Wednesday, July 9, 2014

People as important as potholes

    Anyone who follows city politics knows that the one thing that almost everyone needs is a high-functioning infrastructure. Without a functioning infrastructure, goods and services don’t move, workers can’t be productive, business can’t happen and families can’t live well.
    We may argue over how wide a bridge should be, where an airport might be built, or whether another decade can be squeezed out of deteriorating sewer pipes. No one seriously argues, however, that there shouldn’t be any roads, bridges, air-ports, water wells or sewer pipes.
    There is another kind of infrastructure that we do not always perceive as critical to our economic well-being. That kind is human infrastructure, the things that go into making human beings productive. Human infrastructure is just as critical to economic prosperity as are roads, airports and sewers.
    Like a road paved with asphalt or a power grid built of transformers and wires, humans are built of bodies and minds that have to be strong, healthy and properly equipped if they are to be produc-tive. Somehow, however, we never seem to appreciate expenditures for health care, nutrition and education as an economic issue. Instead, the underlying assumption about such taxpayer expenditures is that they are simply charity.
    There is deep disagreement about whether charity is a proper function of government. If such “charity” is not, budgets for food stamps, public schools and Medicaid should be cut. On the other hand, if a wealthy country has an obliga-tion to young people and those in need, budgets for those items should go up.
    No matter which view is ascendant, these expenditures are commonly per-ceived as a burden. However, when it comes to government expenditures, strengthening people is as important as filling potholes.
    Making decisions about spending for human infrastructure really should in-volve the same kinds of cost-benefit analy-ses used to justify addressing physical in-frastructure. We may disagree on which potholes to fill but no one argues that gov-ernment should fill them. The same should be true when we discuss health care, pub-lic education and other human infrastruc-ture services.
    Just like roads, bridges, airports and water systems, a strong, modern, human infrastructure enhances the ability of business to do business. Sick, illiterate, isolated workers don’t design iPhones or assemble Teslas or prepare meals for ex-ecutives strategizing to sell products around the world.
    Instead of trying to escape the burdens of health care, public schools and diver-sity, we must embrace the costs of human infrastructure so we can get on with the business of doing business.

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