Minneapolis, MN, August 5, 2007 -- Cars and ro...

Minneapolis, MN, August 5, 2007 -- Cars and roadway litter the river where the I-35 bridge collapsed in Minneapolis. FEMA/Todd Swain (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Despite the loads of debt talk in American politics recently there’s an interesting thing that’s been going on that a lot of people haven’t noticed: the yield on the 10 year Treasury Note (the main way the government borrows money) has been consistently low.  In fact, it’s been trending downward for months now, despite the debt fiasco from last year.  What does this mean in layman’s terms?  Other people can’t get enough of American debt.  Despite all our problems, people still see US debt as one of the safest things on the planet to invest in, and they’re willing to accept almost no return at all on it.  In fact since inflation is around 2.5% and the yield fluctuates between 2 and 3% investors could actually be losing a bit of money to hold American debt.

There’s another interesting trend that’s been going on longer and only occasionally gets press time when something REALLY bad happens.  That trend is failing infrastructure.  Remember back in 2007 there was quite the tragedy when the I-35 West bridge in Minneapolis, MN collapsed during rush hour.  Thirteen people were killed, a schoolbus of kids almost fell.  Millions were spent in the repair and close to a quarter of a billion dollars was spent on a replacement bridge.  A dozen people were directly put out of work because of the collapse, and possibly hundreds more had reduced hours or were laid off later from the aftermath.  The state of US infrastructure is just now starting to get so much press because so much of it is near the breaking point.  A simple search on “failing infrastructure” on Google News gives 1000 results.  Nearly 70,000 bridges in the US are considered “structurally deficient” at this time, meaning engineers have decided the need major repairs or all-out replacement.  That’s more bridges than there are McDonald’s restaurants.  It’s not just safety, either; Detroit, Orlando, San Diego, Dallas-Ft. Worth, Atlanta, and the big daddy, LA are all meccas of one thing:  Horrible Traffic.  Hundreds of man hours each year can be wasted by just a single person sitting in traffic.  Multiply that times the entire commuting work force.  Don’t care about traffic?  There’s sure to be an infrastructure problem to suit your interest.  The Power Grid needs major overhaul, and just about everything needs electrical power these days.  Cyber Security is also a huge deal these days, a very well-funded and clever organization could probably cause billions in damage and/or losses in just a few hours.

I’m sure some of you are wondering what the Treasury Note and infrastructure have to do with each other, right?  A lot of you see two problems, I see a solution.  If people can’t get enough of debt, let’s give ‘em some of ours and use that money to fix what is more vital to our way of life than troops in Afghanistan or the next generation stealth fighter or whatever it is the military spends its trillions on.  As it stands right now America is an obese teenager with Birkenstocks held together with duct tape concerned about buying the latest Glock 9mm handgun.  Not unlike FDRs New Deal, infrastructure problems like these will put people back to work, which will get people spending, which will increase tax revenues, which will give the government more leeway on paying back debt.

I’m sure some of you are thinking it’s stupid to spend at this point in time, but let me put it to you this way:  What’s more fiscally responsible, spending X dollars now to replace something before it breaks, or spending X dollars plus Y lives in the future when that thing breaks, plus have the breakage cost millions more in lost business.  We’re going to pay for it either way, why not pay less before it breaks and ensure safety than wait for it to break and pay many times more?

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Zarberg is a member of The Political Observers, a sub-group of our writers who are devoted to topics that are political in nature. Zarberg provides a liberal viewpoint in his articles.

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