Trump’s Infrastructure Folly

August 5, 2016
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Donald Trump is a competitive person. He likes to have bigger things than other people. He says that he has really big hands. His tax cut was larger than the other GOP candidates. And now he says that his infrastructure plan will be double the size of Hillary Clinton’s.

The problem is, with the federal government, smaller is almost always better than bigger. That’s the message of this fashionable Cato T-shirt, which, by the way, would go nicely with Donald’s Make America Great hat. So for the Trump campaign, I’ll put aside a really big T-shirt for Donald, while a medium would look great on Melania.

With regard to infrastructure, I describe why the federal government ought to reduce its role in this essay. There are few, if any, advantages of federal involvement, and many disadvantages, including bureaucracy, pork barrel, misallocation, cost overruns, and regulation.

State and local governments can raise money for their own highways, bridges, seaports, and airports anytime they want to. Indeed, about half the states have raised their gas taxes to fund transportation infrastructure in just the past four years. There’s no need for more federal taxes or debt, as Trump is proposing.

As a businessman, Trump ought to be thinking about expanding the private role in America’s infrastructure, not trying to one-up Clinton on central control. A global trend toward infrastructure privatization has swept the world since the 1980s. To make America great again, we should adopt the best practices from around the world, and that means the efficiency and innovation that comes with privatization.

When he thinks about his hometown, does Trump think that New York’s government-owned airports provide Trump-level quality and efficiency? Does he think that the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is a model of good corporate governance? If Trump is elected president, would he hand over management of his many fine properties to the city government during his stay in D.C.?

Of course he wouldn’t. Trump knows that governments are a complete screw-up when it comes to managing and constructing big projects. Even little projects: he’s the one who took over the city’s failing Wollman Skating Rink in Central Park and turned it into a big success, on-time and on-budget.

So Trump should rethink his big government plan for infrastructure. If elected, he will discover that federal bureaucracies do not operate the way that his well-oiled real estate enterprises do. The reasons are deep-seated, and no amount of big talk from the Oval Office will turn the vastly bloated federal bureaucracy into a success like the Wollman Rink. 

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