The underlying problem is that helicoptering money to "consumers" by way of tax cuts or lump-sum grants a la last year's stimulus payments does little or nothing to help satisfy demands that are latent due to incomplete markets. Give me $100 and I can drive to Chicago for the day, not insignificantly because past public infrastructure spending built the roads from here to there. Give everyone in Madison $100 and it still does sod all for extending the Amtrak Hiawatha service, seeing as the city was cut off from such passenger rail network as still exists in the upper Midwest and reconnecting it requires a substantial investment. Maybe in libertarian fantasyland, there are no such things as collective action problems, but elsewhere overcoming them may be considered to be a useful function of government.As opponents like to say, 90% of people drive, well then we should spend 90% on roads. But its a cycle of spending that causes this to happen. As we've seen in places like Copenhagen, if you build infrastructure to support other modes such as cycling and transit, you will get more and more riders and shift the policies. This is what we did in the 50's in support of the automobile. It was a collective push to increase funding and regulations for that mode that led to its rise. At the time, many felt it was the way of the future, but looking back we know that was completely wrong.
But the issue with the stimulus that continues is the fact that we aren't doing enough and a lot of people don't seem to understand what is "enough". Calling $3 billion adequate is kind of lame, especially given the $250 billion in new projects that are in que as well as the thought that California's high speed rail line would be $40 itself. There is a want for a national high speed rail network, or at least start of work on the key city to city lines that would increase productivity and connectivity. And the excuse that it won't be started fast enough is based on existing FTA and DOT timelines in which transit is suffocated based on underfunding. Another excuse is that we should wait for the next transportation bill. But if we are able to make investments now and write a bill that can fold some of them in, why not do it?
While many will point to the New Deal as a major part of what got us out of the depression, the cap was World War II in which we turned auto plants into tank and plane manufacturers and people saved instead of continuing thier spending. No extra rubber around for new cars, only for the war effort. In fact, this poster reminds us of the lengths people took to save energy and resources. Imagine if in this time period of hardship people were asked to save a little more and come together to build or invest in more of what is needed such as education and technology.
If I were in charge, perhaps I would have an office of infrastructure reconciliation. This means bringing our rail infrastructure up to a current standard and increasing output dramatically, much like China. We'll have to also wait and see on the idea of an infrastructure bank but this is no time to comprimise or seek middle ground as Mr. Summers stated Obama will do. Tax cuts are an idea of the Republicans, thier solution to EVERYTHING over the last 30 years. After a while, there's not much left to cut. Look where that has gotten us. Seems like this is a time to strike forward with big thoughts and ideas.