Yesterday, we discussed Infrastructure spending, following the WSJ article on more tax cuts as a stimulus.

We know from history that rather than temporary tax cuts or spending, its been the big infrastructure projects that leave behind usable assets for the private sector are the biggest bang for the tax backed buck.

Think Interstate Highways, Apollo Space Program, Darpanet (internet), Manhattan Project.

Question: What sort of projects should the US be doing in terms of Infrastructure development?

Category: Taxes and Policy

Please use the comments to demonstrate your own ignorance, unfamiliarity with empirical data and lack of respect for scientific knowledge. Be sure to create straw men and argue against things I have neither said nor implied. If you could repeat previously discredited memes or steer the conversation into irrelevant, off topic discussions, it would be appreciated. Lastly, kindly forgo all civility in your discourse . . . you are, after all, anonymous.

109 Responses to “Crowd Query: Infrastructure Spending ?”

  1. vboring says:

    Nuclear energy makes everything else cheaper. The existing US nuclear plant fleet produces energy for under 2c/kWh. China builds AP1000s for $2B. The US hopes to be able to build them for $8B, if the NRC ever deigns to approve any design.

    Science and engineering education grants.

    Batteries/energy storage for carbonless transportation.

    Transmission lines.

    I’m an electrical engineer, so my focus is energy. Energy and education are the infrastructure for the future.

  2. Pure-Water says:

    I like what I’ve read about Thorium as an energy production substance. A project to construct thorium energy plants would clearly be beneficial to the country. Either that or Obama statues in every town square.

  3. whskyjack says:

    Large sections of our old working class housing is obsolete, too small, to crowded, no off street parking. this is certainly true in my neighborhood and I imagine it is doubly true for places like Detroit There is where you will see the devastation of the overbuild in housing. Not in the nicer suburbs, nor the trendy neighborhoods. These neighborhoods have a real need to be (for want of a better word ) right sized for modern living. Houses need to be tore down the land restored and the city lots need to be portioned in to larger lots.

  4. Bomber Girl says:

    High speed trains, nuclear power. Space, the final frontier.

  5. lahke says:

    High-speed freight. It’s a win all around–lower fuel use to move stuff by rail compared to trucking, plus less pounding on the roads so we save on infrastructure costs (it costs 2-3 times as much to build roads to support traffic by big trucks and semis as for cars), plus we don’t have to sit in traffic with the big trucks and probably have fewer and more survivable car accidents.

  6. destor23 says:

    100% Internet access in the US and its territories, either through broadband or Wi-Fi, as applicable. Universal free Wi-Fi access in all major urban areas.

    More public transportation.

    Alternative Energy including nuclear as we happen to have massive uranium stores here in the U.S.

  7. stevelaake says:

    Electrical grid and water supply improvements.

  8. Joey says:

    High speed trains (air travel these days is similar to visiting the DMV), energy grid, bridge/roads, re-charge stations for electric cars.

  9. jessica says:

    Education. Pre-school, basic, and advanced

    At post high school level, something analogous to the post-WW2 GI Bill (but without the war).
    Probably need to only allow the funds to be used in schools that hold down tuition costs (otherwise, it just becomes another case of giving money to those who already have plenty).
    Also use this opportunity to break guild-like barriers. (For example, the way universities use intro-level courses as cash cows by using accreditation to block online courses)

    We used to have the best educated work force in the world and that is why our standard of living was higher.

  10. vboring says:

    Bring the rail system up to a standard so that freight trucks will get off the highways.

    This would probably save money in the long run due to lower highway maintenance costs.

  11. jessica says:

    And let’s go for two birds with one stone. Or three or four.
    Some kind of project that would restore the bottom rungs of IT career ladders that have been removed by outsourcing entry-level work to India.
    And let’s catch up to Korean level broadband.

  12. stevesliva says:

    Alternative fuel infrastructure for cars. Maybe something will catch on, probably just battery charging and not hydrogen or CNG. But unlike a lot of things, this might be sensible to throw money at all of the options.

    I’d also love to see the smartphone data plan pricing go no higher– the greed of AT&T and Verizon could easily cripple what is a huge nascent growth area. Unfortunately the government did a terrible job subsidizing broadband infrastructure, so I’m not sure how it should play in wireless.

  13. gremlin says:

    thorium reactors, super high speed trains, cheap and efficient access to orbit, space-based solar power, lunar bases (and Obama statues)

    I think the best way to achieve R&D isn’t federal funding dumping cash for a manhattan-type project, but X-Prizes. X-prizes such as $5billion for a train that breaks 500 mph safely over a 100 mile track. $10billion for a 100 MW solar power sat. $40billion for a lunar base occupied for a year and a day by 30 people. etc.

    We’re just dreaming away federal money so it doesn’t seem real, but if we’re going to piss away a bunch of research money it should be for results, not just paying people with giant coffee cups with retirement dates stenciled above ‘world’s greatest bureaucrat’.

  14. Johnny99 says:

    Any and all efforts to expand our use of nuclear power, and to expand the use of natural gas to power our cars.

    Imagine the United States without imported oil and with only a limited number of coal-fired power plants. What would we spend our time fighting about?

    And what Jessica said.

  15. Jojo says:

    1. Satellites in orbit to beam energy down to the Earth from the sun.

    2. Build a real space station (like in SF stories) that can handle a significant population and act a s a true kick-off to the Moon, Mars and the rest of the universe.

    3. And let’s not forget anti-gravity and wormhole research. :)

  16. Cavour3647 says:

    Like whskyjack: I consider urban renewal projects to be up there with the most needed (and unfortunately its not talked about nearly enough) infrastructure projects. Start work on transforming major cities around the country to look more like NYC, SF, Chicago, etc where you don’t need a car to live. Apartment complexes closely put together need to rise with markets and stores in walking distance.

    Agree with others on: High speed rail, alt. energies, improve the grid, (but any regular reader of Wired or National Geographic can tell you that).

  17. Robert M says:

    I’ve no interest in a new projects. I’d like to fix the existing bridges, roads, rail infrastructure, electrical grid-rationalizing it and building new generations facilities, sewers and water infrastructure.

  18. John says:

    Transportation: more and/or wider urban interstate highways; extensive urban rail systems, including lines to airports and inter-city rail stations; repair and widening existing highways; high speed rail for short (up to 400 miles?) inter-city trips; upgrade aviation guidance systems; upgrade airports (goal: travel is always fast, convenient, and seemless)

    Water: desalinization plants (especially in the west); more reservoirs; improved distribution of water; network of pipelines and pumps to remove water from flooding areas to dry areas (goal: droughts become irrelevant and water is always available for consumption and irrigation)

    Electric distribution: upgrade to reliable national grid from regional grids (goal: electricity is always available)

  19. NormanB says:

    Demolish most of Detroit (they want that). Put utilities (telephone, power lines) underground; it’ll look better but help the economy, I think not. On the other side, stop the bullet trains. Calif is to pay $43B for theirs to go from SF to LA. How stupid is that? Utilize our survelience capabilities that we use in Iraq, Afghanastan in our inner cities to stop the crime and use it on our borders, too.

  20. louis says:

    Get the Freedom Towers built. Nuclear-powered desalinisation, solar desalination, nanotube membranes. Massive infastructure upgrades to capture and use recycled water.

    Get the space program rolling again so kids have something to work on besides video game design

  21. vine2wine says:

    We need to switch to a Monorail and People Mover system for public transport and have EPCOT like cities being built :-)

  22. jpmist says:

    I like how you worked in DARPA on CNBC yesterday, so I’ll second the vote to continue that for a brand new and massive Federally funded internet backbone. Reading several stories this week about HighDef Internet TV, that’s a massive amount of data that’s gonna need to be pushed thru the pipes.

