It is certainly true that, in modern times, the government has gotten itself involved in the infrastructure business. Very often, that has not been a positive development. At Reason, Matt Welch has a very interesting column about the building of the Golden Gate Bridge — which Obama likes to cite as a federal government success story that “benefitted everyone” and, so the story goes, made possible the success of the evil one-percenters.
The story is fiction. As Welch shows, the federal government did everything it could to prevent the Golden Gate from being built. The local people and businesses wanted it; but the Defense Department did not want it built and owned the land on either side of the channel, which it refused for a long time to sell. When it finally agreed to sell, it would not sell to the developers, only to a state commission. And the feds did not participate… other than to try to derail the project. That is, federal contractor unions held up the works, trying to extort their piece of the pie. Finally, because of the market’s collapse and the Great Depression, the bond financing ran into trouble, resulting in more delay until, finally, private capital — the personal wealth of A.P. Giannini — came to the rescue. The bridge was completed $1.7 million under budget, Welch recounts, “using non-union labor and private contractors.”
Welch ends with a fabulous point. In today’s dollars, the $35 million cost of the Golden Gate Bridge translates into $530 million. That’s “far less than one percent of Obama’s stimulus package. So,” he asks, “where the hell are our new Golden Gates? What exactly has been the return on all this added ‘investment’?”
Human beings are social beings who act in their individual self-interest — which, common sense tells us, is often but far from always personal gain. Obama thinks the individual American, particularly if he is an entrepreneur, compares unfavorably to the noble federal government — as if the government were some altruistic “we” just looking to help. When the feds “help,” however, they are often an overbearing presence that depresses individual initiative. Those who run government are in it to wield power, mainly redistributing benefits to their favored, connected cronies. Government stifles the individual more than it empowers him.
The president should not be able to get away with equating such a self-interested behemoth with “us” — the people who help each other and make their communities, and ultimately the country, work. And the thought that the behemoth has become benevolent under Obama, and that we somehow would not have infrastructure without it, is laughable.