Saturday, December 26, 2009

We Have New Shovels

Building and repairing bridges and roads once created powerful images of strong people, mostly men, at work. But the days of putting men against concrete and steel to revitalize the economy are past. Gone forever. The highway system links every part of the nation and bridges cross every river and gorge, which means all the important work was done long ago. It's time to tackle new projects focused on less visible pathways.

Put Down That Shovel!

Forget old-fashioned infrastructure. Here are six government projects to foster a lasting economic recovery.

More infrastructure? Recycling Great Depression-era projects is lame. My advice? Put down that shovel! It's time to try something else.

We're in a knowledge economy now; we use high-tech tools to efficiently and effectively design, make, market and sell. Building roads and bridges willy-nilly won't make us more productive; and without increases in productivity and the associated corporate profits, there can be no sustainable job creation, no increase in standards of living, and no real economic recovery.

Given that real tax cuts are off the table and a new stimulus (even if it isn't called that) is inevitable, the best we can hope for is to use the power of the government to clear a path that private enterprise can't, via one-off projects that end and disband. Stop thinking concrete and massive construction projects. Think small—photons, electrons and proteins. Here are six ideas:

• Climb poles for wireless. Every street light in the country can be fitted with a wireless access point. Lots of companies, including Google, have tried to roll this out. But dealing with thousands of state and local governments to get access to poles and power is a nightmare. A stroke of the pen can create the Local Wireless Corps, with unfettered access to street lamps, telephone poles and utility sheds to create a massive wireless network to deliver Internet access—10 megabit, even 50 megabit speeds—to both homes and next generation mobile phones. AT&T and Verizon will complain about the competition, but so what—they're hardly hiring.

• Dig fiber ditches. Even faster wireless is too slow. If, as the Federal Communications Commission states, broadband is a priority, let's open up the right of way to a Local Fiber Corps to lay fiber-optic strands to every one of the 120 million U.S. residences (even the 10 million empty ones). The goal is gigabit speeds. It's attainable now. New applications like YouTube are bandwidth hogs. It's hard even to imagine the types of applications possible in a 100 meg or gigabit per second speed world. The only one way to find out? Build it.

Then sell the fiber along with the wireless lamp posts to the highest bidders. More than one in each town will keep competition alive. And with so much bandwidth, arguments over things like network neutrality will magically disappear.

• Sequence proteins. In 1971, Richard Nixon declared a $100 million campaign to find the cure for cancer. We spend 5,000 times that much every year treating the disease. We may not be able to cure cancer, but we can find it much earlier when treatments are simple.

Scientists today shove cancer samples into mass spectrometers, in order to identify unique proteins for tens of thousands of types of cancer. The goal is that some day we can all be screened for those proteins as early warning signals. With so many college graduates among the unemployed this cycle, 100,000 of them can dust off their knowledge of biology and we could sequence every known cancer type for $50 billion. Medicare would save two to three times that much each year on cancer treatment due to early detection.

• Lighten backpacks. My son's backpack is 20 pounds. And he's only in the fourth grade. My high school son's backpack is even heavier, loaded with textbooks and cans of Red Bull to keep him attentive as his teachers drone on. A Textbook Corps can scan these books, put them on a reader like the Amazon Kindle, link them to high-tech projectors called SmartBoards that are going into many schools. We can instantly change education, not to mention saving many sprained backs.

• Scan medical records. The administration has talked about the time and money this would save, but doctors, hospitals and insurance companies don't want to go through the expense and hassle of digitizing all of our records. Only the feds, threatening to withhold Medicare payments until digitization takes place, could ram this through. Workers would knock on the door of every doctor's office, armed with scanners and Web software.

• Require TOU meters. It's funny how the "I don't work for the electric company" trick to get our kids to turn off lights has morphed into kids shaming parents into "saving the planet." Yet we still pay flat rates, though utilities need to build plants for peak periods, usually summers from 2-5 p.m.