    A side effect of this is that it would alleviate the current drama about net neutrality because the Fed Net, almost by definition, would be a simple but huge fast dumb pipe. (And if ATT and Version complain that they can’t compete, let them try innovation and quality service for a change to monetize their networks.) I don’t think the current network was designed to scale up as far as it has, so while they’re at it, start over and revise whatever IP protocol necessary to kill spam and phish once and for all.

  23. Brent_in_Aurora says:

    Tower of Babel.
    Space Elevator.
    Licensed and regulated internet poker.

  24. jpmist says:

    Oh, one more. This from a Tea-Party economist I heard on Bloomberg today, but the idea was interesting. He argued that a really efficient stimulus would be to have an Federally funded $8/hour public works job available to anyone who wanted one. It boggles the mind a bit, but imagine seeing city streets clean enough to eat off of and the near eradication of panhandlers and grafitti.

  25. chrismoloney says:

    There’s a lot of debate at the moment here in Australia over the merits and cost/benefit of the largest ever infrastructure project proposed here, the “National Broadband Network” (NBN) http://www.nbn.gov.au/ AU$43 billion for a high speed fibre optic network to 90% of Australia’s homes. (we have a population of 22 million)

    The government that proposed the project is now barely hanging on to power and may not last the week. The opposition government has a proposed a much more scaled down project costing AU$6 billion.

  26. Space_Cowboy_NW says:

    “Ditto” to Robert M & John said.

    Btw I HATE that term given from its entertainer source. [no, it was not Slim Pickens in Blazing Saddles]

    The US better get the ‘A’ game on with edu programs (minus the political polarization that has erroded
    public school systems) or get ready to build massive (hint: Manhatten project scaleup) prison facilities for all the ‘at risk/dis-connected’ youth who will overwhelm social services/society when they become adults (with no hope or future).

    If not….we’ll look foundly back when the US was 12th in edu (% of college graduates) as the next leg down will be steep (and accelerating). As a vintage auto parts commercial went: It’s pay me now or pay a lot later!

    Will we ‘step up’?

    -OR- go the usual Project Management process:
    1.Enthusiasm,
    2.Disillusionment,
    3.Panic and hysteria,
    4.Search for the guilty,
    5.Punishment of the innocent, and
    6.Praise and honor for the nonparticipants.

  27. Invictus says:

    Two ideas from a lifelong New Yorker. How to spend several billion:

    1) Give the tri-state area a state-of-the-art airport. One that the country — with NY as an entry point to millions of tourists annually — can be proud of. JFK, LGA and EWR are, frankly, an embarrassment. I’m not sure which is the worst (it’s arguably not Newark), but in any event, WTF? That’s a few billion very well spent.

    2) I have avoided the Cross Bronx Expressway (which both feeds and takes traffic from the GWB) literally since I got my license 30+ years ago. It is bumper-to-bumper, stop-and-go at all hours of the day and night, 24/7, and always has been. I will take any route to avoid it, and always have. So enhancing that route might be a few billion more. (And it’s not like boatloads aren’t collected annually in tolls at the various Henry Hudson River crossings, mind you.)

    I could go on, but suffice to say there’s more than enough work to be done. BR, care to chime in about the LIE?

  28. machinehead says:

    I’ll leave it to others to rank infrastructure projects. My comment is about how they should be financed: namely, by closing down the US military empire.

    A country in a peaceful neighborhood such as North America ought to be able to defend itself and secure its borders at a cost of 1% of GDP. Instead, the US spends 5% of GDP on its global military empire.

    This immense 4% of GDP drag is, in my view, the single most important reason for US economic decline. The US, like Britain before it, is headed for second-rank, junior-player status — unless it closes down NATO, brings the troops home, and starts minding its own business for a change.

    An insolvent government with anachronistic imperial delusions is a recipe for collapse. Ask the Soviet Union.

  29. jimmeadows says:

    You left out some of the big projects of the 30s that have paid for themselves many times over, e.g., many WPA projects, Empire State Bldg, Hoover Dam, and the Golden Gate bridge. They created jobs, temporary to be sure such is the nature of construction projects, but they gave income and hope to a weary populace. And, and this is an important moral point that never seems to get mentioned, they provided a lasting benefit to later generations who would actually pay for the projects. Giving tax cuts to Larry Kudlow would not produce anything of lasting value. It would represent a tax expenditure, paid for by future generations, who would not themselves benefit from the outlay. Specific projects that are ready to go and should be funded:
    Energy – conversion of our oil infrastructure to a natural gas one, especially for heavy trucks, buses, etc. – the Pickens Plan. The cost of fossil fuel consumption would be reduced and national security would be enhanced. Global warming would take a backseat while we get our energy infrastructure in order.
    IT- get up to speed with other countries, e.g., Korea, with high speed internet.
    Transportation- High speed intercity electric rail and electric cars. Suborbital commercial flight to connect NYC and Tokyo with a 4 hour plane trip.
    Housing- Tear down all 80+ year housing that cannot be made LEED certified, like what is being done in New Orleans after Katrina. That would reduce excess housing inventory and conserve energy.
    Of course, the immediate problem is that the Government is broke and deep in debt, largely due to misguided “stimulative” measures, such as unfunded wars and tax cuts for the rich over the past 30 years. We have little if anything to show for these expenditures, which again are immoral because they don’t benefit the future generations who have to pay for them one way or another. I propose the sale of “Rebuild America” bonds, like war bonds that funded WWII. They could pay 4% interest and come due in 10-20 years. Judging from the keen interest in Treasuries, they would probably be well received.
    These are some projects we should be doing and a way to pay for them. Instead, the dialog in DC is pathetically partisan, selfish, short-term, and unproductive. I am not very hopeful.

  30. Bomber Girl says:

    Invictus, I am with you 100%.

  31. Energy transmission: While all the talk about new energy sources makes lots of sense, an awful lot of them aren’t being built because the transmission facilities don’t exist from where the facilities need to be to where the energy is going to get used. To some degree it’s a chicken-egg thing, where the energy facilities don’t get built because there’s no transmission and the transmission doesn’t get built because there’s no energy for it to carry. Break that logjam.

    Energy production: Solar and wind in different parts of the country as appropriate.

    Repair what we’ve got: Roads, rail, water, sewers, all going to hell. It’s a lot less sexy to spend money to fix things than it is to build them, but we’ve got to fix them.

    Airports. This is one area where federal involvement can help, if only by just cutting through the multiple levels of red-tape that exist from the top on down the the lowest levels. At the very least lets have some decent gateways. I can’t currently think of a single one that’s really world class, though some of our smaller airports are.

    Agree with the comment above that anybody who wants a minimum wage job doing basic city infrastructure stuff should get one. I’d argue that doing this part time should be a requirement for anybody who is taking unemployment or welfare of any kind who is not actually disabled and unable to work. True, the various public works unions would object, but the work isn’t getting done by them anyway, and that needs to be pointed out. LA has over 70 years of sidewalk work to be done, based on their current rate of work. (It’s only fixed if it becomes a financial risk to the city.) This would not be a threat to anybody whose current work requires special training or certifications, which is actually the case for most long-term maintenance workers.

  32. RandyClayton says:

    [x] High Speed Rail
    [x] Reduce Military Spending

    Look up the world’s top 15 defense budgets. The USA at #1 is greater that 2 through 15 combined.

  33. gman says:

    1. Invade Iran
    2. Cut taxes on my hedge fund and prop. trading firm.
    3. More homeland security/domestic eaves dropping and spying.
    4. Stoke cold war Russia and or China
    5. Invade North Korea
    6. Invade Venezuela..”chavez is just one of many hitlers out there”
    7. Massive investment in science….to prove once and for that earth was in fact created by divine intervention.
    8. Massive investment in science …to prove one and for all that climate change does not exist and was not caused by man.

