Sunday, November 22, 2015

Puerto Rico's Infrastructure: New Deal Action vs. Modern Neglect

Above: A bridge in Puerto Rico, before New Deal funds were used to reconstruct it, ca. 1934. Photo from a Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA) report.
 
Above: The same bridge, after reconstruction. Photo from a FERA report.

Recently, it was reported that "Puerto Rico, already hobbled by massive debts, is being weighed down by an outdated infrastructure that's increasing the cost of doing business on the island." The president of a business consulting firm in Puerto Rico said, "The real problem here is the lack of maintenance of our infrastructure" and also "added that the island's infrastructure was one of the factors that led to Puerto Rico's economic growth for most of the 20th century."
 
Well, where did that 20th century infrastructure come from? Most people probably (certainly?) don't know that it came from New Deal programs like the CWA, PWA, WPA, FERA, and the Puerto Rico Reconstruction Administration (PRRA). With respect to the latter, a researcher at the City University of New York concluded that the PRRA "made lasting contributions to local social and economic life." And he described how - "Designed by Puerto Rican engineers and built by Puerto Rican workers, PRRA public works projects made concrete contributions to the physical security of millions of Puerto Ricans through the construction of hurricane-proof houses, schools, hospitals, roads, sewers, waterworks, and rural electrification networks."
 
But there's no talk of bringing back the WPA or the PRRA, is there? There is only talk about how middle and low-income Puerto Ricans need to pay more taxes & fees, and receive less education & medical care - even while the super-wealthy use their island as a tax haven (see, e.g., "Puerto Rico debt crisis: austerity for residents, but tax breaks for hedge funds," The Guardian, July 25, 2015). This is what happens when you live in a world where the economic rules are rigged in favor of millionaires, billionaires, and multi-national corporations. And this is what happens when you're living in a Golden Era of White Collar Crime.
 
Puerto Rico, and the rest of us, need a New Deal. Unfortunately, as long as millions of people continue to vote for trickle-down economics, and millions more refuse to vote at all... we aren't going to get one. So, as the rest of the world invests in amazing infrastructure, American infrastructure will continue to deteriorate.

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