Summers and Rachel Lipson have written a remarkable Op-Ed in the Boston Globe, and Larry a deeper follow-on piece on the Washington Post Wonkblog, detailing the 5 year struggle to repair a bridge that took 11 months to build in 1911.
The narrow story:
How, we ask, could our society have regressed to the point where a bridge that could be built in less than a year one century ago takes five times as long to repair today?
In order to adhere to strict historical requirements overseen by the Massachusetts Historical Commission, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation had to order special bricks, cast by a company in Maine, to meet special size and appearance specifications from the bridge’s inception in 1912.
...extensive permitting and redesigns haven’t helped.And the rest reads like a typical Wall Street Journal oped anecdote of regulatory incompetence, fodder for my next weekly summary.
Larry's Post follow on is deeper:
Investigating the reasons behind the bridge blunders have helped to illuminate an aspect of American sclerosis — a gaggle of regulators and veto players, each with the power to block or to delay, ...
At one level this explains why, despite the overwhelming case for infrastructure investment, there is so much resistance from those who think it will be carried out ineptly.Stop for a moment here. This sentence is a watershed moment. Larry is one of our foremost public-intellectual economists. He's been arguing for years for infrastructure spending, first as "shovel-ready" stimulus to fight the recession, lately as the remedy for "secular stagnation." So far, he's been arguing mostly for more money, and not highlighting regulatory roadblocks. The Democratic party (not Larry) line is that infrastructure is the fault of stingy Republicans who won't spend the money.
But here is Larry, listening, and urging his readers to listen. Savor the sentence: "This explains why.. there is so much resistance from those who think it will be carried out ineptly." How often, in American public life these days, do we see a prominent, party-aligned, public intellectual listen hard and understand what's bothering the other side? No, it's not that they are stingy, mean-hearted, evil, or whatever. It's that they don't trust the money to be spent on the right thing, in the right place, in finite time. They have a point.