  34. Casual Onlooker says:

    Shorter term critical…

    – Update the electrical power grid. http://www.cnn.com/2010/TECH/innovation/08/09/smart.grid/index.html

    Long term critical…

    – We fast a potential serious problem with a shortage of rare earth metals. These are critical for all the technology we all depend on or want to depend upon, from cell phones and laptops, to hybrid cars. Right now China produces 90%+ of all rare earth metals. They are now severely limiting exports. Sadly it was our very own short sighted, quarter by quarter business interests that has enabled China to control this market.

    http://www.popsci.com/technology/article/2010-03/shortage-rare-earth-minerals-may-cripple-us-high-tech-scientists-warn-congress

    http://www.salon.com/technology/how_the_world_works/2010/08/30/rare_earth_elements_and_china

    Rare earth metals are called that because they are just that, rare on earth. Yet they are common on asteroids. We could use destructive techniques to glean more from our own planet (the US has 13% of potential supply), but the BP oil disaster, and problems with “fracking” for natural gas should send a message that continued exploitation of our own planet has consequences.

    To that end I would like to see a national program to ultimately mine asteroids. The infrastructure needed to accomplish this would produce untold number of jobs, and just as with technologies requires for the Apollo project, new technologies and innovations can produce more innovations and products for consumers.

    Example enough of the potential can be cited here: http://www.space.com/businesstechnology/business/asteroid_mining_000210.html

    “Another example of wealth can be found on an asteroid called Amun, the smallest metallic asteroid of several dozen known. According to Lewis, Amun contains roughly 30 times as much metal as the entire amount of metals mined and processed over the history of humanity. “

  35. Molesworth says:

    High Speed Rail
    High Speed Internet availability is shown to increase productivity, create new businesses and jobs.
    Repair what’s there.
    Water, water, water. The next wars will be over water.

  36. Rescission says:

    “Keynesian quick-fixes need to be replaced with supply-side reforms that bolster capital formation, energy self-sufficiency, and work-hire incentives”. (hat tip to Rosenberg).

    But since you are asking: Johnny99 is right. Natural gas powered vehicles and nuclear energy. We MUST get off all the imported oil. This is THE biggest thing. Think about it. If we can become energy self-sufficient, job creation domestically will soar, and we can give the Middle East the finger for good. Now wouldn’t that be nice. Imagine a country where we simply have no care how much they kill and destroy each other and we would watch their countries crumble from not properly building a real economy in the first place. Take away their oil money and the billions spent exporting islamic terrorism goes away as well. I cannot think of a better aim than energy self-sufficiency.

  37. eightnine2718281828mu5 says:

    Not infrastructure, but here goes:

    1) cold fusion
    2) limit copyright to 5 years

    The odds of either happening are indistinguishable from zero.

    There are lots of people who can’t be doctors, lawyers, or financial wizards, but they can produce entertainment; opening up access to our commercially-controlled cultural artifacts would lower barriers to entry, support an expansion of the entertainment industry, and provide benefits to both producers and consumers.

    Back in the 18th century the world moved much more slowly, yet the founders limited copyright to 17 years. Modern life moves more quickly and 99% of all copyrighted material has lost much of its value after 5 years; Steamboat Willey and the White Album are rare exceptions that shouldn’t be allowed to impede progress on this front.

    But of course they will.

  38. Eye Wall says:

    I’d like three things, and think we’d restore a lot of what we’ve lost with these:

    1. Build / fund new, AAA+ Universities. They could be public or private, I don’t care, but go pick a small rust-belt town somewhere in every state (think Cornell) and sink $1 – 5B into each of them. Plan them with a capacity for at least 10K students each and see a HUGE return on the investment over the next 50 years. If we can fund stadiums with public money for privately owned teams, we could certainly do this even for the private universities.

    2. A Manhattan project around solar. The physics of solar energy are just ridiculous when you look at the amount of energy hitting the surface of the Earth everyday from the sun. I want this done in 10 years or less and there should be *no* excuses given what we already know, what we can combine from the materials sciences and what we can do in the next decade. I don’t care if we replace the current grid / power plants, we need to install something in every subdivision or if I have to put something on my roof. We can be energy independent if we really want it.

    3. In the US we are one of the biggest genetic experiments of all time. Almost all our relatives were RISK TAKERS to the extreme. They were willing to give up everything and make a bet with unknow odds to try to better their lives. This is one of the fundamental strengths we have as a country and we DO NOT LEVERAGE it enough. What I’d like to see here is a renaissance in innovation with a shift from military spending to venture spending. We could fund private venture capital firms through multiple, competing ‘Innovation Franchises’ (IFs) where the government would provide license grants to net-new venture capital firms for 10 year terms (there would be restrictions on the IFs for expense ratios, number of employees, etc.) to allocate the capital granted to them for venture investments. At the end of each 10 year period the bottom performing IFs would be stripped of their licenses and these licenses would be awarded to new IFs. Yes, we’d fund a lot of duds, but I’m sure there would be a GOOG or three that would make the whole thing well worthwhile.

  39. gman says:

    Dont laugh at my choices. We live in a nation that believes that obama is a muslim, Iraq was behind 911 and taxes have never been higher and we have the most effecient health care in the world!

    I take wagers mine get enacted before some “pie in the sky euro-islamo-socialist plot” like high speed rail.

  40. I don’t care what your economic or political bent is but it should be clear that the freeways, airports, bridges and other serious infrastructure is in this empire is in terrible shape. I live in the Golden State and our major freeways in LA/OC are in terrible disrepair. Yet 1/2 of all goods are shipped via the ports in this part of the country. Seems important to have solid infrastructure.

    BTW, the toll freeways in Orange County and the wonderful toll roads while traveling in Italy clearing demonstrate the roll private/public partnerships can have on infrastructure.

    We also need massive spending on education. Every school in the Cal State system is at complete capacity and students can’t get classes to graduate.

    Have a great holiday weekend.

  41. snowdude says:

    I believe that government investment spending can be effective under certain conditions:

    - When it is done when the private sector investment levels are way down (like now)
    - When it is spent on things that are clearly needed to support the broader economy (like the suggestions above)
    - When we get a heluva good deal, especially on the labour!

    Recessions drive wages and other prices down. They often need to go down to reach a new equilibrium. One of the big mistakes I almost always see governments make (and not just in the USA) is paying full premium rates to construction and other firms when they are mired in recession. I believe this just artificially props up the pricing structure and probably delays the workout to the new equilibrium.

    I figure if the government is investing in infrastructure on behalf of ‘we the people’ in a down time, why should we not be getting a good deal? After all, we are spending when no one else is, keeping the economy going and people employed. Why should we pay unrealistic rates for that? Is it because it’s politically better not to upset some people when you are trying to win votes by spending other people’s money? Or am I just looking at a narrow set of cases and missing something in the Big Picture?

  42. tenaciousd says:

    1. Smart energy grid. Build unlimited nuclear capacity in Northwest Territories. Put waste on the moon. (Space 1999!)
    2. Smart water grid for conservation.
    3. Ban all tractor trailers from traveling more than 90 miles to force a return to cargo rail for long haul, which will also force installation of high speed, elevated express rail lines to cover transcontinental.
    4. Re-regulate the airlines to reduce fares and expand service, install state-of-the-art security measures to allow air travel to be cost effective and enjoyable again. Benefit business and tourism. Only the US wastes time trying to make air travel profitable. (And don’t try to sell me on Southwest’s one-of-a-kind model.)
    5. Convert all trains to ethanol (eliminate direct corn subsidies) and all commercial trucks to waste-based biofuel.
    6. Convert all passenger and racing vehicles to battery with national network of battery “re-fueling” stations.

