In 1784, George Washington was certain that a highway would permanently unite the nation he had just risked it all for. American pioneers in the western regions were trapped between two world powers as he put it: “the Spaniards on their right - Great Britain on their left.”
Washington decided the nation needed to, “Open a wide door and make a smooth way for the produce of that Country to pass to our Markets before the trade may get into another channel.”
So determined was the general that in 1784, just a few years after the Revolutionary War, he set out on horseback from his Mount Vernon home at his normal pace of five miles per hour. Surveying the land and its people for the best route for the National Road, the nation’s first interstate highway, he journeyed into the Ohio country covering 680 miles in five weeks.
The rest is history: infrastructure, in the form of the National Road, made America stronger, safer and richer.
Paraphrasing George, today we find ourselves with the Chinese to our right and the Europeans to our left. As a result, we need to open a wide door and make a smooth way for produce to pass to our markets before the trade gets into another channel. The problem, the “wide door” we need to swing open is rusted shut. Airspace is congested, the grid is overloaded, highways are rutted, bridges are dangerously weak, over capacitated sewers overflow into rivers, lakes and harbors, seven billion gallons of freshwater leak from waterlines daily, levees are decrepit, dams are hazardous, and our public schools are unkempt.
Thomas Sargent and Christopher Sims, Harvard classmates, were just awarded the 2011 Noble prize for Economic Sciences. Selected for their real-world science of modeling, the laureates are extolled for explaining the impact the global markets have on domestic economies. Obvious is the existence of a world market. But, they’ve provided evidence of the direct impact the US has on the global market – and vice versa. They warn us that more-and-more, what happens there directly impacts us here. As the EU and China build better infrastructure, we lose our standing in the world order.