Posted by | June 4, 2012 10:49 | Filed under: Top Stories

by Stuart Shapiro

Taking as a starting point a water main break in DC, Ryan Cooper talks about our penny wise pound foolish approach to infrastructure (h/t Yglesias):

Apparently the main was 65 years old, which is actually younger than the DC average of 77 years old. (In case you’re bad at math, that means the average pipe was put in 1935.) Some DC pipes are even older, dating back to the 19th century. As you might expect, this isn’t the only time a pipe has burst–just by accident I found the story of another broken main in DC from earlier this month. Apparently, there are an average of 450 breaks a year. It’s a nationwide problem, of course, due mostly to neglect, which is only getting worse, because no one wants to pony up the money.

This kind of thing is a particularly striking example of how foolish budgeting can lead to greatly increased spending in the long term (or, just general economic rot). We could have paid the money it would have cost to replace, maintain, or upgrade these systems, but instead we’re scrambling from disaster to disaster, each causing expensive damage, which disrupt the local economy as emergency repairs are made, and only make the necessary maintenance even more urgent. The money must be spent, it’s only a question of when and how.

Debates over whether we can afford to fix roads, educate children, or invest in technology shouldn’t be about whether we can afford to do so.  They should be about whether we can afford not to.

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Copyright 2012 Liberaland
By: Stuart Shapiro

Stuart is a professor and the Director of the Public Policy
program at the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers
University. He teaches economics and cost-benefit analysis and studies
regulation in the United States at both the federal and state levels.
Prior to coming to Rutgers, Stuart worked for five years at the Office
of Management and Budget in Washington under Presidents Clinton and
George W. Bush.