With President Biden’s push for a massive infrastructure and jobs bill, comes the inevitable Republican knee-jerk opposition. “Who’s going to pay for this?” “It’s too expensive.” “The country can’t afford it.” There are dozens of variations all on the same discordant theme.
To say that these advocates for “big business” are once again missing the point gives new meaning to understatement.
Any business leader asked to kick in a modest increase in corporate taxes should take a simple look at the history of infrastructure investment in the United States.
Political historian Heather Cox Richardson noted the effect on the country of Eisenhower’s push for the federal highway system in 1956:
Entering the White House in 1953, Eisenhower three years later pushed through the $25 billion Federal-Aid Highway Act to build 41,000 miles of road and tie the nation together. The act jump-started the economy not only by providing jobs, but also by creating new markets for new motels, diners, gas stations, and towns along the new routes. The highways were a symbol of what investing in the nation could do for its citizens.
And invest they did. The top marginal income tax rate during the Eisenhower administration, for incomes over $200,000, was 91%. (Two hundred thousand dollars in 1956 is about $2 million today.) As the country rebuilt itself and helped to rebuild Europe after WWII, the economy boomed. Between 1945 and 1960, the nation’s gross national product jumped 250% from $200 billion to $500 billion. American incomes doubled between 1945 and 1970.
So, it is pretty obvious that investment in infrastructure in the past has had huge payoffs in economic growth. It is not just the Eisenhower example that pertains. Franklin Roosevelt acted much earlier in this stead. Through the Civilian Conservation Corps—one of the earliest New Deal programs, established to relieve unemployment during the Great Depression by providing national conservation work—he helped to lift the country out of that long economic debacle.
It’s the People, Stupid!
The biggest parallels between these past programs and what Biden is proposing is that the investments—though targeted toward material structures—really were investments in people.
When you get down to it, one of the core functions of our government is to provide for the general welfare. To the narrow minded and reactionary thinkers in Congress—I didn’t say Republican here, because this kind of thought pattern is not limited to that camp—any concept of “welfare” is some sort of a hand-out. Nothing could be further from the truth. The dictionary definition of welfare is “the good fortune, health, happiness, prosperity, etc., of a person, group, or organization; well-being.”
Factually, the vast majority of people are happiest when they have jobs to do. Jobs with a worthwhile purpose. Building things as work is only the beginning of that picture. When you are talking about roads, bridges, railways and internet backbones, you are really talking about lines of communication. These are not just static things. These are the basic tools the society uses to produce—and by society, I mean you and me.
Return on Investment
When you invest in building faster and more efficient lines of communication, you are streamlining the tools of production. You are making it easier and faster for people to get too and from a job, to get deliveries made, to get them done in a way that pollutes less. You thus shorten the time it takes to get the ROI that any investment should have in mind.
Biden’s program is a watershed shift of attention from the care and feeding of big corporations to investment into the actual source of those corporations’ success: their customers. Any sales person knows that a customer has to be able to pay for the goods you’re selling.
The biggest asset in the United States inventory is people. And when you invest in people they produce more wealth. It is really as simple as that. Of course this concept gets sullied by the criminally minded tiny minority who think that because they are crooked everyone else is also. It is not and never has been true that the majority of people will become indigent if allowed to. That only applies to the tiny minority of truly anti-social individuals.
The Moral Ethical Majority
The majority of the population is actually moral and ethical. This is not a bastardization of Jerry Falwell’s effort to turn conservative evangelists into a political force. It is simply a fact that the vast majority of people naturally want to do the right thing and will if one gets out of their way.
The smart executive in any company is the one that recognizes that people are there because they want to get the job done. And the even smarter ones invest well in those people and the tools they need to do the job. So disbelieve the propaganda campaigns about “welfare queens” and “communist” plots. These come from people who really aren’t aware that deep down, they are just another person.