“Infrastructure: The Play”

In an earlier post, I noted with approval the comments of Jonathan Chait, Keith Humphreys, and others who have been critical of Drew Westen’s claim that if President Obama had been more forceful in his use of narrative, he could have enacted a much greater proportion of the progressive agenda.  But I went on to note that Westen had made an important point nonetheless. Given the composition of the House and Senate, Mr. Obama may not have been able to achieve substantially better legislative outcomes in the short run, but he could and should have forced Republican obstructionists to pay a much steeper political price.  In this piece, I propose a bit of political theater that I hope the president will consider for that purpose.

Author: Robert Frank

Robert H. Frank is the Henrietta Johnson Louis Professor of Management and Professor of Economics at Cornell's Johnson Graduate School of Management and the co-director of the Paduano Seminar in business ethics at NYU’s Stern School of Business. His “Economic View” column appears monthly in The New York Times. He is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at Demos. He received his B.S. in mathematics from Georgia Tech, then taught math and science for two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer in rural Nepal. He holds an M.A. in statistics and a Ph.D. in economics, both from the University of California at Berkeley. His papers have appeared in the American Economic Review, Econometrica, Journal of Political Economy, and other leading professional journals. His books, which include Choosing the Right Pond, Passions Within Reason, Microeconomics and Behavior, Principles of Economics (with Ben Bernanke), Luxury Fever, What Price the Moral High Ground?, Falling Behind, The Economic Naturalist, and The Darwin Economy, have been translated into 22 languages. The Winner-Take-All Society, co-authored with Philip Cook, received a Critic's Choice Award, was named a Notable Book of the Year by The New York Times, and was included in Business Week's list of the ten best books of 1995. He is a co-recipient of the 2004 Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought. He was awarded the Johnson School’s Stephen Russell Distinguished teaching award in 2004, 2010, and 2012, and its Apple Distinguished Teaching Award in 2005.

3 thoughts on ““Infrastructure: The Play””

  1. Doing infrastructure maintenance now is a very attractive idea – but that was supposed to happen with the original stimulus and it didn’t. What reason is there to believe that all of these missing “shovel-ready” projects are suddenly now ready to go?

    There seem to be a number of problems inhibiting them, including enormous regulatory requirements that makes projects take years from proposal to start. Maybe that’s where we need to focus – reduce some of these impact study requirements until the economy is booming.

  2. FuzzyFace–

    “Doing infrastructure maintenance now is a very attractive idea – but that was supposed to happen with the original stimulus and it didn’t.”

    This is simply not correct. The original stimulus allotted $132B for infrastructure and clean energy. But…

    “Tax cuts, aid to directly impacted individuals, and aid to states have continued, but public
    investment outlays on items such as infrastructure and clean energy now account for a larger
    share of the stimulus. These outlays have increased from $7 billion through the end of the
    second quarter of 2009 to $162 billion through the end of the first quarter of 2011.”
    http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/cea_7th_arra_report.pdf

  3. @Robert Frank- Your idea is good with one draw back. Joe Biden is not the guy to pull this off. Joe was my senator in Delaware and I like and respect him. That said he has one unshakable habit, when he starts talking he will keep talking until he sticks his foot in his mouth and at the same time bores everybody into not listening.
    Might I suggest drafting Al Franken for this duty. He is a pro, smart, funny with a dry wit and knows the value of pausing to let the audience absorb the point. And when to take his bow and bring down the curtain.
    Franken seems to have been avoiding using his comic ability in public and I assume he wants to shake the image of being ‘just a comic’. But his great ability is an underused resourse that the Democrats should enlist for just this kind of show. Comedy is serious business.

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