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Michael Hiltzik: Jeff Bezos likes Biden's infrastructure plan because he knows it's worth the money

Michael Hiltzik, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Business News

Biden's program has been the target of a tsunami of fatuous discussion over what properly qualifies as "infrastructure." Some conservatives argue that only physical structures, especially transportation projects such as roads, bridges and airports, are "infrastructure."

That would exclude such items in the Biden plan as broadband access, modernization of schools, childcare facilities, Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals and other federal buildings.

It would also leave out tax credits for clean energy generation and storage as well as refashioning America's electric grid to reflect the shift in power sources from fossil fuel plants to wind and solar facilities.

Also on the hit list would be Biden's proposal for $180 billion in enhanced funding for government research agencies such as the National Science Foundation and for academic laboratories.

"After decades of disinvestment, our roads, bridges, and water systems are crumbling," the Biden administration says. "Our electric grid is vulnerable to catastrophic outages. Too many lack access to affordable, high-speed Internet and to quality housing."

Conservatives like to denigrate many of these projects as Democratic Party slush. Here's Kevin D. Williamson of the National Review, sneering that "this kind of project presses all sorts of New Deal, TVA, rural-electrification buttons in Democrats of Joe Biden's generation."

 

But here are the facts: The New Deal kept millions of Americans out of poverty during the Great Depression and bequeathed us untold projects still in use, including New York's LaGuardia Airport and Los Angeles' LAX.

The Tennessee Valley Authority, which included reforestation of barren hillsides, construction of flood control reservoirs and dams and the dredging of a ship canal from one end of the valley to the other, lifted one of America's poorest regions out of destitution.

Before the TVA, one farm in 100 in the valley had electricity and the average per capita income was half the national average; the TVA turned the valley into a leading American industrial region. More broadly, rural electrification transformed daily life in the countryside, for the better. Much better.

The opponents of such projects were generally entrenched business interests. Utility companies, for instance, groused that they should have the right to provide residents with power — except that they hadn't been doing so except at usurious rates.

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