“Thanks to the Davis-Bacon Act of 1931, which mandates that all infrastructure projects receiving federal funding pay “prevailing” (generally union) wages, organized labor has been getting a piece of the action for nearly a century. This requirement raises labor costs by as much as 22 percent, according to an analysis by Suffolk University’s Beacon Hill Institute.
The president’s insistence that he’ll sign off on a contract only if it’s with “an American company with American products all the way down the line and American workers” will raise costs even further. Existing “Buy American” provisions are a well-established driver of transportation project costs.
A 2019 report from the Congressional Research Service found that buying American steel costs around twice as much as importing it from China. Requiring road builders to use pricier domestic steel raised the cost of highway construction by about $2 billion from 2009 to 2011, back when then–Vice President Biden was overseeing the spending of stimulus dollars on infrastructure projects.
If the president’s goal were truly to “build, baby, build,” he would be making every effort to pare back regulations that raise the labor and material costs of federal infrastructure projects. Instead, Biden wants to double down on those rules.”
“What forces, then, did drive the cost escalation? One key finding, the authors say, is that if a given community is wealthier, the state will wind up spending more to build a given mile of interstate. This effect increased over time.
To some extent, correlations of this sort might manifest themselves even if affluent neighborhoods do not exert any particular clout. Amenities that attract well-off residents, such as water views, may be the same ones highway builders take pains to avoid spoiling; municipalities may have reason to press for features such as noise barriers in places where property tax collections are high and officials have an incentive to keep property values from falling, and so forth.
Another possibility, however, is that wealthier persons are simply “more effective at voicing their interests in the political process.” The highway route gets diverted in a way that protects their amenity, but spoils some equally valued amenity in a less affluent neighborhood. The unwelcome extension is completed far behind schedule, with concomitant expense, because opponents have been skillful at working the system by stretching out hearings and reviews and then suing.”
“Brooks and Liscow pinpoint the early 1970s as the inflection point for increased spending on highway projects. What was happening around that time? The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which requires environmental impact review for federally funded projects, was passed in 1970. California passed its considerably more stringent CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) the same year, and it was signed by none other than Gov. Ronald Reagan. In 1972 and 1973, Congress added additional federal laws that provided key leverage in fighting construction projects on the basis of loss of species habitat and wetlands. The U.S. Supreme Court helped out with the 1971 case of Citizens To Preserve Overton Park v. Volpe, which multiplied the chances to go to court over development by curtailing judges’ deference to agency decision making. All of these laws and decisions have made it much easier for citizens to contest infrastructure projects, driving up their cost and delaying their implementation and completion.
Among Brooks and Liscow’s most interesting findings is this: The relationship between local resident income and project expense took off just as these changes in law were coming online. Before 1970, the two were related modestly enough that the correlation failed to score as statistically significant. It then proceeded to quintuple.”
“the new “citizen voice” laws brought some authentic benefits; objectors could bring genuinely useful information to the highway planners about ways to avoid environmental harm.”
“A prominent takeaway is the massive amount of land it would take to reimagine energy production and distribution nationally, including figuring out where to site a multitude of new solar arrays and wind turbines and constructing thousands of miles of transmission lines. “The current power grid took 150 years to build,” one of the study researchers said. “Now, to get to net-zero emissions by 2050, we have to build that amount of transmission again in the next 15 years and then build that much more again in the 15 years after that. It’s a huge amount of change.””
“The pursuit of a vaccine across federal health agencies has also forced tradeoffs. The Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, for example, has halted a push for lung treatments to fight the coronavirus, potentially putting a treatment option on the back burner.
The danger of going all in on a vaccine may be that President Donald Trump is pinning hopes on a miracle shot while there’s considerable reason to believe that the outbreak could stretch on for years.
“There’s no guarantee that a vaccine is going to work,” said Luciana Borio, who served as the FDA’s acting top scientist and worked on White House pandemic preparedness efforts earlier in the Trump administration. “And even if it does, there’s no guarantee that it’ll be the right product for most people, or that people will want to take it, or that the virus won’t mutate.”
Vaccines are notoriously difficult to make; the vaccine for mumps, the fastest ever developed, took four years. Many take far longer, and more still fail in animal or human testing and never reach the market. Public health experts say the U.S. government is making a risky bet by focusing so much of its pandemic response on the hope that a shot will end the coronavirus’ devastating march.”
