The Hypocrisy Of The GOP’s Infrastructure Plan
The GOP is operating on a theory of incentives that they are reluctant to explain.
Throughout the debate on the stimulus packages that have been passed over the last year or so, I have heard a common theme from the GOP: we just want people to have an incentive to work. They fretted over the fact that the enhanced unemployment benefits provided in response to the pandemic would be a disincentive to work. Worse, they worried that employers would have to increase wages in competition with the enhanced unemployment benefit just to get people to show up and apply for a job. Never mind that wages have stagnated for 40 years at the hands of the GOP (and neoliberal Democrats).
I guess the Republicans in Congress weren’t listening very carefully to Trump when he said he wanted to “GO BIG!” on relief checks and unemployment insurance benefits. I have to admit, if there was one thing that I could find agreement with Trump on, it was his insistence on a huge economic response to the shutdown of the country as the pandemic took hold. I was kind of shocked at how reluctant the Republican members of Congress were to work with him on this.
During the pandemic, millions of people turned to work from home just to have a job. I did that. My internet connection literally saved my job. My willingness to invest in the “infrastructure” that I required to be effective in my work at home, saved my job. I got the monitor stands. I got monitors from work. I got a gee-whiz laptop with gobs of CPU and RAM to drive 3 monitors and a bunch of memory-eating applications to run on it like it was a desktop. And I upgraded my internet access 250 Mbs to gigabit up and down for an extra $17 a month. My employer even sent me $400 to cover my costs, and that more than covered my costs. I never stopped working through the pandemic, so to the GOP, I'm a model citizen because I kept working.
Millions of people could not work from home. Millions lost their jobs and they still wanted to work. They wanted to work but they could not. Restaurants closed as patrons stayed home. Big box stores closed for a time or set strict limits on entry. Daycare closed. Parks and recreation closed (I really miss going to the pool at the recreation center). My wife and I stopped shopping with our kids, leaving one of us at home with the kids to go shopping. Whatever you might think of the shutdown, it happened and millions of people couldn’t be left to starve or be thrown out on the street. I’m saying this as someone who was able to keep working throughout the pandemic.
It seems to me that the GOP playing the resistance card again on Biden’s infrastructure plans. Business Insider has a good, if somewhat dated, accounting of the Biden plan here. Yes, there is a ton of hard infrastructure in that plan. And yes, there is plenty of liberal wishlist stuff in there, too. But the last time I checked, people will work for money. And as far as I can tell, businesses are not really interested in making those investments for things like daycare, commuter rail, and broadband. I note for the record that Comcast didn’t really care about rolling out fiber in my neighborhood until the community broadband service called Utopia Fiber, got to me first.
I have seen how some conservatives don’t think that “infrastructure of care” is really infrastructure. At the same time, they’d really like to see people work, work, working away at dead-end jobs for $15 an hour (or less). Judging by their actions and statements, the GOP seems to think that it doesn’t matter what people are working for as long as they’re WORKING. As far as I can tell, the GOP isn’t worried that the median wage is $19 an hour and that half of the people are making less than that.
I see childcare and eldercare as infrastructure if that service makes it easier for adults to work. We want people to work, right? Government-funded childcare seems to have worked well in places like Norway, Finland, and Sweden. I note for the record that those countries aren’t making the headlines for bad news during the pandemic. I hardly ever see them in the news for anything and I don’t think of them often. I wonder why. It’s also worth noting that our birthrate has cratered. Who wants to have kids if the infrastructure to support them is not there?
When I listen to the GOP, especially if I listen closely, I find that their language is laced with the word “incentive”. They’re always looking for ways to “incentivize” people to work. For the last 40 years, they’ve engaged in a two-pronged approach. First, they slather the top 1% with money thinking that more money will make them work harder, smarter, better. As we have seen, they took care of themselves quite well, but they’ve left the rest of us dangling in the winds of the pandemic. Note how they gave themselves massive bonuses in the wake of the Great Recession. The other prong of the GOP plan was to stagnate wages, in the hopes that real fear would motivate anyone not lucky enough to become a millionaire, to work and work hard.
