The Texas crisis has again shown how America is both unable and unprepared to protect its own people
The US’ poor national infrastructure has been highlighted once more this week, with shocking blackouts in Texas – the inevitable consequence of Washington spending its money on bombs rather than on investing for the public good.
After an unexpected big freeze, Texas is facing an unprecedented crisis. Hit with sub-zero temperatures, parts of the Lone Star State had no power and water for several days, and food supply chains were placed under severe strain. Recent reports suggest there have been 24 deaths.
Footage of long lines and empty shelves in grocery stores resemble scenes from countries against which America has issued sanctions or long mocked for being socialist. Yet, as the state struggles to thaw out, that’s not the only thing that’s frozen – so is the response from Washington. What are the federal government and Congress doing about it? Nothing.
Amid the backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has claimed nearly half a million lives, the US seems almost incapable of adequately responding to natural and environmental disasters on its own territory.
For a nation that manages a global military and war machine, such failures are appalling. But the two factors are hardly coincidental. This kind of mismanagement in America isn’t a new thing at all; it is, in fact, an integral aspect of its political and social system, where the free market is religiously put before the public good, and the commitment to arms and bombs is greater than to ordinary people.
This ultimately means America’s own infrastructure is selective and poorly organised, and so it’s not surprising that, when confronted with events such as those we’ve seen in Texas, it lacks the will or capacity to cope.
“Big government is bad” has long been the motto of many American politicians. In the US, intervention from the government in the economy and all aspects of social services is often seen as a problem, given that it requires higher taxes to pay for it, creates perceived inefficiency, and infringes on “individual freedom”.
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It’s almost religiously believed that the free market is the ultimate virtue, and will naturally account for all public demand in a better way than the state ever can. And it’s those who espouse this philosophy that have rallied hard against government-led improvements in public infrastructure, most particularly in areas such as healthcare, which is derided as “socialized medicine”. Simple health insurance schemes such as Obamacare have caused huge controversy.
As a result, the infrastructure that does exist in the US is usually administered on a “for profit” basis. The necessity to make money trumps the provision of the greater good, creating an imbalance. Making a profit is seen as more important than serving as many people as possible to the best and most accessible degree.
Hospitals are a good example – there may be an abundance of them, but they’re privately owned and the costs of effective healthcare often prove astronomical. Similarly, the US continues to have a poor high-speed railway infrastructure, because government spending in this field is again subject to heavy political constraints, with transport being dominated by the “for profit” incentives of the automobile and aviation industries.
This means that, although the US does have services or provisions, they’re often incomplete and shoddy in their application, unless you have money of course.
This is why the Texas crisis has happened. Besides the fact that it’s generally a warm location and the extreme weather was unexpected, it’s worth pointing out that America’s energy infrastructure is also a privately owned, “for profit” enterprise. Companies place the onus on making money, as opposed to installing high-quality infrastructure, and, instead, do the bare minimum to ensure profit is maximised. This is how a single episode of bad weather can be enough to derail an entire system.
And what are the political consequences of this? There aren’t any. This is not new; this is how it always has been in America. The system has no interest in providing a public good for its people. The outcome of the Hurricane Katrina disaster in New Orleans in 2005 demonstrated exactly the same.
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And, yet, while America shows disinterest in building infrastructure on a grand scale – the days of the New Deal are long gone – it nevertheless, unquestionably and in full bipartisan consensus, touts a military budget exceeding trillions of dollars every single year. The National Defense Authorisation Act is the sacred cow of Washington politics, but healthcare or infrastructure? They’re dirty words. There are clear political priorities, and they’re not among them.
The situation represents a stark contrast to that in China, where the state aggressively invests in infrastructure at a constant pace, as a public good and a means to economic development. The result is that, despite being a developing country and in poverty 40 years ago, its transport network and public infrastructure are already beyond that of the US.
Joe Biden appears to recognize this, saying, “China will eat our lunch” on infrastructure spending. It is obvious that the new administration sees America is falling behind and wants to up the ante here.
But the question is, how? It’s easier said than done. Events in Texas and Covid-19 both stand as an obvious warning about how difficult it is to secure public investment within the constraints of the political system. Attempting to match a communist state that faces no such hurdles, in terms of regulation or private interests, will be nearly impossible.
Anyone who’s followed the heated discussions over stimulus cheques will recognize just how toxic and difficult funding debates can be. Ultimately, unless it’s about bullets, bombs or private pockets, Washington isn’t interested, and this is why the American state repeatedly shows a chronic inability to provide for and protect its own people – as we’ve seen in Texas.
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