Friday, May 15, 2015

Whatever happened to American exceptionalism?

That was the question I asked myself last month when I read about the new Japanese maglev (short for "magnetic levitation" -- wow!) train that goes over 300 miles per hour (my emphasis):

A Japanese maglev train set a world speed record last week, reaching a top speed of 374 MPH. The experimental magnetic levitation train set a world record when it reached a top speed of 361 miles per hour back in 2003, and it broke that record at 366 mph two weeks ago. 

A maglev train rides along a specially constructed rail line. An electric field allows it to ride about 4 inches off the ground. Since there are no wheels touching the tracks, friction is greatly reduced, which allows the maglev train to go faster than any conventional train.

Why can't we have trains like that in this country? Are the Japanese just plain smarter than us? While other countries improve their infrastructure, we somehow can't. I thought the U.S. could do anything.

Or is it more a failure of will? 

I was going to write a post about that and include the quote below but got distracted by something else. And I think I also thought, Who needs to hear -- again -- about America's crumbling infrastructure? 

But after this week's horrific Amtrak crash in Philadelphia, it's worth asking the question, Is the U.S. falling behind in infrastructure?

From a paper titled, "Let’s Face It—We’re Far From Broke: America’s Real Spending Problem and How to Fix It" (my emphasis):

Federal public investment spending averaged 2.2 percent of GDP between 1965 and 1981. After 1981, public investment spending fell relative to GDP, and after 1986, it averaged 1.5 percent of GDP. The increased spending from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), which temporarily lifted public investment spending to 1.9 percent of GDP in 2010, was still lower than the pre-1981 average. This fall—and continuing low levels of public investment spending—have had and will continue to have an adverse impact on economic growth and America’s place in the world economy.

Public investments in physical capital (primarily infrastructure—roads, bridges, drinking water systems, sewage systems, waterways, etc.) have fallen from 0.8 percent of GDP in 1980 to 0.5 percent in 2013. The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) gave America’s infrastructure a grade of just D+ in 2001. By 2009, the ASCE awarded America’s infrastructure a grade of D (even closer to failing). The grade rose slightly to D+ by 2013, most likely due to the increased spending under ARRA in 2010 and 2011. ASCE, however, notes that over the next eight years, the United States needs to spend at least $1.6 trillion (about $200 billion per year) above projected infrastructure spending levels to achieve a grade of B. Research reviewed by Bivens (2012) has shown that infrastructure investments have significant positive effects on private-sector productivity and economic growth. 

So it sounds like a failure of will, doesn't it?

Again, I ask, Whatever happened to American exceptionalism?

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