This is the problem I see with the GOP plan. It’s all about incentives and very little attention is paid to skills. To me, the GOP pays no mind to skills and just assumes that people just need a little prodding to get them back to work. Unemployment at $300 a week is a cattle prod. The “justus” system is a cattle prod. The homeless people we see on the street are cattle prods. The soup kitchens downtown are cattle prods, too. Most of what I see from the GOP is negative reinforcement, supported by a maniacal devotion to a puritanical ideology.
“Puritanism: The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.”
― H.L. Mencken, A Mencken Chrestomathy
Yeah, that’s it. After 40 years of watching the GOP lay waste to the economy, rigging the economy to funnel income upwards, they tell us, “well, that’s just how the economy works.” Then they have the nerve to tell us that all they’re willing to do is spend $568 billion over 5 years to fix things up after they’ve been exposed during a pandemic. And that’s conditional on the ability of states with depleted reserves to match funds with the federal government. Or the states can impose user fees that people should pay for those improvements. Now that’s “incentive”.
You know, I hear that some Republicans want to “beat” China. I also hear that China spends about 5% of GDP on infrastructure every single year. Here is a contrast between our two countries in two charts, thanks to Statista:
Now compare China to us (were #5 from the top):
China spends 10 times more GDP on infrastructure than we do. Their economy was already about the same size as ours in 2018. The IMF projects that the Chinese economy will be 56% larger than the United States’ economy by 2024. A really big part of that growth in infrastructure spending.
I can’t claim to know what the GOP is thinking, but it’s pretty clear to me they’re not thinking about the rest of us. As far as I can tell, the GOP is scared of giving labor any power. There are a few Democrats who harbor similar fears, but they’re being pulled by the “success” of the filibuster. They’re being pulled by the success of the billionaires. Oh, yeah. Billionaires.
If the GOP is so worried about “incentive” how come they don’t do the math? A front-line employee working at $19 an hour will have to work for 25,000 years to “earn” a billion dollars. I doubt that a billionaire had 25,000 times more incentive than an hourly wage slave to work. I’m sure he had some fantastic friends on the board of directors to bump up his pay so as to justify similar bumps in their pay. See? Capitalism is a virtuous circle. But I’m not so sure that it’s as much a virtuous circle of “incentive” as it is of “influence”.
So when I see Biden proposing to spend $2.3 trillion on infrastructure, I see him making an effort to make up for the perilous slide he put us on for the 47 years he spent in politics. I see him trying to make up for wanting to cut Social Security, and for his contributions to the collapse of the housing bubble and the collapse of our economy in the wake of the pandemic. At least he’s trying.
When I see the GOP offer a mere 1/4 of what Biden is offering, I know they’re negotiating and they’re thinking that they can only go up, right? Here’s a question we should be asking: How much is $2 trillion? According to economist Dean Baker:
The spending is supposed to take place over eight years which means that it would be equal to just over 0.8 percent of projected GDP over this period. At $250 billion a year, it comes to about $750 per person each year over this period. It is less than 40 percent of what we are projected to spend on prescription drugs over this period and less than half of the higher prices that we will be paying as a result of government-granted patent and related monopolies. (For some reason, the money transferred to the drug companies and other beneficiaries of these government-granted monopolies never gets called “big government.”)
In other words, the “bump” in infrastructure spending proposed by President Biden is a pimple relative to the economy. The spending plan proposed by the GOP? A pore. Notice that the GOP doesn’t think of patent rents as “big government spending” as long as that money actually gets to an anonymous donor to the National Republican Senatorial Committee. The general rule of thumb that I follow with the GOP is that if there is any chance that money could land in the hands of people who perform labor, they are against anything that could cause that to happen. You know, because that might reduce the incentive people might have to work.