Russia and China School Biden on Infrastructure

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Both the Russians and the Chinese expect Biden’s economic plans to flop.  The Russian papers have latched onto the steep price tag.  The Chinese wonder why Biden seeks to undermine American economic development.

Rossiya Segodnya’s Praim economic news site notes the $2.3 trillion price tag just for Biden’s infrastructure bill, and that together with his American Families Plan, Biden’s economic plans will actually cost closer to $4 trillion over the next decade.  As an observant Russian blogger on Livejournal notes, moreover, only 7% of the bill is actually related to infrastructure.  He figures, “As it turns out, much of President Joe Biden’s infrastructure plan has nothing to do with infrastructure, but rather the encouragement of dependency, by distributing all kinds of benefits instead of work for decent wages.”

The Chinese state-controlled South China Morning Post maintains that China’s own infrastructure projects offer lessons for Biden’s new spending plan.  China has relied upon spending on infrastructure for the past two decades as the PRC’s go-to method to combat economic slowdowns, while supporting long-term development, notably the Guizhou-Guangzhou high-speed railway network, set to double in length by 2035. 

As Joe Biden tweeted on March 31, “The American Jobs Plan is a once-in-a-generation investment in America.”  In his presidential address to Congress on Wednesday, Biden affirmed that “[w]hen I think climate change, I think jobs.”  Chinese analysts advise Biden that the U.S. president’s plans should prioritize infrastructure projects that support overall economic development.  The creation of new jobs would then happen naturally, generating solid economic returns.  To these analysts, Biden is too focused upon artificial job creation, with no clear economic goal in mind, to their eyes basically a waste of money.  What’s worse, the Washington Examiner figures each of these ‘infrastructure’ jobs would cost the nation $809,000.

SWS Research of Singapore, China’s largest securities and consulting company, published an analysis last week regarding the actual, pressing infrastructure needs of the United States.  According to SWS Research, what America most needs are new and improved transport networks, including land, air, and water, as well as public transportation capable of connecting the labor force and resources located in rural areas with industrialized cities.

Russian journal Krasnaya Vesna [Red Star] estimates that the modernization of American land transport, in general, would require $120 billion per year, yet Biden’s plan only calls for $78 billion annually.  Indeed, it was in the pages of Russia’s Izvestiya newspaper that the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) warned, on April 2, that Biden’s infrastructure plan would actually cost closer to $2.6 trillion or more.  Forbes advises that what America needs is smarter infrastructure spending — not more.  While our existing national infrastructure languishes, states continue to lobby for huge amounts to be spent on “pork-barrel” projects that do little besides please powerful legislators, such as the series of bridges to the tiny, underpopulated Alaskan islands of Gravina and Pennock that almost made it into the 2006 National Appropriations Bill.  Similarly, two “pork-barrel” projects were removed from Biden’s Covid-19 Relief Bill in order to garner Republican support, including $1.425 billion to help fund an extension of Nancy Pelosi’s pet project, a Bay Area Rapid Transit line from San Jose to Santa Clara, and Chuck Schumer’s Seaway International Bridge in upstate New York.

Meanwhile, as the ASCE has been saying for years, our country’s public-sector infrastructure is badly in need of repair and improvement.  According to Biden his infrastructure plan provides for the modernization of 20,000 miles of roadways.  Yet according to Statista, there are over 4.2 million miles of highway in the U.S., so that Biden intends to modernize less than 1% of the road net.  Biden’s tweet also mentions the repair of 10,000 bridges.  Yet according to the ASCE,  there are 614,837 bridges in the United States — more than 200,000 of them, over fifty years old.  Biden’s 10,000 bridges represent less than 2% of all bridges and 5% of the aging bridges.  According to the ASCE, the price tag for fixing just these 200,000 elderly bridges would come to $123 billion.  In his tweet, Biden also says that his bill will replace America’s remaining lead pipes and service lines.  More than 6.1 million lead service lines are still in use in the U.S., and some 9.2 million American homes are connected to the water mains with lead pipe.  According to the American Water Works Association, replacing the remaining lead service lines would cost $30 billion.

The $494 billion allocated for surface transportation programs, said to be the “core” of Biden’s Infrastructure bill, actually is less than a third of the $1.5 trillion price tag.  Also, the bulk of the programs included will do little to actually improve our existing infrastructure.  Included is $25 billion to electrify school buses to replace perfectly good, existing buses.  The $15 billion to install 500,000 electric-vehicle charging stations (EVs) included in the bill is, ridiculously, four times the number of gas stations presently operating in the United States and one for every fourteen of the 6.8 million electric cars, including hybrids, presently on the road.  Conversely there are only 115,000 gas stations to service the roughly 279 million gas-powered vehicles still in use, one for every 2,426 gas-engine vehicles. 

More EVs would hardly improve the efficiency of our transportation, either, since a fill-up at a gas station takes maybe ten minutes, versus as many as eight hours to recharge an electric car at a typical EV.  For this reason electric car owners tend to recharge their vehicles at home, so that many, if not most of the envisioned 500,000 EVs are likely to be installed by property developers for individual homeowners.  In fact, the International Code Council recently voted to approve new housing standards under which all new homes built in the United States will be “EV-ready.”  The 64,000 ICC-member builders across the United States can be depended upon to add EVs to their new homes for this reason — with no need for a $15 billion infusion of cash from the government.

President Biden has turned his back upon the existing, traditional power infrastructure, preferring dubious spending upon the very technology — wind turbines — that contributed heavily to Texas’s catastrophic power outages this past winter.  As for solar power, which Biden also promotes, China dominates the global supply chain, with both the raw materials and the finished components produced by Uighur slave labor in the Xinjiang region.  The ASCE estimates an “investment gap” of about $177 billion needed for necessary upgrades to the country’s electrical power net.  Surely the $174 billion that Biden intends to spend on electric cars over the next decade should be matched by an investment in all the electricity they will require.

As to our inland waterways, still used for transporting goods, the aging dams and locks are so in need of repair and replacement that half of the commercial vessels plying these waters experience costly delays.  According to the ASCE, in 2016 some 15,500 American dams were identified as “high-hazard,” including California’s Oroville Dam.  The country’s highest dam, Oroville Dam forced nearly 200,000 people from their homes in a flooding emergency when the spillway developed a 200-foot-long, 30-foot-deep hole in February 2017.  These inland waterways also need adequate levees to protect the surrounding communities from floodwaters.  ASCE estimates the “investment gap” for levees alone to be $80 billion.  According to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, it would cost $125 billion or more to revamp the entire inland waterway system.

ASCE also pointed to the $11.9 billion in deferred maintenance needed to maintain the roads, boat ramps, campsites, trails, parking lots, and other facilities needed to ensure our national forests, grasslands, and wildlife refuges remain accessible to the public, as revealed by the National Park Service’s 2015 Centennial projects.

Lynn Corum is a translator who studies developments in the Russian press that affect America’s national interests.  She has been researching and writing on Putin’s stated plans since 2009, and is a world expert on Project Russia, the Kremlin’s published state ideology.

Image: Gage Skidmore via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0.

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