A couple of interesting items in The Economist recently. First, a gloomy survey of America’s transportation infrastructure. Pages and pages of bad news, but a couple of paragraphs will do well enough as a representative sample:
The Congressional Budget Office estimates that America needs to spend $20 billion more a year just to maintain its infrastructure at the present, inadequate, levels. Up to $80 billion a year in additional spending could be spent on projects which would show positive economic returns. Other reports go further. In 2005 Congress established the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission. In 2008 the commission reckoned that America needed at least $255 billion per year in transport spending over the next half-century to keep the system in good repair and make the needed upgrades. Current spending falls 60% short of that amount….
The federal government is responsible for only a quarter of total transport spending, but the way it allocates funding shapes the way things are done at the state and local levels. Unfortunately, it tends not to reward the prudent, thanks to formulas that govern over 70% of federal investment. Petrol-tax revenues, for instance, are returned to the states according to the miles of highway they contain, the distances their residents drive, and the fuel they burn. The system is awash with perverse incentives. A state using road-pricing to limit travel and congestion would be punished for its efforts with reduced funding, whereas one that built highways it could not afford to maintain would receive a larger allocation.
And here are some surprising charts showing projected population growth in the world’s largest countries. America will continue to grow, thanks to healthy rates of immigration (yes, immigration). But we are going to be vastly outstripped by, of all places, Nigeria:
Did you see this coming? I admit I did not. By 2100, assuming current trends hold, Nigerians will outnumber Americans by 250 million bodies. I assume this means we can expect a century of debate over Nigerian immigration to the U.S.
Meanwhile China is actually in decline, thanks to the One-Child Policy. (Tom Engelhardt recently reported in Salon that China’s aging population may curb its economic growth in the next century — prophets of American doom, take note!) But man — look at the spike in India! (Prophets of American doom, rejoice! India is the new China!)