    I’ll be surprised if anything like any of this happens in my expected lifetime. (I’m only 39.)

  43. b_thunder says:

    Good idea, Barry, except it CAN NOT be done in any sort of cost effective fashion. Those so-called construction workers make well into 6 figures (with overtime), but i NEVER see anyone working when i drive by the highway construction zones. Any gov’t mandated “infrastructure” is, like Iraq, is a vacuum that sucks taxpayer’s cash and funnels it to either the unions, or KBRs and Haliburtons, depending on the administration of course.
    The only way to do it if at least 80% of the workers on the projects are the unemployed, and this work would allow them to collect min. wage + medical insurance.

    oh, and that “rail” – you see, unless it travels REALLY fast, no one will ride it. 200+MPH , otherwise it would be faster by car.

  44. VennData says:

    Pass a law to prevent any advertising to children under the age of 12 and tax cuts for teachers, big ones.

  45. willmoth says:

    Wireless broadband. Specifically for two areas that always get left out for economic or political reasons: public safety and rural areas. A national public safety wireless network is clearly a public “good” and is the type of investment government should be doing. Rural areas will take a long time to build out to the level desired for the obvious reason that there are not enough users to support private investment.

  46. Broken says:

    Agree with fixing old infrastructure first. Big impact and mostly “shovel ready”.

    Water distribution. Moving water surpluses north/east to south/west>. Money to be made both sending and receiving. Downside: many years to recover investment.

    Commercial boost to orbit. Downside: many years before significant economic impact.

    Unify electrical power grid. Downside: stakeholder politics.

    Raise subsidies for new energy technologies equal to subsidies for old energy technology. Downside: stakeholder politics.

  47. scharfy says:

    I’d like to see more union workers repairing giant potholes.

    That shit annoys me when I drive my Escalade around.

    The more guys that can do a job the better. It hurts efficiency, but this isn’t real money we are dealing with here, just funny money from the sucka taxpayer.

    The guy holding the “SLOW” sign is also very important, and tax dollars should be routed liberally in his direction.

    Politicians, mobsters and power brokers all have fallen on hard times as well, so this would help them out too.

    All of the machinery and raw materials should be acquired via “cost-plus no-bid style contract awarding” so as to keep costs high. More costs = more stimulus.

    After we are done with roads we can build more houses.

  48. mbelardes says:

    We should be building medschools/hospitals at universities to train more medical professionals and let them practice supervised preventative care on those Obamacare is meant to cover.

    We were all pissed off about BP pumping oil into the ocean but many of our coastal cities literally pump shit into the ocean and when it rains all the storm runoff goes right into the ocean. So where are the potable water plants from sewage/storm water?

    Alternative Energy will never happen because there is little profit incentive and Americans will never cough up the cash to “go green” so why not build giant solar plants in our vacant deserts and ethanol plants wherever. Consider it the “loss leader” in Alternatives while also reducing our reliance on Fossil Fuels. Don’t subsidize, just pay for solar panels on buildings/homes.

  49. S Brennan says:

    1] I’m with the Thorium crowd:

    “Roosevelt made up his mind within minutes. “This needs action,” he told his military aide. It was the birth of the Manhattan Project.”

    …The Telegraph goes further: “Manhattan II could restore American optimism and strategic leadership at a stroke, surely a more fruitful way to pull the US out of perma-slump than scattershot stimulus.”

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/comment/7970619/Obama-could-kill-fossil-fuels-overnight-with-a-nuclear-dash-for-thorium.html

    2] High speed ground transportation [notice I did not use rail] let’s open our minds

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louis_Brennan

    3] Electric Car Development with the ability for self guidance…that should get Barry’s blood boiling…heh..heh.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DARPA_Grand_Challenge

    4] Parking lots over freeway entrances linked to the above mentioned HSGT

  50. mbelardes says:

    And MrJumboMortgage is correct.

    I lived in OC/LA and the freeways are total shit.

  51. obsvr-1 says:

    New energy source for transportation – hydrogen, hydrogen fuel cells and a nation-wide re-fueling infrastructure.

    Not only would this create thousands of jobs, hundreds of billions or trillions of investment in the US and a massive reduction in dependency on foreign oil and the billions of $$ exported to oil rich countries.

    One of the steps to achieving this type of ‘moon shot’ goal would be to collapse the oil industry strangle hold on the political engine and a total commitment from everyone to support (demand) this type of national priority.

  52. goodlife says:

    My suggestion would be for school technology, upgrade airport systems technology, electric grid, and high speed trains.

  53. wunsacon says:

    >> Pass a law to prevent any advertising to children under the age of 12 and tax cuts for teachers, big ones.

    VennData, why?

    We’re spending too much on education. And not just on the ridiculous buildings.

    I’m with some Europeans and libertarians on this one: privatize education. Give every parent a stipend and let them decide where to spend it.

  54. Jack says:

    Education with emphasis on sciences and languages (English included).

    Repair/replacement of the existing physical infrastructure (water mains, bridges, tunnels, highways without boondoggling and more)

    Civics. Remember Civics class? How government worked, why it worked that way, why it was important, what the Constitution was, the Preamble to the Constitution: memorize it!!
    Are there any better words written than: “in order to form a MORE perfect union” (emphasis mine)?

    We need to keep on truckin’. We IMO are not truckin’.

  55. wunsacon says:

    Thorium, space elevators, Pickens Plan. We sooo need an energy revolution. (Cheap energy is “everything”. If energy were cheap enough, we could do “crazy things” like power devices to remove the bits of plastic from our oceans and capture the carbon from our skies.)

    @ gman: LOL!

  56. jonpublic says:

    I have four non-traditional infrastructure programs I’d like to see. I think that they would have long term impacts.

    Detroit Police Department.

    The tax base in the city is too small to support the number of police needed to provide basic safety. I’m sure other cities have this problem. Fund the safety infrastructure for 5 years in high crime areas. Get it under control and change the culture where people expect to get away with a crime.

    Lead abatement.

    The cost of a kid having lead poisoning over the course of his or her life is devastating. Over 50% of kids in special education in Detroit have elevated lead levels. Lead also makes people more prone to commit violence. One of the more interesting theories on the decline of crime in America is that 18 years after you phase out leaded gasoline you start seeing a decrease in violence. Once again, fund lead abatement programs across the U.S.

    Science!

    We still have the crown jewels in terms of universities. Invest in science!

    Oh it would be cool if we invested in more roundabouts.

  57. bobmitchell says:

    “Those so-called construction workers make well into 6 figures (with overtime), but i NEVER see anyone working when i drive by the highway construction zones.”

    This is complete nonsense. When the people are working, the machines are not working, and that costs money. The people not working is a sign that everything is OK. Ever tried to move 1 cubic yard of dirt? Try a couple thousand. And no, people don’t do it, machines do. What are you are seeing is an assembly line that is constantly moving, and a supply line that has to do the same. Logistics. Name another industry that can move that much weight around at the same cost. There are none.

    What would we see if we were to drive through your office everyday? Lots of sitting?

    And another point, at least half of the “cost” of that work is to make sure that you can still drive through the work zone. Believe me, they don’t want you driving through there any more than you want to.

  58. Raleighwood says:

    ~ Whatever it takes to get us off imported oil – wind, solar & nuclear – and domestic drilling
    ~ High Speed Rail
    ~ Electric cars – battery technology
    ~ Repairing existing infrastructure
    ~ One or two years mandatory service in the military, nursing homes, day care, National parks, etc.

