Thursday, March 25, 2021

We Need A Green Infrastructure Plan

 Popular Economics Weekly

Washington Post

The Biden administration’s $3 trillion infrastructure plan is next on their agenda to boost economic growth. And it will need a tax raise to pay for it.

“I think a package that consists of investments in people, investments in infrastructure, will help to create good jobs in the American economy,” testified Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen in congressional hearings this week, “and changes in the tax structure will help to pay for those programs.”

Yellen and Fed Chair Jerome Powell said there was no problem with any inflationary bulges that might occur with so much spending because it was spending that would boost productivity as well as employment, generating even more growth.

“Our best view is that the effect on inflations will be neither particularly large nor persistent,” said Powell during the same hearings.

The circa $3 trillion infrastructure bill President Biden is proposing should really be treated as if we are fighting another world war, as we treated spending during world War Two. This war to overcome the coronavirus pandemic has killed more people than all prior world wars.

So why even worry about inflation or budget deficits? In fact, rising inflation during WWII created negative real interest rates at the time because the Fed kept rates low to finance the war, just as it is doing now, which really means it is interest-free money (That is, real interest rates less than zero as it was during WWII).

And the infrastructure bill must be a green, environmentally friendly bill because much of it has to mitigate the damage to infrastructure from global warming. Need we be reminded of the recent breakdowns in power grids that can leave millions without water and electricity for days, as demonstrated by the Texas power crisis this year?

The National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) in a 2008 report said, “New research shows that if present trends continue, the total cost of global warming will be as high as 3.6 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). Four global warming impacts alone—hurricane damage, real estate losses, energy costs, and water costs—will come with a price tag of 1.8 percent of U.S. GDP, or almost $1.9 trillion annually (in today’s dollars) by 2100.”

This means an 80 percent reduction in U.S. greenhouse gases alone to meet Paris Accord goals, phasing out most uses of fossil fuels and replacing them with electric energy sources such as wind and solar power.

“Mr. Biden’s infrastructure plan will deal with the meat-and-potato issues that Republicans and Democrats agree are an urgent need,” say NYTimes reporters Jim Tankersley and Anni Karney. “It seeks to rebuild roads, bridges, transit, rail and ports, while also improving power grids and increasing the number of electric vehicle charging stations.”

The plan also requires the development of universal broadband, such as 5G networks that China is already building on a grand scale, a major issue in rural communities. Documents suggest it will include nearly $1 trillion in spending on the construction of roads, bridges, rail lines, ports, electric vehicle charging stations, and improvements to the electric grid and other parts of the power sector, according to Tankersley

There is much more to Biden’s infrastructure plan that will be detailed as we get more particulars. Any delays in passing it will only increase the costs from damage caused by the increasing frequency of hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires, power failures; so much so that even the U.S. Pentagon says climate change has become a national security threat.

Over the past decade, the Pentagon has consistently, repeatedly cited climate change as a serious threat to America’s national security in official public documents.

“Climate change is a threat in their eyes because it’s going to degrade their ability to deal with conventional military problems, said Michael Klare in an Vox interview about his new book about the Pentagon’s role in combatting global warming, titled All Hell Breaking Loose: The Pentagon’s Perspective on Climate Change. “It’s going to create chaos, violence, mass migrations, pandemics, and state collapse around the world, particularly in vulnerable areas like Africa and the Middle East.”

“It is difficult to put a price tag on many of the costs of climate change: loss of human lives and health, species extinction, loss of unique ecosystems, increased social conflict, and other impacts extend far beyond any monetary measure, says the NRDC report. “But by measuring the economic damage of global warming in the United States, we can begin to understand the magnitude of the challenges we will face if we continue to do nothing to push back against climate change.”

If we can protect ourselves from COVID-19, then we surely can protect ourselves from a warming planet.

Harlan Green © 2021

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