In Focus: U.S. Infrastructure
Infrastructure is something we hear a lot about on the presidential campaign trail, and usually very little about after the president is elected. After the election, when we do hear about infrastructure, the plan is a scaled down version of what was promised on the campaign trail.
Recently the Biden administration proposed a $2.25 trillion infrastructure package, and Republicans have countered with a $568 billion proposal. Another example of something that is vital to the country's growth and that benefits us all becoming a red vs blue issue, and it shouldn't be.
If you're a conservative and you think the dems want to spend too much, the American Society of Civil Engineers estimated that it would take $3.6 trillion to rebuild America's infrastructure. I'm one to always listen to the professionals, the people who get paid to do what they do for a living.
There are a number of issues that I believe both parties should stand united on, and the country's infrastructure should be one of them, because it has played a vital role in the U.S.'s economic success of the past and will determine how prosperous the country will be in the future.
We've Come a Long Way
In the mid 1800s, to get mail from the east coast to California it took a battery of steamboats and riverboats. Steamboats moved down the east coast to Nicaragua, then river boats took the trek through Nicaragua to the Pacific Ocean, and then another steamboat to finish the voyage to California. This was before railroads became the extensive network that they would become. For people looking to travel from coast to coast back then, the voyage took more than 20 days, but the railroads would change all of that.
The construction of a transcontinental railroad was made possible by Congress passing of the Pacific Railway Act in 1862. The government also provided land grants to several railroad companies. Railroads were largely a private undertaking, but without the government's assistance, a national network of railroads may have never happened when it did.
Because the U.S. had a national rail system in place, Sears, Roebuck, and Co. founded in 1983 would be able to leverage the railroads to create jobs and build wealth for their owners and investors.
The extensive railroad system would make for a better postal service. A postal service that Amazon would later leverage to build a massive amount of wealth for its founder and investors, while employing thousands of Americans.
Reverse the Aging Process and Prosper
Our electrical infrastructure is old (remember the 2003 blackout?), our rails are old, our water utility infrastructure is old, our roads are old, and our bridges are old. A family member, who is a long-distance truck driver, recently told me there are some bridges that he has to say a small prayer before driving over because they're in such bad shape.
While administration after administration after administration has whiffed on revamping our infrastructure we've seen entrepreneurs push the limits of the current infrastructure. One of Donald Trump's issues with Amazon had to do with how the company somewhat abused the postal system, which could be a whole post on its own.
The national issue over net neutrality has me wanting what I've always had when it comes to the internet, but as an investor understanding that for AT&T, to build out the infrastructure needed to support the country's growing streaming habits, they need a decent return on their investment.
In the U.S. the broadband infrastructure came into question during the initial weeks of the COVID-19 lockdown. Experts wondered out loud if networks could handle the surge in streaming created by people stuck at home. Companies like Netflix, Disney, and Amazon cut the quality of their videos to prevent overloads to the system. In addition, Sony throttled game downloads to reduce strain to the network.
Luckily, networks were able to hold during the pandemic, but how will our current networks fear if we were to lockdown again in 10 years, without having updated the infrastructure? A decade from now we'll have more items connected to the network, as more homes employ the use of smart devices, and more automobiles get connected to the network.
A massive infrastructure spend is just smart business. From the companies hired to complete projects, and the employees those companies hire to work on the projects. Not to mention the companies that will use the infrastructure for their benefit like Sears used the railroads, Amazon used the post office, and trucking companies use the interstate highways. It's confusing to me why infrastructure is such a divisive issue, when politicians know that the last major spend dates back to Eisenhower's National Interstate and Defense Highway Act of 1956.
On the other side of the world we have China spending big on infrastructure inside and outside of China. If you're one that sees China's new belt and road initiative as suspicious, that's on you, but the country's economy continues to grow with every city they invest in, every bridge, road, and high speed rail they build.
I think of infrastructure as the foundation to a country's growth. America's next major growth phase will depend on how it upgrades its infrastructure, from railways, highways, and waterways, to public schools, broadband, water, and the electrical infrastructure. Will we see big sweeping upgrades or more patch work?
When infrastructure gets better, we all get better. Cloud computing, streaming services, online gaming wouldn't be possible if we were all using dial up. Amazon Prime probably wouldn't be a thing if our roads, rails, and airports weren't as good as they are. Americans have gotten a lot out of the infrastructure since FDR's plan saved democracy, but now it's time to upgrade.
We're stepping into an era where cars are going to drive themselves, drones are going to deliver our packages, and close to 90% of the population will have a smartphone. Our infrastructure needs to start looking more like the Jetsons and less like the Flintstones.