Joe Biden recently unveiled an ambitious proposal to create millions of well-paying U.S. jobs, while also achieving carbon-free power generation in the United States by 2035. His infrastructure plan is not only aimed at clean energy generation, it also seeks to overhaul America’s roads, bridges, auto industry, transit systems, building sector, and broadband networks.
There isn’t much to seriously debate about the need for most aspects of this plan. Unfortunately, major bridges occasionally just collapse around here. If saving people’s lives isn’t enough for you, consider that infrastructure investment gives higher returns on investment than almost any other kind of spending. Then there’s the climate and not wanting to completely destroy it. Again though, if saving the planet alone doesn’t motivate you, remember that continuing to do nothing about climate change is going to cause a decline of as much as three percent in annual GDP by the end of this century.
Investing in America’s infrastructure, creating millions of well-paying American jobs while doing it, and finally taking real steps to combat climate change should not be controversial. But at a time when federal policy in America is dictated by the overarching principle of “own the libs,” it doesn’t matter how much sense a proposal makes if the wrong person makes it. As soon as the Biden campaign announced this proposal, the Donald Trump campaign criticized it by saying “union jobs related to oil, natural gas, fracking, and energy infrastructure will be on the chopping block in Joe Biden’s America.”
I guess whichever pasty Trump campaign staffer came up with that criticism didn’t have time to read the part of Biden’s plan that focuses specifically on providing 250,000 union jobs in rural communities and other hard-hit areas. At any rate, I’ve never really understood this type of argument. We didn’t artificially stall the rollout of the automobile because it was going to cost a lot of farriers their jobs. Times change, technologies progress, and we all have to progress along too if we want to continue to have meaningful work to do.
It’s a bit notable though that the main opposition criticism focused on oil and fracking jobs rather than on the default Republican strawman punching bag, excessive spending. The Biden infrastructure and green energy plan calls for an investment of $2 trillion over four years, which is no small sum, and is quite an increase from the $1.7 trillion over 10 years that the Biden campaign previously proposed to spend in this area.
I’d like to think that decades of research proving that we get far more out of infrastructure investments than we put into them convinced Republicans of the wisdom of putting money into infrastructure. But more realistically, Republicans are probably just finding it harder to sit there with a straight face and criticize spending given the level of rank hypocrisy they have reached on the national budget.
Until the relatively recent past, Republicans did a pretty good job of denying the fact that over the past six presidential administrations, the federal budget deficit has consistently increased under Republican presidents and decreased under Democratic presidents. But under Trump, it’s becoming harder to ignore reality.
For just the first nine months of this fiscal year, through June, the federal budget deficit reached $2.7 trillion — enough to pay for Biden’s entire green infrastructure plan and then some. To be fair, a good chunk of that spending came from April to June in efforts to fight the coronavirus pandemic, hardly a usual expense. But normally, when we spend such massive sums of federal money, we expect to get something out of it: here we are with about 25 percent of the world’s coronavirus deaths, but only about four percent of the global population, and an economy still in tatters. Even before coronavirus took a bite out of the economy, the Trump administration had run up a record-high national debt. The fact that Trump gave away $1.9 trillion to corporations and rich people with his 2017 tax law probably didn’t help.
Under Trump, the federal government has wasted trillions of dollars with almost nothing to show for it. Biden’s proposals, including his green infrastructure plan, will actually give us a return on investment for federal spending. Seems like a better option.
Jonathan Wolf is a litigation associate at a midsize, full-service Minnesota firm. He also teaches as an adjunct writing professor at Mitchell Hamline School of Law, has written for a wide variety of publications, and makes it both his business and his pleasure to be financially and scientifically literate. Any views he expresses are probably pure gold, but are nonetheless solely his own and should not be attributed to any organization with which he is affiliated. He wouldn’t want to share the credit anyway. He can be reached at [email protected]