The Great Antidote – Chris Edwards on Infrastructure

By The CGO

Published:

On this episode of The Great Antidote podcast with Juliette Sellgren, she is once again joined by guest Chris Edwards. In their discussion, Juliette and Chris cover the Biden administration’s latest infrastructure endeavor, similar undertakings from US history, and what infrastructure actually means.

 

Guest Bio

Chris Edwards is the director of tax policy studies at Cato and editor of Down​siz​ing​Gov​ern​ment​.org. He is a top expert on federal and state tax and budget issues. Before joining Cato, Edwards was a senior economist on the congressional Joint Economic Committee, a manager with PricewaterhouseCoopers, and an economist with the Tax Foundation.

Edwards has testified to Congress on fiscal issues many times, and his articles on tax and budget policies have appeared in the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and other major newspapers. He is the author of Downsizing the Federal Government and coauthor of Global Tax Revolution.

Edwards holds a BA in economics from the University of Waterloo and an MA in economics from George Mason University. He was a member of the Fiscal Future Commission of the National Academy of Sciences.

 

Episode Transcript

Juliette: Welcome back. It is my pleasure to have Chris Edwards back on the podcast. Chris is the director of tax policy studies at Cato and is the editor of downsizinggovernment.org. He is an expert on federal and state tax and budget issues. Last time Chris and I talked, he explained to us the economics of taxing and wealth. You should check that out, but this week I want to talk about infrastructure. President Biden has just proposed a plan to spend about 2.3 trillion on infrastructure, arguably to fix our crumbling roads and bridges, to modernize airports and to make America’s infrastructure the best in the world, and to create a large number of jobs in the process. I kind of want to unpack this and other infrastructure-related things with Chris. So welcome back, Chris.

Chris Edwards: Hey, thanks a lot for having me, Juliette. I’m honored to be here. You’ve had lots of really top-notch people on your podcast. So, it’s great to be here to join you today.

Juliette: Yeah. Ok. Before we get into it, what is the most important thing that people my age or in my generation should know that we don’t?

Chris Edwards: So, I think as probably a lot of old people say. Young people don’t know enough about history. And I think the more you learn about history, the more it does affect your views on public policy and the economy. And I’ll give you two examples of that. I mean, one of them is that young people are growing up today and the internet it seems to be the, and is a revolutionary thing, changing a society and all our lives, but there’ve been many technological revolutions in the past that were perhaps even larger than the internet revolution. A great example is the telegraph and railroad revolutions of the 19th century radically changed society. So society is always changing as new technologies come along. And another related thing is that I think young people probably, they grow up with the government filling certain roles in society, and they assume that the government has always filled those roles or always must do those things. We’re talking about infrastructure today. A good example here is urban systems like the bus and rail systems you see in cities. Before the 1960s almost all of those systems in America were run by the private sector. Now they’re all run by government. So just because you see the government running bus systems and subway systems today, it doesn’t mean that government has to do it because for a long time government didn’t do those sorts of things.

Juliette: That’s a good point. I think that also is just, I feel like it would make it so much easier if you think about that in relation to like your beliefs and like, why you think that. Oh, so you think that if government intervenes here that there will be this outcome or it will better this industry in this way. And then if you look to how it was when it was private or a pastime, when the government has intervened, you can kind of see what would happen this time because history repeats itself. So I don’t know, that’s a good point. I haven’t really thought about that. So thank you. Let’s start with a very basic question. What is infrastructure? What is it that we classify as infrastructure? Because when I was younger, not even that much younger, like last year, few months ago, maybe, I thought only roads were really considered as infrastructure?

Chris Edwards: So economists actually have no hard definition of infrastructure. We actually see some debate between the Biden administration and Republicans now about what to include in an infrastructure bill. So one, a really broad definition is basically long, lived fixed assets. In other words, machinery and equipment and items that companies or governments can invest in the last, a long time. So that includes everything from schools to pipelines, to broadband networks, anything that we can put in place that will generate growth and economic activity for years to come. The only really good definition is that sort of broad definition. It’s investments in things that will generate returns over many years.

