Editor’s Comments- I Make America: Undoing Decades of Institutional Thinking

July 1, 2011

I shudder every time I hear that our federal government is sitting down to solve some major problem, but nothing shivers my timbers harder and faster than when the subject is so redolent with vested interests as the critical elements of our nation’s basic

Waves of outrage, fear, and incipient panic brought about by any failure of the delivery systems that fuel our economy-indeed, our very way of life-invariably bring about demands not only for a detailed accounting of what happened but how government plans to prevent similar disasters in the future. The inevitable outcome is review by a panel composed of officials who are engaged to study the situation, finding that more money is needed to replace what just failed while waiting for the next failure.

There’s nothing sneaky or heinous here; it’s just that asking czars with their own dogs in the fight to question the systems over which they reign is not likely to generate enthusiasm for doing things differently. It’s the nature of institutions to resist change, and there’s much to be admired for such rigidity, but not where the change involved is so fundamental and pervasive that its supporting institutions are no longer relevant. And this, I maintain, is the pass at which we now find ourselves.

It seems only yesterday that the difference between the old world (Europe) and the new (us) lay in the focus of our primary institutions…theirs sought stability, while ours placed value in change. This difference, I believed (and still do), gave us an enormous advantage by allowing us to tap the energy and creativity of a very large part of our citizens and, in so doing, to ride the crest of change rather than flounder in its backwaters. But it seems we’ve allowed this vision to dim over the past several decades. The areas of command and control, once in the hands of predominantly local interests, have gravitated inexorably to higher and more remote levels of centralization, a situation ill-suited to the demands and changes taking place in our society. Then, if you look elsewhere in the world, change is taking place unfettered by institutional thinking or an overriding concern for “stranded investment,” rendering us and our institutions increasingly irrelevant.

Over the last half-century we have undergone a transition from a rural to an urban society, a trend that is accelerating, creating what amounts to an infrastructural meltdown. I’ve heard estimates for the repair, replacement, and upgrade of our primary infrastructure between now and mid-century of $15 trillion to $30 trillion…figures, mind you, predicated on fighting a rear-guard action. It’s one thing to screw up your courage enough to ask where such amounts of money might come from, but quite another to question our society’s ability to actually mobilize itself to utilize such an investment.

Do we have the courage to meet the challenges, or are we so bound up-victimized may be a better term-by centralization that we will choose to watch from the mall as our once-proud traditions become a footnote in some future history book?

Three years ago, when the economy went into the tank, the caretakers of our nation reacted with brave promises of spending programs to drag us back to health…an approach by the way that finds no support from history. At that time, though I was not in favor of writing checks our children would have to cover, I commented that to the extent these monies were applied to correcting our long-neglected infrastructure, at least they would realize some benefit from the process.

Little did I know that the monies I thought bound for this purpose would instead go to purposes that to this day confound me, but that’s a subject for another time and place.

Suffice it to say that far from merely languishing, our infrastructure deficiencies grow worse by the day, with no clear signal from Congress or the administration of a will much less a movement to relieve the morass.

Well, folks, it’s time to change the experiment, and this time we have a vehicle for doing so…the American Equipment Manufacturers (AEM) Association’s I Make America program.

Granted, AEM’s purpose is increased equipment sales, but it’s you, along with the entire construction industry, who will be the foremost beneficiaries, so please go to http://www.imakeamerica.com/and see what’s in it for you, and how you can join the crusade.