Government Investment and Growth: Roads as an Example

Road blocked by landslide

Looks like the road is blocked up ahead…


When Republicans refuse to consider government economic investment, ask them to consider the significance of roads.


Often we think of roads as merely the apparatus that provides for travel and shipping, keys to commerce and freedom.  This of course is very important.  Without roads we would rely on rails, rivers, canals and who knows what else.  Roads are simply a given and quite literally taken for granted when think about how easily we neglect them.


But roads played a deeper role in our country’s economic growth and prosperity.  Where, for example, would the nation’s budding automobile industry have been without an investment in roads?  Think about it.  How important has the automobile industry been to the economic history of the United States?


Without roads cars would have had very limited value.  This would have squelched demand and that would have limited growth of what was perhaps the nations largest economic engine going back to the 1930s through the end of the 20th century.  Roads were not built in anticipation of the automobile.  Roads were built to facilitate the use of automobiles, an infant industry.


And with it radiated countless other industries in the United States:  Tourism, home construction, retail, fast food.  Plus the commercial infrastructure of the auto industry has served as the foundation for defense when needed thereby expanding into other technologies, such as aviation.


We need to start thinking more broadly about our future.  When we think about what is worthy of investment, we need to think in long-term layers.  A significant problem with the way we manage government — indeed even business — is the way we focus on the present short-term gain.  That is not the sort of thinking that built our dominant economy.




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