass.

    1. Why? Do you support huge increases in federal spending?

      1. Maybe it’s because her writing is sloppy, histrionic, and biased as hell. Trump’s plan is stupid but Clinton is offering up the same prescription for the same problem, only a bit less of it, and she essentially gets a pass. Her writing is pure advocacy and it ain’t for Gary Johnson.

      2. I didn’t read it, Dalmia has so besmirched her own “journalistic integrity” to not warrant discussing her articles. I just like to hate comment on them.

        1. Isn’t that sort of what we accuse progs of doing when they knee-jerk react the word “libertarian”?

          1. Fight fire with fire. *lights up blow torch

            1. Ahh the NRx solution.

  4. By our powers combined, we can summon John to the thread!

    John of Omens, give me smug beyond smug!

    1. Your wish is my command.

    2. This really isn’t bad for Shika. She is right. Big national building projects always turn into white elephants.

      1. You’re taking all the fun out of this.

  5. Shikha used the term ‘Yuuge’?

    That’s cultural appropriation is what that is.

  6. For God’s sakes tell these people to fuck off and then laugh at them. They are loathsome but also a joke. It would be one thing if they were real no shit violent brown shirts. But they are not. They are pathetic spoiled children and should be treated as such.

    I wish there were some reason for me to be on the college speaking circuit. It would be loads of fun to screw with these people. The more they screamed and cried, the more I would laugh at them and the more fun I would have.

    1. Wrong thread sir.

      1. I know. My bad.

      2. Or is it? I think at this point we can copy/paste the first paragraph into any comment thread.

    2. Impressive amount of internet tough-guy attitude showing through though.

  7. Probably the least bad Shikha article in a long time.

    1. After Saturday’s debacle, she needed a bounceback in a big way.

    2. Least Bad, the Story of How Liberals justified electing a Hawk to POTUS.

  8. The roads and bridges infrastructure is nowhere near in as bad a shape as the big spenders claim they are.

    The type of infrastructure that does need fixing and upgrading the most are the various water and sewer systems across the country. There are lots of places that have pipes in the ground that are over 100 years old.

    1. The one thing that has me really worried is an EMP frying the electric grid. Really worried as in we would all be living in a mad max movie within a week.
      So if I were king emperor protecting against an EMP would be #1 on my list.

    2. If they just hafta throw money at infrastructure as a jobs program, I would support work on the grid first, including burying as much of it as possible.

  9. Hey it’s Tweety Bird.

  10. “It is hard to imagine the GOP standing on principle after the havoc Trump has already unleashed on the party. ”

    Everything following the word “principle” unnecessarily narrows the concept.

    1. This is politics. People who believe in this “principles” concept are smoking something.

  11. So if you really worry about America becoming a Third World country, hope that Trump never enters the Oval Office and spends the U.S. into the poor house to promote his infrastructure nationalism.

    That’s rich coming from someone who wants open borders for millions of third world immigrants to come into the U.S. It’s no coincidence that the U.S. has increasingly become more like a third world country since the 1960s, when immigration policy was changed to increase immigrants from these hell holes. It’s probably no coincidence that Dalmia lives in Detroit, that in last 50 years has been sinking into third world status.

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  14. Not at all the main point of the article, but it strikes me as interesting that Europe has a lot of private airports. It always seems weird to me when I hear about certain policies/norms in more socialist countries that are more capitalistic than our own.

    I didn’t know until just recently that Australia essentially has a privatized “social security” equivalent. As much as MANDATORY investment shouldn’t be required period, if you’re going to force people to save it should definitely be invested privately and in an individual account. That way it’s not just a ponzi scheme. Apparently the system in Australia has worked wonders for building working class and middle class savings. It’s gone up something like 5 fold since they switched over in the early 80s.

    Brazil (IIRC) and their charter schools. There are many examples where countries have tried ONE big idea, and it’s usually worked great.

    If any country would just look at the random bits and pieces of this kind of stuff that’s been tried all over the world, see that it didn’t cause the end of the world, and mix and match all of them that worked well, they would kick so much ass. It wouldn’t be principled libertarian or anything as there’s still plenty of coercion and government involvement etc, but it’d be a hell of a lot more effective bureaucracy anyway… At this point I’d settle for that.

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  19. Sigh. Rather than jumping on the latest “rebuild our national infrastructure” fluff from the republicrat candidates, attack the “decaying national infrastructure” question head on. Nothing “huuuge” will get funded without a lot of cooperation from congress, and I wouldn’t count on that happening.

    1. Then again, it the only yuge project being considered by congress is a massive generic spending bill for unspecified improvements, it’ll make it to the president’s desk in record time.

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