REBUILDING THE UNITED STATES INFRASTRUCTURE

Walter L. Bell, Ph.D.

We have heard many speeches on rebuilding our infrastructure, but so far very little money has been appropriated to start such projects. If we go back to the Great Depression of the 1930’s, we had President Franklin Delano Roosevelt who was very wealthy, but also had great compassion for those who were poor and out of work. He fought a long fight to convince the Republican Party to work with him to rebuild old infrastructure, and to build new projects which would provide for the long term prosperity of not only the wealthy, but to build a prosperous middle class which would have a public safety net for health and retirement. He did not succeed in all of his attempts, but he did establish social security and provided funds to build hydroelectric dams which provided for electricity and water for irrigation. He expanded his efforts to large and small metropolitan areas in order to provide money to rebuild their infrastructure and to provide jobs. These efforts were very important because unemployment was approximately 25% nationwide, and included mostly men, since the number of women working outside the home was small compared to the present time. Also, the percentage of people engaged in agriculture during the 1930’s was well over 30%, and has gradually declined to under 3% in 2012.

As a young man, he was crippled by polio and spent the rest of his life in a wheelchair, but he was always careful to be photographed standing up in a special set of braces that allowed him to walk a few steps to a podium. He would not allow himself to be photographed in a wheelchair because he did not want pity or to be described as weak because of his illness. He brought the country back to prosperity from 1934 to 1937 only to have a second deep depression which was worst than the first. He did not despair but continued to develop new agencies such as the WPA, PWA, and the CCC’s. He put millions of unemployed workers to doing jobs which would develop the infrastructure across the nation. Many of these projects included hydroelectric dams which still provide electricity and water for irrigation, and included the Tennessee Valley Authority(TVA) and the Bonneville Power Administration(BPA) which eventually spanned the length of the Columbia River, as well as the Hoover Dam on the Colorado River. All three of these great projects are still working today to bringing power and irrigation to large areas of this nation. He was fought at every turn by the Republicans, but he continued his work until his death just before the end of World War II, when his Vice President Harry S. Truman became President. He was elected as President four times and guided this nation through the great depression and through much of World War II. He also set up the CIA with the help of the British before World War II, so that he could use their services in espionage projects overseas, since the FBI operation is confined to the US. The automotive factories and other manufacturing facilities were converted to building all kinds of war machines from the Jeep, to trucks, to tanks, to landing crafts, to ships and to airplanes. Our industries provided the Allied nations including Russia and Great Britain with war machines and materiel to fight World War II. After the war, the Marshal Plan was put in place to rebuild the infrastructure over much of Europe and Asia. President Roosevelt used radio broadcasts throughout his Presidency to communicate with the nation. He had a great speaking voice, much like President Obama, and could convince people to support his policies in both peace and war. I grew up listening to his broadcasts, because my father always listened to the news on the radio when he came home from work. TV was first broadcast in New York in the late 1930’s, but did not expand around the nation until the 1950’s. Once the war was over, President Truman carried on President Roosevelt’s policies, and the equally progressive Republican President, President Dwight Eisenhower provided the funds to build the national highway interstate system so that we now have the United States connected by high speed freeways. The G.I.bill provided funds for the retraining of returning World War II veterans in colleges and trade schools. During the Korean War and the Vietnam War the G.I. bill was also provided for veterans. I used my G.I. bill to attend graduate school to earn a Ph.D. at Oregon State University. I was glad to see the G.I. Bill reinstated for the veterans of the Gulf War, the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars. These were the most cost effective programs ever instituted because they provided well educated individuals to work in building the infrastructure of the the U.S., and because they included both skilled workers and college graduates.

President Obama’s efforts to rebuild the infrastructure has been met with much the same opposition by the Republican Part that President Roosevelt experienced in the 1930’s, except the present Republican Party vow was to oppose his efforts in order make certain that President Obama was a one term President. In the meantime our infrastructure is between 60 and 80 years old. Our buildings such as schools are old and decrepit, our cities are showing signs of age and disrepair, our highways and bridges are unsafe and old, particularly in areas where salt is used to melt snow in the winter, our rail system needs to be updated to include high speed rail which is found in Europe, China and Japan. I would like to see high speed rail on the West Coast from the City of Tijuana , Mexico to Vancouver, B.C. Further, we need a high speed rail from Chicago to Seattle, and one from New Orleans to Los Angeles. I do not know enough about the needs of the East Coast to comment intelligently. I do know, that a high speed rail system would take the pressure off the airplane travel and offer an alternative to air travel which has become congested and increasingly expensive. Lastly I would like to see a Western White House built in one of the Western States possibly Nevada. We westerners get the impression that politics on the West Coast do not matter, but we do have a growing and influential population.