If one accepts the reasonable principle of supporting the new president whenever he makes policy from the left or addresses basic social needs, shouldn’t progressives be cheering the White House as it rolls out the dozers, Cats and big cranes? Aren’t high-speed mass transit and clean energy the kind of noble priorities that best reconcile big-bang stimulus with long-term public value?
The answer is: no, not at this stage of our national emergency. I’m not an infrastructure-crisis denialist, but first things first. We are now at a crash site, and our priority should be to save the victims, not change the tires or repair the fender, much less build a new car. In the triage situation that now confronts the president-elect, keeping local schools and hospitals open should be the first concern, rebuilding bridges and expanding ports would come next, and rescuing bank shareholders at the very end of the line.
Inexorably, the budgets of schools, cities and states are sinking into insolvency on a scale comparable to the early 1930s. The public-sector fiscal crisis — a vicious chain reaction of falling property values, incomes and sales — has been magnified by the unexpectedly large exposure of local governments and transit agencies to the Wall Street meltdown via complex capital lease-back arrangements. Meanwhile on the demand side, the need for public services explodes as even prudent burghers face foreclosure, not to speak of the loss of pensions and medical coverage. Although the public mega-deficits of California and New York may dominate headlines, the essence of the crisis — from the suburbs of Anchorage to the neighborhoods of West Philly — is its potential universality.
Thomas J. Mertz