  59. davefromcarolina says:

    Free and equal public education for every American citizen, regardless of race, creed, gender, or place of national origin. Free public education financed by something other than property taxes. Free reality-based public education based on best practices, and not on religious beliefs. This means you, Texas! It will be difficult, it may be expensive, it will not produce instant results, and it will surely be seen by some to infringe on individual rights. But the alternative is what we have now.

  60. edog says:

    The federal and state governments should commit to replacing their entire fleets of automobiles with electric vehicles by 2015(?). This will lead to better economic order size factory runs which will drive the prices lower for consumers. In addition to putting numerous factory workers back to work, it would likely spur millions if not billions in VC funding for enabling technology. While we are at it; insist on import tariffs to ensure imports do not compete on the basis of regulation or corporate tax rate arbitrage.

  61. willid3 says:

    hm. i really like the energy suggestions, and i suspect that we need to do it for no other reason than oil is finite, and we don’t have the millions of years to wait for more of it. and replacing oil with one thing seems to me just putting us back in the same boat we are in now, only with some thing different. so that means using solar/wind/waver/geothermal/nuclear, and what ever else we can to generate electricity. also means fixing the grid. once they are done, we can really get started on doing electrification of the transportation systems. and for freight trains work really well. but you will still need trucks as you still need to get it to destinations without rail service. and it really won’t work for rail service, mainly cause we have lots of space between cities, and the trains have to stop at lots of cities (once considered taking the train from FT Worth to San Antonio. care to guess how long that was going to take? 8 hours! you can drive it in about 3 or 4). and the idea of really getting the space program going again appeals too, not the stuff we did for 30 or so years because it was cheaper than really doing some thing. and it might help by adding helium-3 to energy (about 20 tons of the stuff would power the US for one year!). and i seem to recall there was stories of the navy working on a fusion project.

  62. ZedLoch says:

    -Solid State Lighting
    -Improved, longer lasting roads
    -EV infrastructure
    -Double down on solar, wind, and energy storage technology

    We’ll be good to go for the next century.

  63. pmorrisonfl says:

    I’ll buy the arguments of the thorium reactor/high speed rail crowd. But I think cheap access to low earth orbit, a manufacturing facility there and another manufacturing facility on the moon are the best things we could do for the country and the civilization.

  64. Frwip says:

    - Nuclear. Lots and lots of it. At least 1,000 GW worth of it. 100% nuclear electricity production. And start planning for a move to fast reactors to get rid of that f***ing “waste” issue.
    - Coal/nat gas/biomass to liquid fuel with augmented yields (and 0 CO2 emission at the synfuel plants) from nuclear derived hydrogen (off-peak electrolysers)
    - EREV / EV infrastructure (mostly EREV. Good 500 miles batteries for EVs are still not ready at any practical price).

    As they are not meant to profit from scarcity but to alleviate scarcity, all of those projects have characteristics in common :
    1) Huge demand for upfront financing to reach economies of scale and of commitment.
    2) Benefits are accrued to everybody rather than concentrated on the investor.

    So they have no chance of happening at any scale by the magic hand of the market. They are the very definition of a public project.

  65. jacab says:

    All of these ideas for infrastructure/technology builds are interesting and indeed worthy, but aren’t we forgetting that a great deal of US infrastructure has been privatized? After all, it was the wave of the future to privatize everything one could think of to privatize. Sure, it reduced government budgets and created new industries, capital flows and companies, but I suspect that no individual company will even consider undertaking projects anywhere near the scale that is being discussed here. Massive infrastructure and technology projects (like a highway system or a space program) are almost invariably government enterprises, so the questions become: how much of America’s infrastructure is no longer a public concern, but a private one?

    Even if the government decides to build/invest in significant projects, is it even ABLE TO anymore given how many corporate toes it will step on? Has the government hamstrung itself by selling off and outsourcing everything possible? I’d like to see some detail on public/private infrastructure and if the government is indeed more or less toothless, which would this discussion interesting, but rather moot.

  66. S Brennan says:

    While I have different priorities [noted above] this needs repeating..it is the defining criteria.

    Hats off to Frwip!

  67. S Brennan says:

    Oops,

    As they are not meant to profit from scarcity but to alleviate scarcity, all of those projects have characteristics in common :
    1) Huge demand for upfront financing to reach economies of scale and of commitment.
    2) Benefits are accrued to everybody rather than concentrated on the investor.

    So they have no chance of happening at any scale by the magic hand of the market. They are the very definition of a public project.

  68. you know, maybe, if we actually cared about the Future..

    we might take seriously the Idea of uprooting GE/GM pHoods..

    http://jeffreydach.com/2008/08/14/genetically-modified-gmo-food-the-great-scandal-by-jeffrey-dach-md.aspx

    it would be well worth the $$ expended..

  69. crankitto11 says:

    Manhattan Project to find and develop an abundant and clean energy source that will give us independence from oil and other fossil fuels.

  70. Ambiance says:

    - Energy storage: This is the key hurdle to overcome for both renewables and electric vehicles. Put money into research of high temperature fuel cells, new battery technologies and super capacitors. Make a big push for the creation of a room temperature super conductor.

    - Cross country high speed rail: I agree that a lot of small highspeed rail projects are overly expensive and benefit a select few people. What could bring costs down and help the nation as a whole is a dedicated push to true high speed cross country rail system built. Connect some major cities (St. Louis, D.C, NY, LA, Seattle) and then expand routes from there. The big challenge is getting the backbone of the system built.

    - Water: This is especially bad in the Southwest (putting millions of people in arid brushland, was a bad choice logistically). Affordable desalinization should be a national priority.

    - Light rail improvement: Just improving basic metro systems would go a long way, thankfully part of the stimulus money used in Northern Virginia went to expand the D.C metro system through Tyson’s corner and down to Dulles, this is a good investment of money that will reduce highway congestion and improve commerce in the region.

    - Recycling innovation: I think this is a big one, we should be making bigger pushes to scavenge more materials out waste or garbage. There are some very promising technologies out there that could provide a relatively cost effective way to retrieve oil from a lot of waste materials (especially plastics). Likewise we could do a lot more to process sewage better and improve many coastal areas in the process.

    - Agricultural renovation: We need to stop subsidizing corn industry products that are flat out unhealthy and of little to no value to actually feed people or animals. Do not subsidize corn production that goes into HFCS period, cheap sugar has lowered the quality of our food and causes a myriad of other health issues. Stop feeding corn byproducts to cows, they can’t properly digest and it leads to lower quality beef. We’d be in a much better position as a nation without this focus on cheap, low quality food. Redirect agricultural investment away from corn products towards hay and grasses. Break up the financing and non-disclosure setups many large food processors have developed with farmers, it’s the same kind of perpetual debt scheme that has been used many times in the past to keep people under thumb.

    - Renewed nuclear push: I’d also say push for thorium and TWR nuclear research. It’s a solution that would not only benefit baseload electrical production, but one that would also make putting outposts in space much easier and cheaper.

    - A push for Mars: Robert Zubrin has already done a lot of the footwork that proves this can be done in a cost effective manner. Right now NASA has largely lost it’s spirit of adventure and too overly focused on political implications. Strapping yourself into a rocket will always be relatively dangerous until the technology is perfected. Publicly we aren’t putting much money into good reusable launch systems (we’re losing the shuttle in favor of rockets again…). I don’t think many people have considered the implications of not having a good orbital system for experimentation and servicing satellites. Think about how much harder and expensive it’s going to do anything of merit once the ISS meets the end of it’s service life. We’ve been slowly sliding backwards in manned space exploration for decades now. Compared to the money we waste on wars and misguided subsidization a new shuttle system would be a paltry expense with some real chance for long term ROI. Companies like Lockheed can do more than build bombers, they can also design a new generation of space faring craft.

