The Highway to Hell…

September 6, 2011

by D Robert Dunn

The Highway to Hell is said to be paved with good intentions.  It should come as no surprise then that as the economy and country go to hell in a hand-basket, the White House is about to announce a job initiative that relies on jobs constructing highways and bridges.  Don’t get me wrong!  I’m not saying that infrastructure is not important.  It is!  But the idea of putting America back to work by building highways is as old as The Great Depression itself.  The first one.  President Franklin Roosevelt saw highway construction jobs as a way to put the nation’s unemployed men back to work.  The plan worked in part because the nation’s infrastructure was still in its infancy and highways were needed.  Automobile and truck traffic was on the increase.  But we shouldn’t forget that the world economies didn’t really begin to turn around economically until the advent of World War II, and some not until after the war.  But this was the industrial engine behind the 20th Century rise of America to military and economic greatness—not road building.

In predicting whether or not road-building will help turn the economy around, one only has to examine a few points:

  1. Highway and bridge construction—and I assume that includes repairs to existing systems—are already somewhat ubiquitous.  I have driven between Indianapolis and Chicago over the years and more recently, Indianapolis and St Louis.  There is no shortage of construction jobs on roads and bridges.  Interestingly enough, there are only a few large companies that seem to be doing all of the work.  And with the work controlled by unions, that work seems to take far longer than it seems reasonable and is done in ways that are not logical to local residents, businesses, and travellers.  But there are construction jobs that are on-going and unemployment is over 9%.
  2. Construction jobs are short-term at best and do not generate sustainable jobs.  Once the projects are done, the work moves to another community and the workers who cannot move are once again out of work.
  3. Construction jobs are seasonal.  In the next few weeks and months, we will begin to see the orange barrels of unfinished jobs begin to gloss over with snow and ice, waiting for the spring thaw and the first solid weeks of good weather.  Unemployed workers can’t wait for spring.
  4. Perhaps the most important point:  Highway and bridge construction will not necessarily prompt manufacturers to increase production in THIS country, thereby raising the need for American workers in industries outside of construction.

And this is where the change needs to happen.  Until demand increases, industry production will not increase.  But for demand to increase, consumers need to have steady and sufficient income.  Not just the construction workers—all consumers.  This is not a situation that President Obama or the Democrat leadership in the Congress seem to understand or grasp how to resolve.

The way forward is not grandiose labor speeches in dead cities to mesmerized unions, but rather less government interference in industry, weaker if not emasculated unions, greater incentives for corporations to employ Americans here on our soil, fewer illegal aliens in the country to compete with legal workers, and the restored confidence in the government of the United States of America and the currency of the nation.

What is clear to me is that the leadership in Washington either doesn’t get it—or doesn’t want to get it.


Works Progress Administration:

New Deal:

Picture Credit:  Cliff Berryman, Washington Evening Star (1938) ,

The views expressed in this post are the views of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Indiana Conservative or any other contributors.


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Tags: Barack Obama, Bridges, Franklin Roosevelt, Great Depression, Highways, Unemployment, WPA

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