I worry that America’s status as a global economic powerhouse — a place where Americans can find a clear path into the middle class — is getting shaky on our watch. That was my message to the leaders, delegates and activists at the convention of the International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA), a TTD affiliate.
Not long ago, our country led the world in global commerce, manufacturing and operating and building grand and modern transportation systems and infrastructure. That strength was fueled by an understanding from political leaders on both sides of the aisle that when the time came to pump billions into our infrastructure, it would be done. As I told my ILA brothers and sisters, those days, sadly, are in our rear-view mirror.
You see, every credible analysis by academics, economists across a wide swath of the political spectrum, civil engineers and corporate, labor and other advocacy organizations reaches the same conclusion: by failing to end the stalemate over funding a massive infusion of new investments in our transportation systems, we have put our country on a slippery economic slope. Across America, transit and commuter rail systems, Amtrak systems, airports, air traffic control systems, highways and bridges, ports, maritime networks and our U.S. Merchant Marine face severe neglect and are in desperate need of repair and modernization. Without proper investments into these systems, businesses struggle to transport products, workers have a difficult time getting to their jobs and Americans who can’t find work are stuck in an endless cycle of underemployment and unemployment.
In past eras, policy makers understood the difference between investing and spending. They knew that policies and investments that pumped life into the economy would ultimately fuel middle-class job creation and benefit the country as a whole. But today’s politics in Washington has rendered these eras from the past a distant memory.
Why? Because the reckless anti-government venom that has seeped into our politics and virtually hijacked the Congress has changed the landscape of our country. It’s having disastrous consequences on our public investment programs and on our economy. The greatest period of economic growth and job creation our nation has ever seen was powered by smart, strategic federal investments, which are now being held hostage by extremists whose dangerous austerity agenda is tantamount to economic surrender. I use the term surrender for good reason: when your freight and passenger transportation systems and infrastructure fall apart, you are automatically surrendering in a fiercely competitive global economy.
I told my ILA friends that Americans are electing people to office who are failing to connect the dots. Their rhetoric about boosting the economy through massive export growth is meaningless unless we have a fully funded, modernized freight infrastructure system, including expanded ports that can move the goods and products we manufacture and help fuel a rebound in middle-class job creation. The only way we’re going to get there is by pivoting away from the reckless ideas that extremists have used to exert too much power over our politics and thus our economy.
Here’s the bottom-line: no country on earth has ever had a strong economy without first having the infrastructure to support and sustain commerce. That’s why China has been cleaning our clock as it spends about 9 percent of its GDP on infrastructure, while America toils at an anemic rate of 2 percent. America’s golden age of modern transportation infrastructure and thriving manufacturing didn’t happen by coincidence. It happened because elected officials backed commonsense policies and investments that fueled economic growth. Those policies were the great enabler of America’s surge as a world economic power, and massively expanded the middle class. It is time to get back to those days because the price tag to modernize our transportation infrastructure keeps going up every year that the people we elect support economic surrender over long-term investment and growth.