Thursday, December 16, 2021

Build Back Better 2022: A Future of Waste and Demolition

** As of 1.19.2021, Biden has pledged to break BBB into sections. This is encouraging news for inflation and a test of how well the federal government meets its obligation to discuss, cooperate, and plan its actions.
**Written just hours before Senator Joe Manchin pulled the plug on BBB, this article is still very relevant as 2022 approaches. There is no question that this administration will lean into efforts to restore this spending package for no other reason than to say "WE DID IT".  It will not bring America Back (Excuse me? Did it go somewhere?).  It will send it further down the dangerous path of a country living on debt and  ignoring its failings.

 Like the French Revolution, the Fall of the USSR and a half dozen modern countries that have experienced financial collapse as the result of exceedingly high inflation and government inefficiency, it doesn't take a doctorate in Economics to see where BBB will take us.  Every household in America knows what comes from spending more than you have.  The United States is not immune to financial difficulties any more than its massive health care system save 800,000 people from dying of COVID-19.  American families should take steps to prepare for the unexpected.  It's not fear but good sense to take care of your household even if the government doesn't take care of theirs. 

And there it is again! Another politician tossing a line to see if he can reel in support for a political agenda.  With approval for the massive spending bill questionable with citizens, the next place to gain support is from local governments.  While it should not surprise the American people that this still occurs, it continues to be a disappointing feature of a Congress that is more concerned with its personal legacy than the welfare of its citizens.

This morning, President Joe Biden announced a plan to replace municipal water lines commonly called "lead" pipe in the United States.  With nothing more definitive than stronger EPA regulations, a ten-year goal and monies diverted from existing budget lines, the assumption is that those in fear of costly repairs may swing support to Biden's massive spending plan. 

With Biden's focus clearly on special interest groups in his first year, only 7% of all Americans are impacted by high lead levels in water according to the EPA website(15 to 20 million people).  Change the numbers to sections of pipe or distance and the task seems far grander than it is. Still, the potential is there that this move could lead to a decade or more of demolishing the old and re-landscaping every lawn and public served by public water lines.  Leave it to a politician to use a bulldozer and the law to handle a problem that could be solved with a bit of ingenuity and resourcefulness. 

Is Lead Really All THAT Dangerous?

Like most natural substances, lead is beneficial in many situations.  Once believed to be an ingredient in gold because of its weight, softness and resistance to corrosion, lead was one of the first metals used by mankind. Its only danger is when it is ingested in large amounts over a long period of time.

It is true that the metal is so popular that it has been used in many ways that it probably shouldn't have been.  Added to gasoline to stop 'knocking' in early engines, lead changed into lead oxide during combustion and became a primary component of air pollution. Used in early cooking utensils, as water and food storage containers, for children's toys and even house paint, lead quickly found its way into the human body with negative results.  The good news is that blood levels of lead in Americans have dropped by 90 percent since it was declared hazardous in the 1970s (NPR.org, Before it was Dangerous)

NJ.com photo
 

Cost vs. Benefit

But the material cost and labor needed to "dig up" every pipe in America that contains lead is far more invasive than even this country can imagine.  Under the direction of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a condition that has already been heavily mitigated as evidenced by blood tests and one that currently--by its own estimates--impacts less than 10% of the population, could suddenly expand to overly cautious levels. Depending on how the term "lead" is defined, the Federal government could condemn every building constructed before l960 when pipes were first coated with a zinc solution that keeps lead from leaching into the water.  Simply designating an area as one of high lead content could reduce the value of homes, hold up the sale of such properties or force renovations by homeowners who might not be permitted to connect lead-based plumbing to the newer approved systems. The unintended consequences such as removal of mature landscaping and destruction of sidewalks and roadways could well outweigh the expected benefits. 

With all due respect, Mr. President. Is this about improving the health of a truly disadvantaged group of people or diverting funds to create infrastructure that artificially inflates economic growth and employment numbers. 

The Political Value of Building

As a new country plus 200 or so years, the act of building has been the hallmark of America's national economy. Unlike Europe, Asia, India and the Middle East, the New World had land and no restrictions on how to use it.  Settlers built homes, road ways, industries and railroads without so much as a thought as to what might happen when the  population required more resources than could be individually attained.  That tipping point happened decades ago for this country's oldest cities.  Still, the overwhelming political viewpoint of Congress since the end of WWII is to tear down and build back, whether it is better or not. 

Waste as an Economic Initiative

Behind closed doors, economists and stock analysts support corporate inefficiency, large infrastructure projects and natural disasters. Called the "Broken Windows" principle, undesirable conditions, such as aging improvements, weather disasters, climate change and poor management, keep the economy going even though wealth and security are lost.  Both Biden's Infrastructure bill and the Build Back Better bill are based on replacing what this administration deems "broken" even if nothing is actually gained by the expense. Even sadder is that those communities and private citizens which acted responsibly will realize their efforts were wasted and unappreciated in the fight for federal funding that is sure to continue.

As Congress adds an additional $2.5 trillion dollars to the debt limit of this country, it is time to remember that not all improvements bring about a higher quality of life for the average person.  Feelings of safety and security do not come from gadgets and gizmos. Trust in leaders is not founded on a president who creates fear and anxiety to increase his statistical record for the history books.  Replacing all the lead pipes in America will be considered a great accomplishment--except to the minority who will suffer damage to their properties in the name of progress.  That is the minority that never seems to matter to a politician.