Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Whatever infrastructure is, we want more [and we want it now]

Eric Klinenberg, Infrastructure Isn’t Really About Roads. It’s About the Society We Want. NYTimes, April 26, 2021.

The Republican criticism is disingenuous: Politicians of both parties have long used the term “infrastructure” broadly, to refer to the basic systems, physical and otherwise, needed for the proper operation of society.

The only puzzling question about Mr. Biden’s proposal is not whether, say, health, energy and communications networks should count as infrastructure. (They should.) It’s why, when the United States is struggling with problems of social distrust, division and isolation, the proposal includes so little direct investment in civic and social infrastructure — things like voting systems and community organizations, which can support political participation and civil society, and public spaces and gathering places, which can help foster human interaction and collective life.

The word “infrastructure” is relatively new. It entered the English language in the late 19th century or early 20th century from France, where it referred to the engineering systems that supported new railways. It emerged in American policy discourse during the Cold War as a term for investments in modernization projects. But its full embrace in our popular vocabulary occurred only in the 1980s, when President Ronald Reagan declared his intent to help developing nations build “the infrastructure of democracy,” by which he meant “the system of a free press, unions, political parties, universities, which allows a people to choose their own way.”

Political officials and corporate leaders now use the concept of infrastructure capaciously, as Mr. Reagan did.

More at the link.

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