Juliette: That makes sense. Okay. I was surprised well, especially because I believe that it was just roads and bridges and stuff, but in the plan only 621 billion of this 2.3 trillion- Oh my God, that’s so much money- only that much is actually about transportation and only 115 of those billions are for repairing roads and bridges, which is what at least I used to think was infrastructure. So the rest of the bill is mostly subsidies, right? And it’s the private companies for broadband and electric power companies, things like that. So it’s not what people think of when they think about infrastructure.

Chris Edwards: That’s right, Juliette. There’s no doubt that the Biden proposal is vastly more expansive than what Congress has done in the past. So usually every five years Congress passes, what’s called a surface transportation bill where they fund highways and they fund urban transit systems. The Democrats like urban transit funding, the Republicans like the highway funding. And that was kind of the way it’s been for a number of decades. Biden would greatly expand subsidies in many different directions as you pointed out. He would, for the first time, subsidize private infrastructure, broadband automobile facilities electric utilities, the electric grid, and many other private activities to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars in his plan. I think that’s a very dangerous and aggressive thing for the federal government to do is to get that involved in private industry because with government money comes government control and we really don’t want the federal government controlling our electric utilities or broadband or automobile industries. But that sort of gives an idea of how expansive this Biden proposal is.

Juliette: And some politicians, I don’t know if this is exactly coming from the influence that this proposal has. I don’t know if it’s influenced by this like big expansion of what is thought to be the job of the federal government, or if it’s just a general change in thinking and that’s just can be seen in the proposal, but Senator Gillibrand recently tweeted that “paid leave is infrastructure childcare is infrastructure and caregiving is infrastructure.” And that not only is so far from just the idea of infrastructure being roads and bridges, transportation, but from even broadband is nothing like paid leave.

Chris Edwards: So here’s why I would come down on this. The issue of what is, or what isn’t infrastructure is not really the big issue. The big issue is whether the federal government ought to be involved in any of these activities. And in my view, the federal government should get out of infrastructure almost completely. Other than funding, some of its core missions like the military, of course, has a lot of assets and infrastructure, but everything from highways to paid leave and the automobile industry, we should leave those activities to state and local governments and the private sector. They can do it better than Washington. So whether you call it infrastructure or not, I don’t think that the federal government is getting far too involved in activities that the States and that the private sector should be doing. And that’s the real problem here.

Juliette: Yeah. I completely agree. You have a paper that I think will surprise a lot of people and it kind of, it really surprised me, especially in the face of such a big proposal. When we talk about federal investment in infrastructure, the reality is that the private sector owns most of it, but the federal government only owns a small amount of these assets. Can you talk about that? And like the distribution of who’s involved and how these proposals would change that?

Chris Edwards: That’s right. So the Department of Commerce actually produces data on who owns assets in America, sort of as part of its mission, the Department of Commerce produces our accounts, that measure GDP. They also produce a set of accounts that measure fixed assets. In other words, who owns all the hard assets in America, highways and pipelines and internet infrastructure and all that we have tens of trillions of dollars worth of this hard assets or infrastructure in America. And if you look at the department of commerce data, it turns out that the private sector owns about 65% of it state and local governments own about 30% of it. And the federal government only owns about 5% of hard assets or infrastructure in America. So what does the federal government own? Well, again, aside from defense, the federal government owns the air traffic control system, it owns some of those big dams out West, like the Hoover dam, it owns post office buildings, and a few other things, but the federal government actually does not really own much. And here’s why this is important. So state and local governments own highways and schools and roads on transit systems, and then as I said, the private sector owns most assets like pipelines, and internet, and refineries, and all that stuff. The people who own assets should be the ones responsible for maintaining it and investing in it. The federal government currently has all these subsidies that go top-down from Washington to state and local governments for infrastructure they own, like highways. But I think that’s unproductive and it’s unnecessary. State governments, own highways, state governments own the entire interstate highway system, and they can fund it. They’ve got every capability to fund the assets themselves, just like the private sector. The private sector brought broadband companies like AT&T and Comcast. They invest billions of dollars every year in expanding the internet. Well, that’s great. We should leave them alone. We should let them do their thing and invest in the infrastructure they own. So that’s why I’m in favor of getting the federal government out of the infrastructure business, letting the States fund their own infrastructure and letting the private sector fund its own infrastructure.