  71. DL says:

    If there has to be a big new spending boondoggle, I just hope it doesn’t get voted on until after the new Congress is sworn in next January.

    Alternatively, a specific infrastructure project could be proposed and put on the November ballot (not that there’s any chance that the politicians would trust the public to make a judgement).

    For me, it’s at least as much a matter of process as substance.

  72. JustThisOneTime says:

    Echoing some priors -

    - Nukes and power grid
    - Education – though there seems to be plenty of risk in investing the wrong way here
    - Commuter Rail; then EXISTING roads/bridges
    – High-speed is nice but faster regular service maybe an equal impact
    – Underlined tonight by an hour spent 400 yards south of the Fairfield station, waiting for the crew to unstick the brakes of the 70″s era cars on CT MetroNorth
    - Water/Sewers – Agree trying to overpopulate the southwest is a bridge too far here
    - Restoring the Lisztomania/BratPack mash-up to YouTube you called out several months ago — some d*mn copyright holder had it yanked

    This is very easy — why it isn’t happening is a HUGE indictment of all of us — I think more blog commenting is the best next step.

  73. ivashko says:

    RE: Broken:

    “Water distribution. Moving water surpluses north/east to south/west>. Money to be made both sending and receiving. Downside: many years to recover investment.”

    Good luck getting that one past all the folks in the north/east. The populations surrounding the Great Lakes in particular will not sell their water at any price.

  74. Frwip says:

    Crankitto11 :

    “Manhattan Project to find and develop an abundant and clean energy source that will give us independence from oil and other fossil fuels.”

    It’s already been done and it was called … the Manhattan Project.

  75. K Marquard says:

    1. Employment – I think number one is getting the unemployed to work. There are long-term structural problems that increase unemployment and inequity in our economy but those won’t be fixed overnight. In lieu of that, minimum wage jobs in a CCC type of organization would be a short-term but worthy solution.

    2. Energy Generation – start funding research on thorium cycle reactors and increase funding for all of the renewable sources. In the end it’s all solar energy anyway, from the radioactive decay of massive atoms created in the heart of a star to wind and water energy due to atmospheric convection to direct solar. Fund only pilot plants that will produce clean energy. Don’t waste money on clean coal or similar projects. Carbon sequestration projects are a waste too.

    3. Energy Transmission and a National Grid – start funding high capacity transmission lines from areas like Wyoming (wind) and the desert southwest (AZ, NM, UT) to high consumption areas like Chicago, LA, BosWash Corridor, etc. Start pilot projects using either DC lines or super-conducting lines, measure efficiency and go with the most efficient type. Continue funding demonstration projects for new ideas that can be incorporated into future elements of the grid. There is already a demonstration super-conducting cable in service between Long Island and New Jersey. DC long distance transmission lines have much lower line losses than AC long distance lines. Even though DC is nowhere near as good as super-conductors it may be cheaper over all with current technology.

    4. Space – asteroid mining is a must. Why lift all the materials to build a space station or inter-planetary vehicles into orbit when the stuff is already there flying too-and-fro? Figure out what asteroids would be easiest to bring into lunar orbit and conduct a mining survey of them. At first use robotic ships that retrieve small rocks and shepherd them into lunar orbit. Stack them up there and then bring into Earth orbit carefully and slowly for safety’s sake. Work up to bigger and bigger asteroids over the following years. Once you have the raw asteroids in orbit send up automated refineries/smelters built to extract the raw materials in the captured asteroids. As refined raw materials build up send automated or low human supervision factories to build the heavier components of new refineries, smelters, factories, habitats and space vehicles. Keep expanding the capacity of orbital manufacturing until it’s 100% self sustaining. With current technology a dedicated and well organized effort could probably establish a solid space-based manufacturing infrastructure in a matter of two to three decades. Once you have space based manufacturing then we could really start exploring inter-planetary space.

    If I was Bill Gates or Warren Buffet, right now I’d be spending two billion dollars to fund the first asteroid raw materials surveys and release the data into the public domain. Then I’d spend the third billion to grab the richest asteroid I found and boost it into lunar orbit and oh-so-slowly and carefully into Earth orbit. I’d offer that entire asteroid to the first private company or nation that could park a refinery or smelter next to it/on it and extract one ton of refined raw material from it; iron suitable for steel making, refined aluminum ingots, oxygen/nitrogen mix suitable to breathe, water pure enough for drinking, or any combination of refined raw materials. How much do you think each ton of pure water or structural aluminum would fetch if you could deliver to low earth orbit when shuttle launches on average cost around $450 million and minimum satellite launch costs run around $50 million? With enough large asteroids in orbit you could not only mine them, but build habitats and factories inside them safe from orbital debris, cosmic rays, and solar storms.

  76. dsawy says:

    The best public infrastructure projects ever paid for by the US taxpayer were those done during the Depression, namely the huge hydro-power projects (Hoover Dam, TVA, Columbia, etc) and the Rural Electrification Act. Those huge hydro dams provided not only cheap base-load power, they also provided reliable irrigation water supplies, which are a nice thing to have if one likes to eat.

    Today, we’re not going to get the same sort of multiplier out of our infrastructure spending, but maintaining a supply of cheap, reliable power is essential to our economy, so new infrastructure spending should be prioritized to put energy development first.

    Infrastructure, however, is a double-edge sword: the more you have, the higher your maintenance budgets. The amount of infrastructure needing maintenance and upgrade is huge in the US – the ASCE estimates we could easily spend between $1T and $2T doing nothing but repairing/upgrading/improving existing infrastructure. We should probably repair what we have first, because some of the repairs (eg, bridges, overpasses, etc) are needed to prevent very expensive (and possibly lethal) failures.

  77. mock turtle says:

    21st century apollo energy independence project

    usa using only domestic energy sources by 2020

    half of our current account deficit is about importing energy

    think what a boost to the domestic economy we would realize if we were energy self sufficient

    develop solar, wind, tidal, geo-thermal and especially nuclear and any other proven renewable energy source

    all manufacturing and construction restricted to domestic sources…tell our so called free trade partners who manipulate currencies and rig their markets to be export oriented that this is about national security and is exempt from nafta and gatt…and if they dont like it we will tariff all goods entering the usa… so think about it

  78. DL says:

    If the Republicans pick up 44 seats in the House, and 7 seats in the Senate (in November), is it even possible that a grand infrastructure project could get passed?

    I agree with dsawy (and others)… repair what we have. Not very sexy, but worthwhile, and could be started right away.

