A sampling of e-mail reaction to my column today:
– I work in the environmental consulting business – we do environmental impact statements, biological opinions for the Endangered Species Act, archaeological surveys for the National Historic Preservation Act, wetlands delineations, etc.
For a small wind farm project I recently worked on, the environmental compliance process took a full year before construction could start – and this was a project with a very fast turnaround.
I’ve got another project that involves building a single small communications tower on BLM land in an area where almost no impacts were expected. It took us about 6 months to complete the environmental assessment (agency scoping, field visits, technical studies, internal and BLM reviews, etc.). Even after the EA was completed, issuance by the BLM of the Finding of No Significant Impact took another 20 months.
Highway projects – similar time lines. Plus, acquiring new rights-of-way from landowners can take 1 to 2 years of negotiations.
On the shelf projects can sometimes be quicker, but it depends how long they were on the shelf. They may require supplemental environmental studies because regulations have changed.
And why would anyone assume that the environmentalists who sue to stop projects will suddenly accept them because it’s good for the economy?
Relying on infrastructure projects to stimulate the economy is realistic only if you: 1) have a long time; and 2) want to ensure employment of engineers, biologists, planners, and lawyers. It won’t do a damn thing for construction workers.
–…I have never been partial to Keynesian policy and am more cut from a traditional Republican mold. However, unusual conditions call for unusual measures.
The whole crux of this is velocity of money, and that is also what debunks your analogy to Japan. True, it did not work for Japan, but there is no comparison. Japan is not a consumer driven society, they are export driven, hence the velocity of money does not matter as much to them as it does to us. True, we are only shifting money from one coffer to another, but when so much fear grips consumers that even those who are employed are dining on Chef Boyardee for the first time in ten years, there is an exigency to restore confidence among those who are still employed, and income for those who are not. Confidence is the underpinning of everything. Corporate purchasing managers and CFOs are humans with psychologies too.
Velocity of money- once it gets rolling it creates a domino effect, yes it is money being shifted around and not wealth “creation”, but without actual business transactions taking place, money in the mattress collects mold. I’m trying to find the right analogy here, maybe a relay race where all but one runner collapses, that last runner only has so much steam before falling down before finishing…
–Another issue to be discussed about public works projects is how many of the soon to be laid off Citigroup employees would really go out and pick up a shovel. Lots of manual labor in the 30’s using basic equipment. People lived at or near the construction sites. Today’s road building, etc. involves skilled equipment operators (bulldozers, back hoes, cranes, etc). There are only so many flag people positions to go around. It would be better to just send unemployed people monthly checks instead of trying to do any public works projects…