Infrastructure Spending: So Last Century

It looks like the Canadian government – whoever that’s going to be – is going to open the vaults in the coming year for massive infrastructure spending.Like many governments around the world, it’s their knee-jerk reaction to economic problems. It worked in the US under Roosevelt in the Depression, so the thinking goes that it will probably work again.

Of course I like the idea of someone injecting $30 billion or so into the economy, even though I know I’m going to pay through the nose for it in future. But I really wonder if they have thought out what they’re doing.

The problem with infrastructure spending is that it’s trendy: Cities and provinces line up at the trough for cash to fund cool new entertainment centres, sports arenas, or showy roads and bridges. That way they can prove to their restless populations that they are practical leaders who really feel the people’s pain.

But that’s bread and circuses thinking. Rarely do they strategically invest in infrastructure that is aimed at the future. (one could argue, I suppose, that rarely do they do anything strategically. It’s almost always reactionary).

You’re not going to see some politician smiling away while cutting a ribbon at the opening of a low-cost high-speed Internet system that will bring our country into the 21st century by enabling thousands of small businesses to operate online and sell their knowledge to the world.

For one, there’s no edifice to have your picture taken in front of. Also, the job creation glory is pretty vague.

With a building project, you can claim its construction provided X number of jobs, covering over the fact that they’re low end and short term. But it’s pretty hard to point to something intangible like a communications backbone, or knowledge industry, and crow that you had “ordinary workers” best interests at heart.

So while one must applaud the powers for taking at least some kind of decisive action, one should also point out that it’s almost 100 years out of date.