Stephen Lewis has an excellent blog post on the declining U.S. dollar. Says Steve, It is an odd state of affairs when the US dollar is closer in value to the currency of a small and corrupt Balkan republic than it is to the common currency of its major economic rival, the European Union. He goes on to examine important points in the histories of the U.S. and Bulgarian economies, with vectors heading in crossing directions. One sample:
A decade ago, an American ambassador to Bulgaria confided in me that US government was quite pleased with Bulgaria’s new gangster capitalists, adding, quite approvingly no less, that “… they are really no different from our own robber barons.” I would disagree. Many of America’s 19th century robber baron industrialists left behind not only the scars of their depredations but also the full infrastructure on which late-19th and early-20th century economies were based on — railroads, steel mills, oil refineries, etc.
As the dollar sinks closer to the Bulgarian Lev, the US might consider learning from Bulgaria’s recent experiences. One could almost think the unthinkable: Might the US benefit from having the IMF set up a board to oversee its currency? Might the US benefit from membership candidacy in the EU and the consequent eligibility for proper inspection and maintenance of its physical infrastructure and for bringing its social welfare, income distribution, medical care, and quality of life up to European standards, standards that owe much to America’s Marshall Plan?
It’s a serious question. Ever since the first Nixon administration the U.S. has been in the grip of an economic belief system that dismisses the need for infrastructure investment, and ignores the vast “because effects” of that investment. Even the Republican party’s fondness for thrift has held no sway in recent years.
What would the benefits have been, for example, if the U.S. had invested in infrastructure what Steve calls the near-incomprehensible waste and corruption of the four-year-long debt-financed war in Iraq? The mind boggles.
We need to re-frame the public conversation about infrastructure. However we do that, we need to give full respect to its benefits. Or face driving off some failed bridge on our highway to hell.