How Much Bang Do We Get For Our Infrastructure Buck?

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis, the election, and more, subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter.


Responding to a CAP report about how to grow the economy, Josh Barro pushes back on the contention that we have a serious infrastructure problem. Setting that aside for the moment, his follow-up comment is worth addressing:

The real U.S. infrastructure gap is a cost gap: Big public construction projects cost way more here than they do in other countries. Why would we make a major new financial commitment to infrastructure before fixing the problem that we pay way too much for what we do build?

Is this true? I don’t doubt that it costs more to build public infrastructure in America than it does in, say, China or Mexico. But is it more expensive than in Spain or Germany or Denmark? If so, why?

As I said, this is worth addressing. Unfortunately, I can’t find anything very authoritative on this subject. Does anybody know of anything? Even given the obvious problems of construction in an already-built environment, the cost of building infrastructure in America, as well as the time it takes to complete anything, has always struck me as puzzling. If this problem really is worse here than it is even in other densely built, advanced economies, I’d sure like to know why.

UPDATE: Alon Levy has some raw numbers for rail projects here and subway projects here. His figures suggest that average U.S. costs per mile are considerably higher than in Europe. Stephen Smith takes a crack at explaining why here. (If it sounds familiar, it’s because I linked to Smith’s column last year.)

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest