Global terrorism and weak economic growth are two key themes in this election cycle. While these could seem like two totally separate issue, could managing both simultaneously could come in one neat, tidy package?
There is a 100% chance of a terrorism attack on a U.S. city in the future, Gillian Tett wrote in her piece, Resilience in a time of crises. She argues that there is no way to eradicate ISIS, but we can minimize the damage they can do. Tett notes, “‘The classic city today has one big water purification and distribution system, and one power station,’ Kilcullen told me. While this pattern might look efficient, it is disastrous if the water or power is compromised; in a crisis you need a second, back-up system, which is disconnected from the main platform.”
The idea that Tett is arguing is that by passing a large infrastructure investment bill, we can minimize the disruption and damage ISIS or any other terrorist group can inflict on our physical environment. By duplicating existing systems that deliver our water, power, or other vital utilities, we would be able to better manage any disruptions that a terror group could inflict. Destroy a part of the electrical grid? No problem, it’s been rebuilt as a nodal network so service is unaffected.
Terrorism is a huge motivator to the electorate these days, and – call me cynical – it just happens to be a good excuse to cut through the the partisanship. But whether or not we want to use ISIS as the catalyst for making this kind of investment happen, it needs to happen no matter what. In its 2013 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure, the American Society of Civil Engineers says that the U.S. will need to invest $3.6 trillion by 2020 to modernize our national infrastructure. Over four years (and we’ll call it four years, because nothing would happen until a new administration takes office in 2017), that’s $900 billion a year, or about 5% of GDP.
That’s a hefty price, but “Invest in America, defeat ISIS” is not a difficult political sales pitch. A large, multiyear infrastructure investment bill would immediately create a huge number of jobs and inject a huge amount of money into an economy that has suffered from a persistent output gap since the Great Recession. That is the kind of demand-side action many economists have been wanting for years, and it just happens to present itself at a moment when the candidates of both major parties are interested in both infrastructure spending and fighting terrorism.