It is no surprise to any reader that the current state of America’s infrastructure is one marked with decay and distress. Pre-COVID, the majority of the time that you saw a person it was through glass, steel, and concrete as you navigated a soul draining commute along broken roads and past derelict buildings. As we strive to recover from the lockdowns that marked the majority of 2020, we are all in desperate need of some kind of neighborly solidarity, to reconnect in ways that we have neglected taken for granted in previous years. A good infrastructure bill, focused on rejuvenating society, might actually help us do that by helping the poor and working class to rebuild their lives and reclaim their communities from decades of hollowing out that have drained Main Street in service of Wall Street.
The plan that Biden just proposed will not do that.
Instead, the administration’s proposed $2 trillion plan – dubbed the American Jobs Plan (AJP) – is the legislative equivalent of increasing the gauge of the needle and the size of the blood transfusion bag attached to a patient bleeding out in an operating room. In that sense, it is a stellar example of the skewed political priorities, state capacity and national vision that has defined the United States for at least the past 50 years.
To point out the obvious: There should be no expectation of staunching the aforementioned bleeding, because the doctors in the operating theater and the hospital administrators get paid by the amount of time and supplies used to keep this patient alive, much to the joy of the countless lobbyists who make fortunes as the farce unfolds. This particular malpractice is bipartisan, and is only further deepened by the allowance of outside entities to bid on and own the tools, the blood, the bed and even the very organs of this dying patient. To raise concerns over this barbaric state of affairs is to invite a slew of denunciations – that you want the patient to die, that you are an unsophisticated rube, and any kind of slander that comes into immediate utility for those who stand to benefit the most from crucifying the American worker on a Cross of Gold.
The $2 trillion bill is divided into four general categories as presented by USA Today:
- $621 billion for infrastructure.
- $650 billion for quality of life at home.
- $400 billion for caregivers.
- $480 billion for research and manufacturing.
Each of these categories comes with a wide variety of subcategories whose specific metrics do more to highlight the pet projects and internal power rankings within the committees drafting the plan than on the actual impact on society at large.
For example: $174 billion towards converting federal vehicles to electric vehicles (EV), establishing 500,000 EV power stations, and creating tax rebates and credits for EVs. EVs are a decidedly mixed bag when it comes to environmental impacts. While they indeed have fewer direct emissions of pollutants (depending on power source) compared to conventional gas vehicles, they do have significant upstream emissions during construction. Thus, although they do tend to emit fewer emissions over their lifecycle, that doesn’t mean that they emit zero emissions.
The requirements of rare earth elements for battery construction which have immense impacts including an impetus to control rare earth mines in foreign countries, and finally the decidedly upper-class ownership of EVs does mean that the majority of this spending will go to immediately subsidize the lifestyles of those who least need a helping hand. This isn’t to say that spending on improving the footprint of EVs doesn’t help to reign in emissions or that subsidizing them will only help the rich; it does suggest that there are better ways to go about achieving the goals of helping the poor and reducing pollution.
Currently, America has a decided surplus of infrastructure in poor repair. With huge ongoing maintenance costs, instead of shoring up this never-ending burden that primarily benefits centralized production and wide transportation networks, the AJP should work towards decentralizing production and localizing transportation requirements to meet consumption.
Of the earmarked $621 billion, 50% should go to strengthening and repairing the U.S.’s freight rail transportation network, canals and internal maritime transportation; 30% should go to demolishing or downgrading unused or underutilized paved roads to dirt or gravel ones; and 20% should go to repairing critical bridges, tunnels and highways. This would send a clear message that America will prioritize the most efficient and environmentally friendly forms of long-distance transportation (rail and water) over the least (truck and airplane).
We should not expand highways endlessly in the vain hope that it will reduce traffic and emissions. Instead, we should properly reduce maintenance burdens on local municipalities so that they can concentrate their efforts on the most critical points that they need in order to thrive. A smart infrastructure plan will realize that reducing or breaking the average citizen’s dependance on cars is the way to go rather than further cement the supremacy of steel and rubber over our lives. Solidarity is not to be found in the products of industrial society but in communion with our fellow man; how can you have community with someone who is separated by sheets of steel and glass? How much more community can you have when walking side by side with your neighbors to shop, eat, drink, and worship together?
“A real ‘American Jobs Plan’ could be a catalyst to break our societal dependence on cars, globalist oligarchy and the atomization of society. Biden’s plan will not.”
Similarly, the $650 billion allocated for quality-of-life improvements is a veritable grab bag of ideas, destined to disappoint as they fail to actually address the structural damage inflicted by our atomized society. It would be wiser to devote 60% to provide financial seed money in the form of grants or non-usurious loans to develop cooperative homesteads, where poor and working-class families – whose current precarious existence is at risk to a single accident or illness – can instead have ownership in a communal enterprise and have far more control over the basics of their lives.
These cooperatives can be structured in a way as to emphasize regenerative agriculture and environmental rejuvenation to help rehabilitate land that has been harmed through the years by poor practices as a new chapter of the Civilian Conservation Corps. These cooperatives will help allow the poor and marginalized to achieve ownership over land and resources while being compensated fairly for the work to help clean up our environment.
The remaining 40% should go to help create community land trusts and finance the construction of truly affordable homes which are built and owned by their tenants rather than help developers and landlords. Zoning laws should be abrogated within these land trusts to allow for the revival of traditional architecture with the goal of creating long term and low impact buildings using local materials. Each land trust should be endowed with funds and the vision to create local self-sufficiency and allow for gradual and long-term prosperity.
Now, the $400 billion for helping caregivers truly is necessary. This money should go to help people create multi-generational housing and communities, where our senior citizens can maintain their connections with their families and neighbors rather than shutting them away in walled off nursing homes. Families that support elderly dependents should receive direct payments to help them with costs, and our elders should be able to receive social security benefits while getting paid to help teach and care for children. The wisdom and knowledge of older generations is an absolute necessity to pass onto younger generations and should be supported.
The remaining $480 billion for research and manufacturing is largely focused on making improvements in America’s ability to manufacture key items and on clean energy development to fight climate change and environmental pollution – all well and good.
Still, it matters deeply how that money is allocated. 50% should go to developing cooperative or cottage industry decentralized throughout the country to emphasize worker ownership and help break our dependance on fragile, long-distance supply chains. The disruption of so many goods and commodities that were taken for granted prior to COVID should make this point very clear.
The remaining 50% should go to financing the construction of modular nuclear reactors, which are small, clean and safe. This would help us to eliminate the need for the dirtiest fossil fuels from our energy mix and establish greater local control over the energy grid rather than rely on a few regional hubs, which are vulnerable to disruption.
In short, a better version of the AJP would be a catalyst to break our societal dependence on cars, globalist oligarchy and the atomization of society. It would be a way to enable large amounts of the poor and working class to free themselves from a life of precariousness under the thumb of faraway owners by helping to provide them the means to own the land, tools, workshops and farms that they need to support their families and communities. Environmental rejuvenation and the regeneration of our common land would be prioritized over the mindless laying of concrete and steel. Thus, local ownership becomes the means of life rather than the further indebtedness of localities to those who have no stake in their success.
Eric Anton is a husband and father of three, and an Army Veteran. He is a former member of the National Committee of the American Solidarity Party.