With price signals, households would shift electrical usage to cheaper times. The technology is starting to roll out (with some stimulus money) in the form of Time of Use (TOU) meters replacing those ugly glass bulbs with spinning disks. Coupled with wireless in-house devices that show appliance electrical usage in real time and clever software at utilities, I'd bet peak usage would drop 30% and educate a million workers on the workings of the future smart electric grid. Beats subsidies for caulking windows.

For a $14 trillion economy, each 1% in productivity is $140 billion of additional output. Forget roads and bridges and shovels. It's a virtual infrastructure of ubiquitous bandwidth and digitized information that will require permanent workers and create a sustainable growth economy, a lot faster than shovels.


Blogger SNAKE HUNTERS said...

Wow! I wish I understood half of it! But not a word about a) Agri-Biz to feed these hungry new generations, or b) clean, potable water. Also, c) term-limits for politicians! reb

12:56 AM  
Blogger no_slappz said...


There's no doubt about the need for term limits.

I'd limit senators to four terms and representatives to 12 terms. Few stay 24 years in office, but when they do, like Ted Kennedy, Robert Byrd, Strom Thurmond and others, they lose touch -- and deprive the nation of the benefits of "new blood."

I'd also put limits on the service of Supreme Court justices. Mandatory retirement around 75 or 80.

We do not have food shortages in this country. But we do have bad agricultural policies.

We also have bad water policies. If there is a need for civil engineering projects, the projects would be water-realted.

We do need to manage our supplies more efficiently and here in NY City we age getting new water pipes to bring in water from the upstate reservoirs.

The old pipes have been doing the job for 100 years. But the old pipes are mostly made of wood and they leak like crazy, losing 5%-10% of all the water sent our way.

5:49 PM  
Blogger Eloise said...

Stop thinking concrete and massive construction projects.

How elitist of you no_slappz but no surprise. Our bridges and roads are falling apart and would provide long term jobs and boost local economies across the country.

Not everyone can go to college but it doesn't mean they don't have a right to make a decent living.

11:40 PM  
Blogger no_slappz said...

eloise the nitwit writes:

"Our bridges and roads are falling apart and would provide long term jobs and boost local economies across the country."

First, bridges and roads need maintenance and repair -- ALWAYS.

Second, our bridges and roads are in their usual state -- they need their regular maintenance and repair.

They are getting it.

Third, spending EXTRA money to build new roads and bridges for no particular reason -- as you suggest -- means there is LESS money available for projects that can do more to boost the national, state and local economies.

Building Atlantic Yards is a big construction project requiring the work of thousands and thousands of people for the next 10-20 years. But many local people are attempting to stop the project. Geniuses.

A couple of weeks ago the City Council, led by Rueben Diaz, stopped a $300 million construction project in the Bronx. Another genius.

Before bridges and roads are built, people must be tossed out of their homes to make way for the projects.

In your feeble mind the exercise of Eminent Domain must mean little at first. But you will probably conclude that somehow the planning will require blacks to get booted from their homes more often than whites. Then your view will change, no matter how wrong you might be.

What do you think happened in Bay Ridge in the years leading up to the construction of the Verrazano Bridge?

What's happening to businesses on Second Avenue in Manhattan that are sitting over the areas where work for the Second Avenue Subway Line is underway?

Anyway, lots of people share your screwball ideas about roads and bridges, including our president, the former muslim who cannot admit that muslim extremists are at war with the US.

9:43 AM  
Blogger SNAKE HUNTERS said...

Governor Arnie in Cali-for-nia is
doing nothing to help the 40,000 farmers in the Central Valley that need their water turned back on.

Saving a two-inch Smelt - Yeaaah! -and slap-happy enviro-nazi now rule over a Left-Coast Dust Bowl, and we can import our fruits & veggies from Central America! -

Schwarzneggar & Pelosi; now there's a pair to draw to!


12:10 AM  
Blogger SNAKE HUNTERS said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

12:11 AM  

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