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Easter weekend is here. Want to know one of my favorite traditions?
Easter egg hunts.
As a kid, I loved them. Who wouldn’t? After all, finding colorful trinkets full of candy is great fun. The fact that your parents gave the OK to eat the candy made it even better.
These days, playing the parent role, it is even more fun to watch our kids — and their cousins — make their own memories.
For families to get together, we generally rely on roads. Between modern vehicles making travel easier, safer, and more affordable than ever, and an interstate highway system connecting the country, a 60-mile drive to celebrate with loved ones is eminently doable. We live in a land of plenty, where we can get tropical fruit like bananas all year round for less than 60 cents a pound.
But that wasn’t always the case.
“Critical infrastructure” is a term used in national security circles to define the things that make modern society possible. Electricity, clean water, food, heat — without these things, a mass humanitarian crisis would occur. COVID showed us how fragile our production chains are; early on, neither toilet paper nor flour could be found in stores. A short time into the pandemic, outbreaks at large-scale meat processors threatened our food supply.
And 2021 has continued with these lessons.
February saw a massive electricity crisis in Texas as substantial winter storms wreaked havoc on that state’s standalone grid. March brought the Suez canal to a halt, impeding world trade when the Tawainese-operated cargo ship “Ever Given” ran aground and blocked the historic waterway.
These were “low probability, high impact” events. And they highlighted where our critical infrastructure can come up short, whether by natural disaster, human error, or an enterprising enemy.
The “critical” aspect of our infrastructure should be front of mind as President Joe Biden rolls out his planned spending package. It will encounter challenges from those on the right for the sheer financial size of the plan, topping $4 trillion by some estimates, following trillions upon trillions of dollars borrowed, printed, and spent responding to the coronavirus. The far left thinks it doesn’t spend enough money.
So it’s time for a good old policy scrap over critical infrastructure.
The question of “how do we pay for it” is absolutely the right one to have, at the appropriate time. However, it needs to be preceded by “what do we need.”
Biden’s splashy headlines promising infinite goodness is certainly one approach to try to build political momentum. Yet, as always, governing is a lot more complicated than merely yelling out big numbers.
Washington needs to take a good, hard look at the condition of our critical infrastructure. It isn’t partisan to want good roads, clean water or reliable electricity. But an informed conversation requires a clear, explainable plan to increase capacity and reduce risk.
Like the risk of a single storm crippling the country or a stuck ship shutting off access to our goods.
When President Dwight Eisenhower lobbied for the creation of the Interstate Highway System, he utilized his experience as a military planner — and delegated appropriately — to champion the effort as a reliable and redundant system supporting national defense. He defined the “what” first, before addressing the financial question of “how.”
Biden should follow his Republican predecessor’s playbook. Building bipartisan consensus on what needed doing was the necessary predicate to building the actual roads. And consensus on robust, redundant, and resilient infrastructure should be easy to achieve if we are able to learn from recent events.
Because there is something wonderful when the biggest worry we have is whether the kids managed to find all the eggs. Happy Easter.