Juliette: You’ve also made the case that while the federal government owns very little, it has an oversized power in the investments made by both the private sector and the state and local governments. So in addition to the fact that they don’t own that much of the assets, and they seemingly don’t play that much of a role 5%. Now there’s kind of the idea that they basically control what investments can be made. Can you talk about that a little bit?

Chris Edwards: Sure. Yeah. The federal government gives the States over a hundred billion a year in money for their infrastructure, like highways. One of the problems with that is that a whole bunch of regulatory strings get attached to that funding. So for example, we have an age 21 drinking law in every state today because the federal government tells States they must have that law or else they’re not going to get their highway money. I’m not in favor of that. I think States themselves should each decide what their drinking age ought to be. In the past, the federal government imposed a 55 mile an hour speed limit on all 50 States and if they didn’t do it, the federal government wasn’t going to give them their highway money. That was actually repealed in the, in the mid-nineties, but it was a crazy thing that kind of imposed the same speed limit on places like DC and Rhode Island, as it did in some of the vast wide open States out West. So when the federal government imposes these regulations tied to the spending, it reduces beneficial state diversity, and it prevents people in States from deciding their own policies. I’ll give you one more example of that with today with federal highway money. If a state is building a section or a highway section or building a highway overpass and they take federal money, they essentially must pay union wages on the highway construction project, which raises the cost of building the highways. So highway building in America costs more today than it really should because the federal government cysts on union labor and the President Biden wants to expand those sorts of union ties to everything the federal government spends on. And I think that would be really detrimental and damaging for the economy.

Juliette: What are the main problems with those sorts of regulations where especially with union jobs, because that’s a big part of Biden’s plan. Also, what are the consequences of those types of things?

Chris Edwards: Well, I mean, philosophically I’m against those sorts of top-down rules, because I think they’re, anti-democratic, I think the 50 States should decide on their own laws for things like labor unions and how they build their highways, and what speed limits they want on their highways. We have 50 state legislatures, democratically elected. They should decide policies in their own States. And it seems to me really arrogant when the federal government comes in and tells every state they’ve got to fit exactly in the federal plan. I mean, Joe Biden, President Biden, when talks about infrastructure, he almost always talks about labor unions. He wants labor union jobs tied to all his infrastructure, but people in many States don’t agree with that. So why should Biden be able to impose his one size fits all labor union ideas on the whole economy. It doesn’t make any sense to me. So some States want to focus on different types of infrastructure. I mean, some States might want to spend more on schools and less on highways. Some States might want to spend more on highways and less on schools. The federal government gets involved and it tries to impose and spending allocations and choices on all the States that doesn’t make any sense to me. Diversity in my view is good. We should let the States go the wrong way on building the wrong highways and other activities. And then the States can learn from each other and the States can compete against each other. They can learn good lessons from each other. I think when the federal government comes in with a one size fits all plan, it doesn’t really help.

Juliette: Okay. So now I want to talk about something that’s used as a very common talking point about infrastructure and the discussion about infrastructure, which is that America is doing very poorly, American infrastructure is absolutely crumbling, it’s falling apart. Is that true?

Chris Edwards: So that’s a complicated question because of course, as we’ve been discussing there’s many different types of infrastructures. So generally I would say some types of infrastructure, American infrastructure is great, other types of infrastructure, not so great. So I think our private sector does a fabulous job, for example, in building infrastructure for the internet. Last year during the pandemic, there was a massive increase in internet traffic because everyone was going on Zoom and other high bandwidth uses like that. And the internet performed brilliantly. So that’s the private sector is taking the lead, doing the investment. That’s great. And then there’s government infrastructure. Some government infrastructure is actually doing pretty well. Okay. So for example, a lot of politicians claim that America’s highway bridges are crumbling. So America has about 600,000 bridges over its highways. And we actually- the government collects actually good data on these bridges and America’s bridges have actually been getting consistently better over the last few decades. So the politicians claiming our bridges are falling down that isn’t true. We actually have good data on that. Our bridges are getting better. However, there is quite a bit of government infrastructure that is in poor condition. A very good example here is urban subway systems and subway systems in Washington, DC, New York, Boston have been have terrible maintenance problems that breaking down. The DC system has had a whole series of fire and smoke incidents. People have been killed. It’s similar in New York and Boston. Their subway systems are government-owned and the government hasn’t done proper maintenance on these systems. So they’re falling apart. I have proposed that we privatize government assets where we can and you get much better maintenance because, of course, private owners want to protect and defend their assets so they will maintain them. And so we have some good examples here. Hong Kong, 20 years ago, privatized its subway system and it’s been a brilliant success. It doesn’t even need subsidies. It operates off of its fair revenue. Generally, our subway systems are much more poorly run. They’re not maintained well. And I think the solution for a lot of assets like that is to privatize them to move them to the private sector.

Juliette: Kind of on that same track, let’s talk about the American society of civil engineers report cards for the United States and infrastructure. So two decades ago we had an F and now we have this year, we have a C minus and that’s a substantial improvement. So I guess kind of referencing your answer to the first question. How did that change come about? How did we improve so much? Was there government involvement government or was it private? What happened?

Chris Edwards: That’s a good question. I think the American society of civil engineers in their report card that comes out, I don’t really know how scientific it is. It’s sort of the engineer’s view of the sort of guesstimates about what sort of shape this infrastructure is in. Some of the infrastructure they look at as government infrastructure. Some of it is private infrastructure and there’s some real inconsistency. So for example, they look at public schools, but they don’t include private schools as infrastructure. They don’t include lots of private infrastructure. Like we’ve been talking about like, like broadband and so what people have to realize about that particular report is that it is the engineer’s lobby group. Engineers like to spend more money on infrastructure. That makes sense. I mean if it was up to engineers, every piece of infrastructure we have in America would be a hundred percent perfect, but that’s not how an economist would look at it. And an economist would say that there’s an optimal amount of an investment and optimal amount of wear and tear on assets. Think about your own personal life. If you own a car, you don’t buy a brand new car every year. What you do is you buy a new car and then you use it for five or ten years and it deteriorates over time. And at some point you make the decision. My car’s getting to run down and I’m going to buy a new one. Well, that’s the same with America’s bridges and highways and that sort of thing that getting them in perfect condition, like the society of civil engineers seems to want to do. It doesn’t actually make sense from an economist’s point of view. You want to have an optimal amount of wear and tear. If you’re going to invest in assets, you should use them. Get as much use out of them as you can over the year. So that’s how I would view sort of the economics of infrastructure.

Juliette: Yeah. That makes sense. And that’s also the fact that they leave out the private infrastructure. A lot of it, at least. If the fact that it’s a special interest group doesn’t give you enough of an indication. That’s also an indication that well maybe they value something more than the actual state of our infrastructure.

Chris Edwards: I’ll mention something else about that, Juliette. Which is I think is interesting is that people like President Trump, for example, complained about the state of American airports. And he said airports like LaGuardia in New York were in terrible condition. And so you’ll get this and the American society of civil engineers will give a poor grade to some of our government infrastructure, but then the broader question is, well, how can we make the infrastructure better then? And if you look around the world, a lot of governments have put some of their infrastructure in the private sector that we still have the government. So for example, all American airports, there’s over 400 big commercial airports in the United States. They’re all owned by state and local governments. But the trend around the world is to privatize airports. So about half of major airports in Europe. Now they’re private. If you fly into London, you land at London’s Heathrow. That is a private corporation running that airport. That’s true of many of the airports in England as well as across the continent. So if you fly into some foreign airports and you go, wow, this airport is really fantastic. It’s often because it’s been- it’s a privatized airport and the private owners manage the airport better than the government owners manage US airports that are all in the public sector.

Juliette: That’s so interesting. I had no idea. Well, I kind of, I mean, it makes sense, but why can’t we catch up? According to the world economic forum, our infrastructure is ranked 13th in the world. Which I would say is not bad. Like there are 141 countries, so that’s really not too bad. Especially that we have improved, and our ranking has improved, but that’s also being cited as a reason why we need this bill and why we need to improve our infrastructure. Can you talk about that and the ranking a little bit?

Chris Edwards: Yeah. I think what the World Economic Forum does is they ask business people to do sort of a qualitative judgment about how they view the infrastructure in different countries and that’s fine and thats a reasonable approach, but it’s not exactly scientific. I agree with you. I think 13th on that report card is pretty good given that there’s over 150 countries in the world. I again though, I think you have to look at specific types of infrastructure and think about who owns it, and what the condition is. As I said our internet infrastructure in this country is great. It’s run by the private sector. Let’s keep the government out of it. Other parts of our infrastructure, like our subway systems and bus systems, are breaking apart and failing. So when infrastructure is failing it is a signal we need to fix it, but, the way we fix it is not- Washington just wants to spend more money on it. I would say the way to fix infrastructure is you have to think about the management of the infrastructure. If our subway systems in New York and Washington and Boston are failing, they’re not getting maintained. Why is that? It’s because of the poor management. So we have to change the management of the system. If we want to make a long-term improvement, the Washington solution is just to spend more money. I would argue that the real solution for poorly managed infrastructure is to improve the management, which means changing the governance structure. And that means in my view generally privatizing it.

Juliette: Yeah, I get that. I want to talk about the ability to create more jobs by building more infrastructure. That’s a big piece of this bill. I mean, it’s named after creating jobs. I’ve interviewed Ed Glaeser at Harvard a while back about cities and about some of his findings on the issue about building infrastructure in places where the economy is booming. And he’s found that that has a real positive impact, but building infrastructure in places, unlike cities that are more stagnant or places not cities, just areas that are economically stagnant in hope that it’ll bring economic growth, doesn’t work. The kind of top-down approach doesn’t work. Also then while the private sector will build infrastructure where it is likely to get the highest returns, politicians who want to spend money are unlikely to follow that. So what’s your thinking on all of this?

Chris Edwards: So I think there’s two issues here. The first one is the reason why we want to invest in infrastructure is not because it creates jobs. The reason is that as you touched on, it will create a long-term, positive return. So we don’t spend a billion dollars on building new highways because it’s going to hire some construction workers in the short run. We want to invest in highways. If the expansion in the highways reduces congestion and improves the lives of citizens over the long term above and beyond the costs of the resources put into that highway. So that’s the first thing, but then the second issue you sort of touched on too, is how does government know when it does investments that it’s going to generate a net positive return? When people say highway investment has a high value and it might in general, but how do we know which projects have the highest value? If we’re going to invest more money in highways, it’s actually very difficult for the government to figure that out for government assets. In the private sector, businesses can invest more in pipelines or the internet or other assets if it will generate a net a return, which generally means it’s good for society overall. The government doesn’t operate in the market. There’s no price signals. It’s difficult to calculate a kind of a net return. So it is all guesswork and more cynically, and based on my experience, looking at government, the last couple decades, a lot of government investment is very low value, even negative value. It’s actually bad for the economy and doesn’t help. A good example here is a decade ago, the Obama administration pumped out a few billion dollars in subsidies to try to encourage the States to build high speed rail system. Most, most states rejected the federal money, but California took the federal money and raised some of its own money. And they’ve been building this boondoggle high-speed rail system through the Central Valley there, which has become a terribly wasteful project. It’s gonna end up essentially going nowhere and not helping anyone and providing very few benefits. It was a big waste of money. And unfortunately, a lot of government infrastructure projects are like that because politicians, I mean, you can see this with the way president Biden speaks about infrastructure. Biden just loves trains and he loves high-speed trains. And it’s sort of an emotional attachment rather than a hard nose decision based on any analysis showing that high-speed trains make any economic sense. They generally don’t, and the government shouldn’t be putting money into them. But that’s kind of that’s the general problem with government investment and it’s also the advantage in privatizing as much infrastructure as we can, because we can be more sure that private owners of infrastructure will only invest more if it makes economic sense.

