Anthony J. Pennings, PhD

WRITINGS ON DIGITAL STRATEGIES, ICT ECONOMICS, AND GLOBAL COMMUNICATIONS

From New Deal to Green New Deal, Part 3: “It’s the Infrastructure Stupid”

Posted on | February 9, 2020 | No Comments

Infrastructure, at the deepest level, is a techno-socio bond that brings together new communications technologies, new energy sources, new modes of mobility and logistics, and new built environments, enabling communities to more efficiently manage, power, and move their economic activity, social life, and governance.” – Jeremy Rifkin, The Green New Deal.[1]

This week, I had a chance to attend the Japan-Texas Infrastructure Investment Forum in Austin. Texas and Japan are prolific trade partners and got together to discuss more “public goods” like transportation, water, and the possibilities of “smart cities.” In this post, I want to connect the current imperative to build infrastructure in the US with green technologies and also with this series’ emphasis on the New Deal.

If Texas were a country, it would have the 10th largest economy in the world. Bigger than Australia, Canada, and even Russia. Japan, of course, is number 3, after the US and China. Japan is moving many of its US operations to Texas due to the Lone Star state’s business environment, rich resources and cosmopolitan cities. Texas exports chemicals, food, oil and gas, and electronic products.

I was primarily interested in seeing the presentations on Smart City developments, but was intrigued by the talks on water management in Texas (I’m Dutch, it’s in my genes) and transportation. I didn’t know, for example, that Texas desalinates over 150 million gallons of water every day. Also, Texans drive over 550 million miles a day. What would be the implications of renewable-powered desalination for agriculture and general water needs? How do you manage that much road maintenance? What alternatives are available to the traditional internal combustion vehicle? Just a few tidbits that set the context for the day’s presentations on building infrastructure in Texas.

One of the objectives for Japan was to pursue contracts for their Shinkansen, the high-speed railroad that makes Japan fairly easy to traverse. Its only a matter of time before Dallas, Austin, and Houston are connected with more efficient lines, and Japan wants to get in on that.

They even brought in the Japan Overseas Infrastructure Investment Corporation for Transport & Urban Development (JOIN) and the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) to support the funding of the operation. Having both driven the routes to Dallas and Houston as well as taken the railroad in Japan, I certainly would enjoy the Shinkansen bullet train for my next Texas trip.

Texas is unique because it is a major carbon-extracting and exporting state. But like Saudi Arabia, it recognizes the importance of pursuing infrastructural projects with a green tinge. Growth in Texas is expected to increase substantially over the next several decades, and that means new strategies for mobility, water availability, and disaster risk reduction.

Now we have to confront and analyze the implications of a post-petroleum age. Exploring the New Deal gives us a better perspective on the size of that task, how deep and sometimes intrusive the process will be. The New Deal was a monumental, multi-decade endeavor that made American great and will not be easily matched.

Roosevelt’s New Deal was primarily an infrastructure program. Facing economic collapse and massive unemployment, FDR promised “a new deal for the American people.”[2] In the first 100 days of the FDR administration some 15 bills were passed to assist the recovery and put people to work. Some of the major projects were the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), the Public Works Administration (PWA), the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and the related Rural Electrification Act. These were all designed to get people back to work and build a infrastructure that would support the new energy paradigm – hydrocarbons and electricity.

While economic recovery sputtered throughout the 1930s,
federally-funded infrastructure projects built the roads, tunnels, and bridges for cars and trucks, the dams and coal-fired utilities for electrification, and some 125,000 public buildings including schools, hospitals, and government facilities. Even airports like LaGuardia outside Manhattan were a product of the New Deal.

The Hoover Dam tapped the Colorado River and provided electricity for the entire Southwest, including Los Angeles and a small town called Las Vegas. When the dam was completed in 1936, it was the most extensive electricity producing facility in the world, providing power to Arizona, California, and Nevada. It electrified homes, entertainment, industry, and agriculture.

Another big infrastructure project for the New Deal was the Interstate Highway System of 1938 that eventually lay down almost 47,000 miles of public roads. Before the attack on Pearl Harbor Roosevelt appointed a National Interregional Highway Committee to study the need for several cross-country inter-state highways. The building of the “Autobahn” in Nazi Germany was a major source of motivation. In Interregional Highways, the committee recommended constructing 40,000 miles (64,000 km) interstate highway system. It was an extraordinary push for the mobilization and motorization of the US. It provided extraordinary interconnection between cities and was the “killer app” for the automobile.

Notes

[1] Quote “It’s the Infrastructure Stupid” in the title is also from Jeremy Rifkin, The Green New Deal. “It’s the Economy, Stupid” was coined by campaign strategist James Carville during the Clinton-Gore 1992 presidential campaign during the 1992 election to counter George H. Bush’s success with the first Iraq War.
[2] Blitz, M. (2017, November 20). When America’s Infrastructure Saved Democracy. Retrieved February 8, 2020, from https://www.popularmechanics.com/technology/infrastructure/a24692/fdr-new-deal-wpa-infrastructure/

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AnthonybwAnthony J. Pennings, PhD is a Professor at the Department of Technology and Society, State University of New York, Korea. Before joining SUNY, he taught at Hannam University in South Korea and from 2002-2012 was on the faculty of New York University. Previously, he taught at St. Edwards University in Austin, Texas, Marist College in New York, and Victoria University in New Zealand. He has also spent time as a Fellow at the East-West Center in Honolulu, Hawaii.

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    Professor and Associate Chair at State University of New York (SUNY) Korea. Recently taught at Hannam University in Daejeon, South Korea. Moved to Austin, Texas in August 2012 to join the Digital Media Management program at St. Edwards University. Spent the previous decade on the faculty at New York University teaching and researching information systems, media economics, and strategic communications.

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