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President Obama frequently cites his idea of a National Infrastructure Bank as something that Congress could authorise quickly that would create jobs in the United States quickly. He said so again yesterday at a press conference on the budget negotiations.”We’ve got the potential to create an infrastructure bank that could put construction workers to work right now,” he said, “rebuilding our roads and our bridges and our vital infrastructure all across the country. So those are still areas where I think we can make enormous progress.”
Is that true? Would a National Infrastructure Bank do what the president says it would do?
Clyde Prestowitz argues that it would not work in the way that the president imagines:
The idea of stimulus incorporated in the standard economic models is that it will create demand for goods and services produced in America and thereby drive investment in new factories and jobs to produce more of those goods and services. The difficulty is that we do not want to stimulate a lot more construction or finance (those were the bubbles that collapsed after all), and greater stimulus to create demand for things we largely import does not drive new investment or creation of new jobs in America. It only increases our debt. What is needed is not just demand in the American economy, but demand that results in domestic production and that does not increase domestic or international debt.
Think about this in the wake of the recent New York Times article reporting on the new Oakland Bay Bridge being made in and imported from China. Building infrastructure like bridges is a time-honored way of creating demand in the economy that creates jobs. Indeed, just this past weekend President Obama called for creation of an Infrastructure Bank that would enable a dramatic ratcheting up of U.S. investment in critical infrastructure. It’s a good idea and one that I, along with others, have long promoted. But if the decision of the state of California to have the main structural elements of the Oakland Bay Bridge made in China is a harbinger of things to come, then an Infrastructure Bank is likely to create more jobs in Asia than in the United States.
No doubt former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and his cabinet thought they would save about $400 million on steel by buying the bridge in China because Chinese steel production has been heavily subsidized and China’s government manages its yuan to be artificially undervalued versus the dollar. But what they didn’t consider was that those subsidies tend to make U.S.-based production uncompetitive and not only put American workers out of jobs but exert downward pressure on wages generally while eroding critical investments in equipment and human skills, reducing state, municipal, and federal tax revenues, and contributing to the shrinkage of the national educational base. No one in California took a look at even the whole state picture, let alone the national picture, to determine whether buying a bridge in China was really going to be a net gain for the state (as it turns out, in the past two years the price of Chinese steel has risen much faster than that of U.S. steel so that even the initially projected savings are unlikely to be realised). Even worse, no one at the federal level of the U.S. government has any responsibility for evaluating the net impact of these kinds of deals or for reducing the leakage of stimulus spending abroad and maximizing the domestic production impact of government spending.
You can read the whole post here.
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