Juliette: Something I can see- not something I could see- but something I think about; I took business last year, so I think about like different types of organizations and stuff. And something that I think about a lot is like private public partnerships. I mean, I’m guessing it’s not as efficient as the private sector, and it’s definitely more efficient than the public sector by itself. How are there many private-public partnerships relating to infrastructure and like, what are they if they exist?

Chris Edwards: Right. So, you’re right. There’s a whole spectrum of ownership. So on the one hand we have purely government ownership. So the federal government owns Hoover dam, and the federal government owns post office buildings, actually it leases quite a few of them too, but generally it owns a lot of its own assets. The other end of the spectrum, you’ve got private companies like Comcast owning trumps of the internet system. So it’s private ownership. And then I want to move government assets as much toward the private sector as we can. And then some government assets, I talked about airports, you can fully move airports to the private sector. So again, London’s Heathrow airport is a publicly-traded corporation fully in the private sector. Other government assets like highways, a lot of countries, including United States, have tried sort of some in-between ownership. So you mentioned public-private partnerships. These are mainly used for highways and have been used for highways in the United States. So as you know, Juliette, the Capitol Beltway in Northern Virginia was widened. A private company came in they offered to widen the beltway in Virginia and then South from DC using part of their money, and part government money and that private company is now managing those new lands added to the beltway. They raised money through an electronic toll, and that system has actually worked out very well in Northern Virginia. So it was a well-constructed addition to the interstate system. It came in on time and under budget and it works and it works very well. So for each type of asset we should ask, can it be fully moved into the private sector, like airports, or can we bring in private money and sort of partly privatize it, like we’ve done with some highways with public-private partnerships?

Juliette: Yeah. All of this kind of reminds me of, I dunno, wait, hold on. Where’s my brain. Hold on. I’m losing my train of thought. Give me like a few seconds. Oh, okay. I remember. Okay. So kind of moving to a specific type of infrastructure broadband. So a few weeks ago I was talking about broadband with Will Rinehart and public investment in broadband. And one of the things that we talked about is that politicians are obsessed with the supply side of broadband. And they want to invest in it, even though the demand side is probably the more important part because the people who aren’t connected to the internet are the ones who most likely don’t want to. I mean, internet access is pretty easy to come by. Especially with private companies like Comcast reaching out and trying to not only incentivize people, but to make it available for people who might not be able to afford those costs. And it’s not that they don’t see how the internet is useful. They just don’t want to part of it usually. So it’s not really that there’s not enough of a supply, but that’s what the focus is on when the government kind of tries to attack this issue, or if the people don’t want it, I don’t see it as an issue. That means you’re spending a lot of money though, developing broadband access in some rural areas where it’s not profitable and people don’t really want it. And it’s unlikely that the people who are there, even though it’s available will use it because they’ve made the choice not to. Is that something that can be applied to other types of infrastructure or just in general, when the government, especially with this new plan, when they want to spend this money on infrastructure?

Chris Edwards: The broadband issues interests president Biden has infrastructure proposal plans to subsidize broadband. I think it’s a hundred billion dollars, which is kind of remarkable. And there’s a huge internal inconsistency here because President Biden to fund his $2 trillion infrastructure plan, much of it going to private sector companies like those that own the broadband system would raise corporate taxes. So there’s a sort of a circular flow of money here. The big companies like Comcast and AT&T that invest in broadband they’re profitable companies. And they pay a lot of corporate tax. So Biden would hike their corporate taxes, the money that flows into Washington, and buy them would give it back to those same companies with his broadband subsidies. It doesn’t make any sense. And so I’m actually waiting for an internal debate within the democratic party because for many years leaders in the Democratic party like Senator Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, and Biden himself they’ve criticized corporate subsidies and corporate welfare. They claim that Republicans do it, which they do. But then at the same time, here’s the President, a member of the democratic party proposing massive corporate subsidies. So this doesn’t make much sense. Let’s leave the infrastructure investment like broadband to private companies. If some people don’t have access to broadband yet you just have to look at the way technology develops in the private sector is technology starts out expensive, there’s enormous amounts of innovation that reduce costs further and further and further. 20 years ago only the wealthiest people could afford the smartphones that started to come out. And then the price came down and down and down. Now, this is true of every technology. You look at how the price of electric cars now with innovation is coming down and more people can afford them. So the government’s always in a rush to do what the market is doing. Anyway. I say, let’s get the government out. Let’s let the private markets innovate to bring the costs of all these new technologies continually downward.