  79. jbmoore61 says:

    My Father thinks that we’ll build high speed rail systems, but trains have been a niche technology and high speed trains are only likely economical over short distances of less than 500 miles (think Japan or Britain). They are a regional solution for commuting on the East or West coasts or through corridors like Dallas/Waco/Austin/San Antonio at the regional level in the Midwest, not necessarily a national solution for a country as big a s Russia or the United States. I believe that projects with the biggest bang for the buck would have to be in Energy and Healthcare. We should build a smarter, more efficient and more extensive electrical grid, add on wind turbines and solar power plants using flywheels or molten salt reservoirs (or whatever is the best solution to buffering the variability of wind and solar power generation engineers come up with). The government should fix Yucca Flats and approve either a standard design for a big nuclear powerplant or approve a known design for a micronuclear powerplant like Toshiba has made (http://peswiki.com/index.php/Directory:Toshiba%27s_Home_Nuclear_Fusion_Reactor). We also need more research on battery technology and if electrical vehicle technology is going to go anywhere. We should also implement energy efficiency in public buildings such as installing ice cooling units in existing buildings and building more energy efficient public buildings and solar powered street lights. We should build more hospitals and staff them with more trained doctors and nurses as well as turn pharmaceutical R&D over to the public sector and revamp the clinical trial system to be run by the government. These three things would lower healthcare costs dramatically by lowering provider and drug costs. Pharmaceutical companies could bid for producing and selling these drugs. The trend will be that pharms will move their R&D centers and clinical trials overseas to India or China to lower development costs and expenses, and the American divisions will just be for marketing and distribution. If we don’t do these things, we will end up with brain drain, another lost industry moved overseas, coupled with expensive products. We should fund NASA and develop a space equivalent to the Civil Aviation Board and FAA for LEO (low earth orbit) space travel. While it would be nice for a manned mission to Mars, robotic probes and space telescopes give the biggest bang for the buck and provide jobs for engineers and scientists. We have to build the LEO infrastructure before we can go to Mars and beyond. It will be a while before we have a space elevator. Public education, K12 and college level, needs to be revamped and made more economical. $20-30,000 for a college education that is essentially useless is a waste. American undergraduates have to compete with foreign graduates who emigrate here who generally receive free educations and who don’t have any college debts. Why are we hurting our own? If people are our best assets, preparing them and giving them an equal educational and job opportunity is a must. Besides, one can only poach from the world’s supply of best minds for so long. Eventually, the other nation’s economies will catch up and our system which pilfered the best human products from other countries’ educational systems will suffer.

  80. 777george says:

    A lot of good ideas Mr. BR. A start on repairing existing decayed infrastrcture provides jobs for the semi-skilled. Begin taxing outsourced work, IT or instance, so that buyers are required to make up the difference in taxes lost to our country, not a tariff! of course, just call it “International Cost Balancing”.. Also America now suffers from a lack of GOOD TALENTED manament in private enterprises. Make it mandatory that all public Corp. board members pass a minimal IQ requirement.

    Then, yes, go after long term investments. Increase %age of NG used compared to gasoline or fuel oil. Go after Alt Energy projects. VERY CAREFULLY, use small rate subsidies(not Spanish models). Begin organizing the famous smart grid, very real, very doable, too imprtant to let greed win out over this. In fact a Smart Grid will is nationally profitable with our current genrating system. As the grid is organized, bring back solar cell production from CHINA! Push on building wind power towers and generators, this is good medium level industry( why is our fake “Management” upper class against industry?)

    And, after ALL THIS, we need managemnt schools that can actually train GOOD MANAGEMENT! Education for billionaire embezzlers and thieves has turned out to be worthless for our country, at least I think so.

    Sadly, I believe NONE of this will actually happen. The controlling class won’t permit it to. They become more powerful if the lower 97% continues to lose wealth. Brazill has some very rich people. Who could really say that it is not a Third world country.

  81. constantnormal says:

    We should be overhauling our educational infrastructure. We still run our colleges and universities in basically the same manner as they they were run in Europe since the Dark Ages, and our educational expenses are escalating faster than even our misbegotten health care costs.

    The US was once the place where the world came for education, but no longer. Our schools produce some of the worst-educated graduates on the planet, at least for a so-called “developed” nation.

    The reason that I refer to this as an infrastructure program is that all aspects of our society need to change to wrench us away from being a nation of Homer Simpsons. Our educational machinery has got to do a better job for less money, and embark upon a path of continuous improvement.

    This is one form of infrastructure overhaul that should generate savings, not cost us money.

  82. Jojo says:

    This list should be boiled down and then sent to Congress & Obama.

    Otherwise, all these great ideas will disappear in the bit bucket.

  83. river says:

    American Society of Civil Engineers (the infrastructure people) are on top of it. They have been giving failing grades to the nations infrastructure for the last 8 or so years. Here is a website talking about it.

    http://www.infrastructurereportcard.org

    I would think you take their lead, although you may need some independant groups prioritizing the different projects.

  84. JustOne says:

    Barry and friends,

    Our economy is a Titan that runs on a massive energy input. We require about $200 to 300 billion in oil imports each year. A substantial portion of another $400 billion in net imports (trade imbalance) has significant energy content (for example products containing plastic and steel take energy to produce and deliver). The integral of the U.S. trade imbalance in energy totals about between $2.5 and 4 Trillion since about 1990 and continues to grow quite rapidly.

    That’s a lot of excess OPEC cash now sloshing around in Swiss, English, U.S., Spanish, French, German, … banks, commodities, equities and currencies. Selling oil at $70 per bbl that costs less than $10 per bbl to produce, process and deliver has a way of piling up and sitting quite heavy in the economy. And that much cash buys a lot of lobbyists and “corporate” donations and “Buddhist-Monk” donations to “influence” the political process and encourage the support of “helpful” politicians.

    Except for the farm lobby that has created significant subsidies for alcohol production and tariffs to prevent foreign competition, I know of little significant political action that has been successful in changing the fundamental sources of our energy. The issue is not technology, engineering or economics. It is political and, as far as I see, neither party has a vision for solving our energy dependency or the political will to do so.

    The energy in biomass comes from solar energy with a net efficiency of about 0.1%. With current technology, solar to ethanol production may even have net negative in efficiency when all the energy required for ethanol production and delivery is considered. At 0.1% efficiency, the entire land mass of the U.S. would be required to produce the 100 quadrillion BTUs the U.S. consumes each year. And much of our land is not suitable for corn production (too rocky, dry, hilly, populated, wet, etc). Biomass simply falls short as a solution for our economic leak.

    If we don’t invest in systems that more efficiently produce the energy we need directly from the sun, we will remain dependant on our current suppliers. To reduce that dependence (and the political and economic instabilities that result) we must invest in the infrastructure needed to create “solar refineries” that produce electricity and liquid hydrocarbons and other useful energy intensive products and eventually completely offset the imported energy required by our current systems.

    If not, we will continue to run a deficit in net imported energy that is, for our economy, analogous to a massive leak in our economic Titan. Our “Titanic” is already sitting quite low in the water from the burden of its leak but is still sailing along … sort of. Its instabilities, sluggishness and difficult control issues are becoming quite noticable.

    At first a ship with a hole in it doesn’t look too bad. It continues to sail along getting gradually lower in the water. However, eventually the bouyancy of the ship will become negative, the ship will suddenly roll and sink … lost like the Titanic. This “tipping point” is well known and inevitable unless the crew either seals the leak or bails water faster than the leak.

    I say all this to say that … unless infrastructure investments in technologies that will meet our fundamental need for energy are made, the end of our economy as we know it is inevitable. I don’t care how many high speed trains, space projects, new entertainment venues, bridges, or highways you build or repair … the result will be the same because they do not change the energy import deficiency. It’s ok to import tennis shoes and TVs that we can do without if we must but our Titanic economy cannot function without energy input that is roughly equivalent to today’s energy consumption per capita.

    We are very used to having all the steel and concrete and plastic and gasoline we need. And we are not very nice when real shortages start to occur.

    I believe it is quite feasible to construct solar refineries that turn waste hydrocarbons (sewage, animal waste, municipal trash and other sources) and free sunlight into liquid hydrocarbons for transportation, other energy intensive products and electricity for industrial, transport and home use. I believe the efficiency of our refineries should be able to reach at least 20 percent … a factor of about 200 higher than that of ethanol production from corn. This can be done cleanly and conveniently near our urban and industrial centers where the energy loads are located. However the vision must be clarified and the will to move forward prioritized. I believe it is not only possible but imperative. It must become the “Manhattan Project” of the new millennium. It must become the “I have a dream” target in our hearts.

    If not, nothing else we might do really matters.

