I hope it's true that history repeats itself, because our global competitiveness depends on it.
As a member of the baby boomer generation, also referred to as the “me” generation, I believe we've squandered the inheritance left to us by what Tom Brokaw has rightly labeled the “Greatest Generation.”
These men and women realized that great nations are built on vital services like clean water, electricity, communications, and transportation. In the 1950s and '60s, spending on infrastructure increased dramatically. We invested heavily in roads and bridges and public utilities, which formed the foundation of our economic infrastructure.
We also built the interstate highway system, which changed the American way of life more than any other development in the 20th century. Interstates made us a mobile society, vastly improving the way we move goods and people, providing a network for national defense, and opening up markets and trade opportunities.
As the highway system grew, so did our economy. The stock market grew. The number of jobs increased. Personal incomes went up. We built an economy that dwarfed the rest of the world, yet we refuse to acknowledge the correlation between investment in infrastructure and economic prosperity.
By the 1980s, spending on infrastructure amounted to an all-time high of 5% of federal spending. However, over the last two decades infrastructure investment has steadily decreased. The infrastructure that had once set the United States apart from other countries is suffering because we've failed to reinvest in our inheritance. We've allowed it to crumble.
Our neglect places not only baby boomers at peril, but future generations as well.
The United States is experiencing its greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression. The stock market is volatile and unemployment rates are going up. The United States ranks 10th in per-capita gross domestic product (GDP), behind countries like Luxembourg, Norway, and Ireland. We rank behind Germany and China in export dollars.
While the global economy is expected to grow by 3.9% this year, ours will grow only 1.6%, according to the International Monetary Fund. China's will grow 9.7%, India's will churn forward at 7.9%, and Russia's growth will be at 7%.
What these countries have in common is record investment in infrastructure. Morgan Stanley predicts emerging economies will spend $22 trillion on infrastructure over the next 10 years. China is expected to account for 43% of those expenditures, spending an estimated $9.3 trillion. The Chinese government is spending about 12% of its GDP on infrastructure.