President Trump has spent his lifetime building big things with other people’s money, and it doesn’t seem he’s going to stop doing it now that he’s president. In an interview with The New York Times, Trump explained that he wants to “do a great infrastructure plan, and on that side I will say that we’re going to have, I believe, tremendous Democrat support.” He then suggested that he might package together his proposed $1 trillion infrastructure plan with health care or tax reform in order to cram the package down: “I may put it in with something else because it’s a very popular thing.”
Trump’s defenders on infrastructure have said that he will rely heavily on public-private deals to fill in the gaps – that he wouldn’t actually spend $1 trillion in taxpayer funding on roads and bridges and the like. But Trump openly dismissed that notion:
We may take that trillion, and we may also in addition use public/private. But we’re talking about an investment of a trillion dollars…There are some things that work very nicely public/private. There are some things that don’t. The federal government, we’re doing very well you saw, a lot of good numbers coming out. You saw our imports. You saw what happened with China. And various other people that this country has been dealing with over the years. You saw the numbers come out today, they’re very promising. Lot of good numbers are coming out. We are borrowing very inexpensively. When you can borrow so inexpensively, you don’t have to do the public/private thing. Because public/private can be very expensive.
How will Trump decide how to divvy up the cash? By appointing a commission of experts, of course:
And they are going to, along with me, put on a group of 20 people, 20 to 25 people on a commission. We’re going to run projects through them. And they will have great expertise in that room. We’ll have it from both coasts, and right down the middle. We’re going to have representatives from various parts of the country that are all are very, very successful in terms of infrastructure. From different fields, but always infrastructure. But everything is going to be run by them.
Oh goody, goody gumdrops.
Here’s the problem: as Veronique de Rugy writes at Reason, our nation’s infrastructure is not crumbling, and public spending on infrastructure is rife with malinvestment in areas that do not need it. She explains:
While conditions vary from state to state, the most recent data on highway quality (from 2012) classify 80 percent of urban highways as either good or acceptable. For rural highways, the figure is almost 97 percent. Meanwhile, the quality of bridges has improved as well. In 2004, 5.7 percent of bridges were classed as structurally deficient, meaning that the bridge isn't unsafe but that it could suffer from a reduction in its load-carrying activities. By 2014 that number had declined to 4.2 percent.
The areas of infrastructure that do need spending, such as maintenance, aren’t going to be the projects that Trump picks – they’re not big or flashy. And there’s little reason that local and state government couldn’t pick up the tab.
But this is all politics and not much practicality. While leftists constantly proclaim the wonders of infrastructure spending, Barack Obama spent nearly a trillion dollars on stimulus projects that generated no serious effect. The same has been true for decades. The only major infrastructure project anybody likes is the interstate highway system built under Eisenhower, and there’s little reason to suggest that a system with more local design couldn’t have been built at cheaper cost and with less impact on existing businesses along then-current roads (see the destruction business along Route 66, which was bypassed by the I-40).
But infrastructure is always a safe way to embrace Democrat tax-and-spend policies – or at least borrow-and-spend policies. And Trump likes building big stuff, particularly since he is the self-proclaimed king of debt.