Thursday, October 10, 2019

"You Didn't Build That!"

Never one to miss a chance to dismiss and degrade the accomplishments of others, President Barack Obama declared in 2012: “You didn’t build that.”

Presumably he meant that building is a cooperative enterprise, one that cannot take place without the contributions of other citizens. When Sen. Elizabeth Warren picked up the idea, she used to to show how people who do not pay taxes contributed to your success by not paying taxes. Or some such.

And yet, irony of ironies, Obama and Warren did have a point… though not the one they thought they had. Victor Davis Hanson takes America to task, by saying that we seem no longer to be capable of building anything any more.

A distant generation created; we mostly delay, idle, and gripe.

Or, as Clarence Thomas famously said, we whine, bitch and moan.

As for why we no longer build anything, the reason is simple enough. We think of life as long term therapy and if therapy does not teach us to delay, idle and gripe, to say nothing of, to whine bitch and moan… what good is it?

Hanson makes a salient point, comparing the construction of the transcontinental railroad with California’s pathetic attempts to build a high speed rail line:

Does anyone believe that contemporary Americans could build another transcontinental railroad in six years?

Californians tried to build a high-speed rail line. But after more than a decade of government incompetence, lawsuits, cost overruns, and constant bureaucratic squabbling, they have all but given up. The result is a half-built overpass over the skyline of Fresno — and not yet a foot of track laid.

California is a test case, though perhaps basket case would be more accurate. It wastes fortunes feeding the homeless and providing them with safe spaces to shoot up, but fails t improve state roads:

California’s roads now are mostly the same as we inherited them, although the state population has tripled. We have added little to our freeway network, either because we forgot how to build good roads or would prefer to spend the money on redistributive entitlements.

In California’s paradise, lawyers, bureaucrats and environmentalists ensure that nothing gets done:

When California had to replace a quarter section of the earthquake-damaged San Francisco Bay Bridge, it turned into a near-disaster, with eleven years of acrimony, fighting, cost overruns — and a commentary on our decline into Dark Ages primitivism. Yet 82 years ago, our ancestors built four times the length of our singe replacement span in less than four years. It took them just two years to design the entire Bay Bridge and award the contracts.

Our generation required five years just to plan to replace a single section. In inflation-adjusted dollars, we spent six times the money on one quarter of the length of the bridge and required 13 agencies to grant approval. In 1936, just one agency oversaw the entire bridge project.

And there is more:

California has not built a major dam in 40 years. Instead, officials squabble over the water stored and distributed by our ancestors, who designed the California State Water Project and Central Valley Project.

Contemporary Californians would have little food or water without these massive transfers, and yet they often ignore or damn the generation that built the very system that saves us.

America went to the moon in 1969 with supposedly primitive computers and backward engineering. Does anyone believe we could launch a similar moonshot today? No American has set foot on the moon in the last 47 years, and it may not happen in the next 50 years.

Yes, Hanson continues, we have accomplished some things in the world of technology. But, our infrastructure is crumbling and great cities like San Francisco are uninhabitable, except by the mega-rich:

True, social media is impressive. The internet gives us instant access to global knowledge. We are a more tolerant society, at least in theory. But Facebook is not the Hoover Dam, and Twitter is not the Panama Canal.

We have, he continues, managed to strangle much of the economy with regulations and litigation:

Our ancestors were builders and pioneers and mostly fearless. We are regulators, auditors, bureaucrats, adjudicators, censors, critics, plaintiffs, defendants, social-media junkies, and thin-skinned scolds. A distant generation created; we mostly delay, idle, and gripe.

As we walk amid the refuse, needles, and excrement of the sidewalks of our fetid cities; as we sit motionless on our jammed ancient freeways; and as we pout on Twitter and electronically whine in the porticos of our Ivy League campuses, will we ask: “Who were these people who left these strange monuments that we use but can neither emulate nor understand?”

In comparison to us, they now seem like gods.

If you were wondering why China is not embracing liberal democracy, that might be a hint.


David Foster said...

Something I wrote more than 10 years ago: Like Swimming in Glue

UbuMaccabee said...

The Chinese, rightly in part, view us as historical “has-beens”. That failed overpass in Fresno is our symbol, like a Roman aqueduct but with no purpose or function. I bet the Chinese send each other links of that overpass in California.

Anonymous said...

Some typical American daily news headlines: Dog found strangled inside dumpster at Virginia elementary school ... to death inside a dumpster at a Richmond elementary school. ... Ohio man accused of beating neighbor's dog to death with bat now faces felony charge. HOUSTON — Elementary School teachers are reportedly being harassed and beaten by their students... This year, I got beat up by a second grader,” said Runnels.

UbuMaccabee said...

See my works ye mighty and despair! This one is my favorite drone clips. It captures the isolation and squalor, but it misses the inevitable gang tags on the structure. It will be a great vantage point to throw objects at cars. This should be incorporated into the CA state flag instead of the cross. I should be relieved that we are no longer building dams, those things can really go sideways in a hurry (see, Salton Sea) and you can’t just walk away with a couple pylons in the ground. I give you, the Obama years.

trigger warning said...

The Eek!otards have insured, with a Lilliputian web of regulations, that nothing gets done. Even the mighty and the anointed have noticed. Responding to criticism that his signature Porkalanche American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 was costly and economically ineffectual, The Lightworker observed

"'Shovel-ready' was not as shovel-ready as we expected."

Maybe we should have destroyed more used cars.