Juliette: So, okay. You talked about this a little bit, but you’ve done a lot of work on the privatization of infrastructure in other countries. Can you tell us about what you found and like ways we could specifically privatize and see this in the United States when it comes to infrastructure?

Chris Edwards: Yeah, one thing I think that American politicians don’t really get is what a revolution there has been around the world over the last few decades in terms of privatization in Europe, in Canada and Australia and Latin America. Literally, trillions of dollars of formerly government assets and companies have been privatized. So many countries in Europe are privatized their postal systems. For example, ours is run by the government. I’ve written a lot about how we mentioned how most about half actually now major European airports were privatized by many countries in Europe. The air traffic control systems in Britain and Canada have been privatized. Our system is a government-owned system. The British system is a for-profit system. The Canadian system, which works very well as a nonprofit system. And there had been an effort a few years ago in Congress to privatize the American air traffic control system modeled on the Canadian reforms. And I think that would have been a great reform, but President Trump was in favor of that, but unfortunately, that didn’t move forward. So I think that there’s a lot of lessons from around the world on how to take some of these assets, to move them to the private sector, but unfortunately, US policymakers at this point in time, don’t seem to be interested. I mean, their only solution for infrastructure, it seems to be to spend more money. But as I said earlier, that’s not really the solution. The solution is to improve the management of infrastructure, reduce its costs, provide higher quality, to do the right amount of investment. You need better management. And that generally means moving infrastructure to the private sector.

Juliette: Thank you. So to wrap up, what is one thing you believed at one time in your life that you later changed your position on and why?

Chris Edwards: So, you told me you were going to ask that question Juliette and I thought about it, and I’ll tell you why. One thing that some people will start out and they’ll change their political views over time. I’ve always been a libertarian. And if anything, Im even more of a libertarian now than when I was young. And that’s because the older I get, the more I realize that government screws up at just about everything it does. So I used to think that government could effectively do certain things. And I was in favor of that, but with more experience, I’ve realized that actually government screws those things up as well. So for example, when I was young, I was more in favor of our government getting involved in foreign conflicts and maybe trying to build democracies in another country, because it seemed like the ethical or moral thing to do to help other countries get out of brutal conflicts and the like. But now the older I get, the more I realized that our intervention often backfires, and we’re not very effective at nation-building or democracy-building or solving conflicts which you may support for ethical or moral reasons, but really we’re not very good at that sort of activity. Another example of this is that I ethically or more morally think the death penalty is appropriate in the worst sorts of crimes. But the older I’ve got, I’ve realized our judicial system doesn’t work very well either. It screws up all the time, prosecutors screw up all the time. So while I still believe in the death penalty ethically- I’m not against states eliminating, and more states are abolishing the death penalty, and I think that’s fine because we’ve learned that judicial systems and governments screw up just like they screw up in many other areas of their activities.

Juliette: That makes sense. I do see them screwing up a lot. So it’s funny, but also it’s kind of really sad at the same time. It’s like, I don’t know whether to laugh or just to be frustrated, so I laugh, but it’s also frustrating.

Chris Edwards: It is frustrating because the governments don’t seem to learn lessons from past mistakes. They keep making the same mistakes over and over. You see that in a foreign policy, you see that in economic policy and it’s really unfortunate.

Juliette: Thank you so much again, that’s all we have for today. I’d like to thank you again, Chris, for your time and your insight on this issue. I also want to thank everyone who listens, subscribes and shares The Great Antidote podcast. If you would like to be on the podcast, or if you have a guest in mind, please free to reach out to me [email protected] Thank you. Bye

 

CGO scholars and fellows frequently comment on a variety of topics for the popular press. The views expressed therein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Center for Growth and Opportunity or the views of Utah State University.