THE PLANK JANUARY 6, 2009
There was a time when I might have started this blog post with, "Granted, Eliot Spitzer is brilliant ..." But even if he hadn't--well, you know--his post-Albany scribblings at Slate would have put that qualification to rest anyway. His latest article, "Robots, not Roads," is a call for Obama to eschew traditional infrastructure spending and put the stimulus toward "transformative" efforts like smart grids and alternative fuels: "These projects by and large are building or patching the same economy with the same flaws that got us where we are. Our concern should be that as we look for the next great infrastructure project to transform our economy, we might rebuild the Erie Canal and find ourselves a century behind technologically."
But that’s an awful analogy. Railroads displaced canals because they were both means of moving goods and people around the country. But highways and Internet connections aren’t the same thing. And until we’re all flying around in jet cars, we will continue to need roads and bridges, no matter what kind of fuel powers those vehicles. In fact, this is precisely the assumption built into the current debate over the stimulus package’s content, one so elemental most people don’t even consider expressing it: We need to take care of a lot of pressing issues right now, but we also need to spend money to gun the innovation engine. No one except Spitzer sees these two priorities as mutually exclusive, and most people--again, except Spitzer--understand they are mutually reinforcing.