    I believe it, but I am

    JustOne

  85. HelicopterBen says:

    Space –> Moon Base –>Helium-3 –> Clean energy —> Jobs …. jobs … and more jobs…..

  86. Bernie638 says:

    Most of these projects need laws reformed, not money. Here in the southeast we are trying to build new nuclear, Vogtle has started construction already, the constant lawsuits have delayed other projects. It already takes 10 years of site study before you can even submit the first application to the NRC.

    Look at the Large solar and geothermal projects in the southwest that should be producing power now but haven’t been able to start construction because of the required impact studies and constant lawsuits.

    I don’t think the people wanting an upgraded electrical grid understand what that means. The political push for a new grid isn’t about upgrading the existing systems. Its about taking land from people in the middle of the country to build windmills and power lines for people on the east coast. The people in the northeast who shutdown Shoreham nuclear project and cape wind want to use the government to take taxes from all across the nation to finance the taking of land from people in the Midwest so that the northeast can have cheap electricity produced far away from their backyard.

    Let the Midwest build the renewable energy and industry will follow the cheap power. Fix the laws that prevent big projects and the jobs and economy will recover, no federal spending required.

  87. torrie-amos says:

    SOLAR SOLAR SOLAR SOLAR

    think plumbing, and PC’s, once plumbing was available and all wanted homes were retroes with no problem

    pc’s with moore’s law, well, exquisite

    in 20 years we will hit a solarization period of all homes, heck you change you’re roof, now’s the time to go solar

    what will not change from now to infinity is you’re basic roof, which means any solar project done now fifty percent of cost is in brackets holding panels, basic wiring, and convertor, these will not change, the only thing that will change is efficiency of wafers, just like pc’s

    A. solarized homes

    B. graduation age should be 16, did anyone do anything last two years in high school, lol, then go to trade school or college for 2-4 years, we need people with skills

    C. GPU, general practioner universities, everywhere, lot’s of em, we need a million GP’s, the healthiest least costly usually have long term relationship with ONE doctor, not dozens, which is stupid, yeah, let’s get a dozen opinions

    D. National Fresh Food System Initiative, preservatives enabled long shelve life which was required due to length in transportation and distribution,

    E Micro- Manufacturing, the old way, big machines which were costly to pump out millions of widgets, when u bought new, you sold old oversea’s to third world countries, now machinery is computerized and more competitive, u can get away with smaller mfg if you’re not obsessed with millions of whatever widgets, so National Manufacturing Craftsman Initiative, we need craftsman not burger flippers

    F. Wave Techonology, u know how much power are in waves rolling up to the shore, gobs and gobs

  88. “Most of these projects need laws(, and schemas–ed.) reformed, not money.”–Bernie638

    All of those looking for a ~”21st century apollo energy independence project”..

    should understand

    http://search.yippy.com/search?input-form=clusty-simple&v%3Asources=webplus&v%3Aproject=clusty&query=Petrodollar
    +
    http://search.yippy.com/search?input-form=clusty-simple&v%3Asources=webplus&v%3Aproject=clusty&query=Petrodollar+Recycling
    ~~

    and, w/this “…We should also implement energy efficiency” (re: Buildings), We would be remiss if we forgot http://www.forms.org (ICF)

  89. Hugh says:

    There are a whole lot of nice ideas posted here.

    But none of them will help to get the US out of its rut within the next five years – they just come on-line too slowly.

    If you want to get out of recession you’ll need tax cuts – or at least to avoid tax rises. Once you come out of recession you can think about some of these nice toys.

  90. Bob Rosenberg says:

    Building more mass transit.

    1: Rebuilding bridges across the nation.
    A: Repaving roads & highways across the Nation.

  91. PrahaPartizan says:

    Hugh, how can any rational, thinking person actually say that “tax cuts” are what are necessary to jump-start the economy? Those 20% of the population hurting now because demand is non-existent won’t benefit from those tax cuts because it won’t increase their disposable income. The uber-wealthy who would benefit are doing zilch with those same tax cuts right now because they’ve got all the disposable income they need, so the economy won’t benefit. Where’s the demand supposed to come from with tax cuts? And, no, the rich won’t just invest the money because they’re nice folks who care about other people. They’re rich because they’re selfish, self-centered bastards who care about no one else, as exemplified by their century long war against paying taxes.

  92. JustinTheSkeptic says:

    We need to stop thinking that a college education for the masses is the cure for all our ills. More trade schools with an emphasis on invention and product development. Let all those new minds, before they get impaired by college professors, get busy developing the future!

  93. Patrick Neid says:

    Why don’t we do it the other way around. Instead of spending why don’t we first clean up the mess we made.

    End farm subsidies, kill the ethanol boondoggle, lift restrictions on nuclear energy to just name a few. Force higher mileage standards on auto makers–hell, we own em now. Small efficient diesels that get near 40-50 miles per gallon already exist. Electric cars are not going to change anything. They still need energy. I know they feel good.

    “Solar Roadways” I had just posted that on FB a few days ago! I hope it continues to impress. Plus it has all the ingredients of success–being built in a garage by mad scientists with no funding!

  94. V says:

    Invest in ways to lower cost of carbon fibre production. The energy savings by using low weight materials would be immense. If the the carbon could be harvested from the air, even better.

    This also looks like a worthy investment cause:
    http://www.oilendgame.com/Abstract.html

  95. ZackAttack says:

    A lot of good ideas in here. I’d add:

    Space elevator
    Industrial quantities of carbon nanotubes.

  96. Shnaps says:

    Improvement and expansion of waste processing and recycling technology.

    Perhaps we can avoid the ‘Great Garbage Avalanche of 2505′.

  97. crankitto11 says:

    Frwip:

    “Crankitto11 :

    “Manhattan Project to find and develop an abundant and clean energy source that will give us independence from oil and other fossil fuels.”

    It’s already been done and it was called … the Manhattan Project.”

    Sure, if you ignore the word “clean.” The problem of disposing of nuclear waste (and to a lesser extent, safety concerns) is why nuclear energy has met a majority of the energy needs of only 3 countries in the world– France, Belgium, Slovakia. I would harldy call that “independence” from fossil fuels.

  98. powerpenguin says:

    Well, here is my two cents.

    Politically, it is vastly in the democrats best interest to put down something that is BIG, EXCITING, and POPULAR. Something that will get everybody talking, interested in, and something that they will want to pass, because the republicans will certainly oppose it. That is the best move the democrats could make politically, and therefore that is what I believe will happen; Obama probably already has something in mind and he will likely lay it out early October. What it is, though, is anybody’s guess.

    Some other points (I apologize, again, for sucking at citing);

    1) wind>>solar
    The US is a wind-rich nation and the only reason people talk so much about solar is because the government has decided to pump more money into solar. Solar is, right now, only carbon-neutral anyway (when you consider the construction of the solar cell). There are tons of areas in the US where the wind literally never stops blowing, and wind turbines won’t crap out when it gets cloudy.
    There is more promising stuff in the forms of algae biofuel than in solar.

    2) massive redo of the entire education system
    nothing less would be appropriate. Americans getting less and less education is actually a sign of increasing American intelligence, in my opinion. Abolish the tenure system. Replace the whole article-writing publication clusterfuck with a giant science-wiki. Force all undergraduates to learn at least basic science/math. Give enormous tax subsidies to companies who publish papers, even if it’s in psychology/sociology.
    Doesn’t make many jobs though.

  99. dwkunkel says:

    We should repair our existing infrastructure but refrain from creating any new road or rail projects. We need to stop thinking in terms of moving people around and concentrate on moving information. We should spend whatever it takes to provide high speed symmetrical internet access as a low cost utility throughout the nation. This would transform things in ways we can’t imagine.