Re:CAP Recommends | The Case For Spending More On Infrastructure Maintenance

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February 3, 2017

Re:CAP Recommends:  “The case for spending more on infrastructure maintenance" by Peter Olson and David Wessel of Brookings.

Who: Peter Olson is a research analyst for the Brookings Institution. David Wessel is a senior fellow in Economic Studies at Brookings and director of the Hutchins Center on Fiscal and Monetary Policy.  The article centers on the January 2017 Brookings briefing of Dr. Larry Summers, professor of economics at Harvard and former Secretary of the Treasury.

What: After the 2007 bridge collapse of I-35W, an eight-lane highway bridge over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis, all eyes were on deteriorating infrastructure. It wasn’t long before the costs of infrastructure replacement caused policy makers to change focus on the political agenda, shifting away from transportation infrastructure to things more salient and ostensibly achievable. Dr. Summers’ presentation to Brookings suggests the federal government would do well to become more anticipatory in their governance, addressing issues like infrastructure before they become even more costly—in terms of dollars and lives.

Takeaway: Dr. Summers’ thesis is key to responsible governance and highlights the foundational problem of issue attention, a theory of public and political opinion offered by 1950s economist Anthony Downs. Summers’ contention is simple and borrows from the Franklin adage: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” There is a nugget for every public leader here. Substantial return on investment can be garnered from even the most unglamorous tasks.

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