Thursday, December 1, 2005

Budget surpluses and infrastructure

Infrastructure is one of the wisest investments a government can make to improve the lot of its people. It's the gift that keeps on giving. Building roads, railways, schools, and hospitals with budget surpluses builds a foundation for future economic growth. Economic growth comes from increases in efficiency, and infrastructure promotes efficiency by saving people time and money.

In Canada, the province of Alberta is undergoing a huge oil boom right now, resulting in massive surpluses. They can't agree on what to do with the money, and they've considered paying dividends, which is a very short-sighted solution. Infrastructure investments will provide jobs immediately, while continually yielding benefits for years to come. A check from a dividend payment can be blown on something from eBay.

One shining example of money put to good use is Beijing, China. The streets are wide enough to carry all the traffic and keep it moving. That's quite a remarkable feat in any Chinese city. When I visited Beijing last summer, smooth traffic was the last thing I was expecting.

Another success is the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) system in the San Francisco Bay Area. Its service is frequent, cheap, and reliable. It allows people to move in and out of crowded areas such as Market Street in San Francisco while saving them the hassle of finding parking spaces.

Granted, infrastructure investment is expensive. It's understandable that people will be reluctant to allocate huge sums of money for something whose payoffs are not immediately apparent. Maybe we are doomed to wait until things get really bad before doing something to change the situation. Once we get around to that, let's do something about traffic on Los Angeles freeways.