Monday, February 27, 2017


What the heck is infrastructure anyway? Maybe all you know is that politicians want to spend a lot of money on it.†

Part of that is or may be need. But part of it is also the Keynesian story that government spending is expansionary only when the money is spent on stuff that the private sector won’t pay for (rather than just sending out checks to people).

The Washington Post has an excellent article about this entitled “Six Maps That Show the Anatomy of America’s Vast Infrastructure”. There’s too much to copy, so you must click through to the source.

Here are the big 6 components:

  • The electrical grid is all the high voltage lines that connect power plants to your utility.
  • Pipelines connect our oil and gas wells with our refineries. The success of anti-pipeline protesters is hugely problematic, because the opportunity cost of pipelines is not “no pipelines”, but rather “more tanker trucks” and “more tanker rail cars” that can explode in accidents (and the article does a disservice to readers by only noting a rarer, and typically smaller, pipeline accident).
  • Railroads, and particularly the second map of railroad traffic.
  • Airports and flightpaths (that are monitored by air traffic control).
  • Ports. The article does not make a comparison, but what’s probably new to a bunch of students from Utah is the importance of barge traffic in the Mississippi River valley. You can get data on port volume here, and you don’t have to go very far down the list to find big ports that are not on the ocean. Foe example, Cincinnati is busier than Norfolk (the home of most of the Navy’s Atlantic fleet).
  • Bridges are included in the article, but I think this is a charismatic megafauna effect: when bridges collapse it’s big news, but it just doesn’t happen that often. Imagine the “charismatic megainfrastructure effect” if the Golden Gate Bridge collapsed in an earthquake.

† A position usually associated with economist Steven Landsburgh is that in democracies, the parties are supposed to disagree, so we should beware of things that the parties actually agree about.

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