“The USPS is legally required to deliver all mail, to all postal addresses in all regions, at a flat rate, no matter how far it may have to travel. The service’s accessibility and affordability are especially important to rural communities that live in poverty and to people with disabilities, who can’t afford the cost of a private business to deliver their daily necessities. (In 2017, the rural poverty rate was 16.4 percent, compared with 12.9 percent for urban areas.)
And while some may argue that the USPS is becoming more obsolete as an increasing number of services are becoming digitalized, there’s still a large chunk of people who rely on mail because they have poor (or no) internet service. (The Federal Communications Commission estimates that 14.5 million people in rural areas lack access to broadband.) In fact, 18 percent of Americans still pay their bills by mail, according to an ACI Worldwide report; meanwhile, 20 percent of adults over 40 who take medication for a chronic condition get those pills by mail order, according to a survey by the National Community Pharmacists Association.
Then there are the several small towns around the country that vote only by mail because they’re not populated enough to open up polls. In Minnesota, for example, 130,000 receive a mailed ballot every election because they live in a town with fewer than 400 people.
“USPS isn’t just a public service,” Baker said. “It’s a lifeline.””
“The USPS was never really meant to operate as a business but as a public service, which is why it’s been able to keep its prices lower than private companies. Businesses like FedEx and UPS don’t build offices in remote rural areas, like deep in Wyoming or in the mountains of Colorado, because it’s simply not profitable. They often rely on the Post Office for last-mile delivery; the agency delivers mail for them from major transportation hubs to the final delivery destination, often in secluded areas.
This ultimately means that without the USPS, FedEx and UPS won’t have the resources to deliver to remote rural areas, nor will they likely make investments to do so since they’ll lose money in the process. Instead, people will have to bear the burden of traveling to the companies’ offices in larger towns to meet their mailing needs.”
“The USPS also serves a crucial role in ensuring that everyone has a right to vote by delivering mail-in ballots to the most remote areas of America. Several states allow those in small towns to vote by mail so that they don’t have to travel miles to their polling area in larger cities. It’s played a particularly important role in rural areas where the population is growing older — rural communities have the largest share of people above the age of 65 — and is less mobile than younger generations.”
“Because paid leave is costly, when firms provide this benefit, they change the composition of their employees’ total compensation by reducing the value of workers’ take-home pay to offset the cost of providing paid leave. While some workers prefer this mix in their pay packages, others don’t. In particular, mandated leave would be a hard trade-off for many lower-paid women who would prefer as much of their income as possible in the form of take-home pay.
In fact, polls show that when women learn of the trade-offs inherent in any government-mandated paid-leave policy, their support for such a policy collapses.”
“A well-cited NBER paper looks at Denmark’s very generous paid leave policy and finds that before having children, women’s hours, employment, and wages are equal to those of men, but that these metrics all worsen relative to men after having children. Another recent NBER paper expands on this research and shows that while this divergence also exists in the United States, it’s significantly smaller here.”
“Medicare-for-all could potentially save money, if provider payment rates are kept low and there isn’t an explosion in medical demand. It should save lives, based on what we know about what happens with mortality rates once people get insurance.
But it would be wise not to take the numbers too literally. There is a lot of guesswork in projecting what Medicare-for-all would cost and the effect it would have”
“As part of an overall plan to divert $3.8 billion from the Pentagon to pay for the construction of a wall on the border with Mexico, President Donald Trump is planning to drain about $1.6 billion from the slush fund that pays for much of America’s post-9/11 wars in the Middle East.
Foreign Policy’s Lara Seligman reports that the White House sent a memo to Congress on Thursday outlining plans to redirect military spending for the border wall. The administration plans to move $2.2 billion originally earmarked for purchasing vehicles, ships, and aircraft into an anti-drug trafficking program that has already been tapped to provide for wall construction costs. The other $1.6 billion in border wall funding will come from the budget used to pay for America’s foreign wars”
“Economists Aaron Flaaen and Justin Pierce, who describe their study as “as the first comprehensive estimates of the effect of recent tariffs on the US manufacturing sector,” argue that the data shows that any benefits from protection from foreign competition have been more than canceled out by retaliatory tariffs from trading partners and an increase in the cost of components sourced from abroad.
As a result, US manufacturing has seen job losses and higher prices for consumers.”