html xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml" xml:lang="en" lang="en"> From the archives: Beautifully done.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Beautifully done.

I loved this piece by Michael O'Hare. Infrastructure! Putting risk in perspective! Making choices about quality of life! Expecting good governance! Everything I love, in one place.

3 Comments:

Blogger dcw said...

I do like the O'Hare piece. It does hit a lot of true and salient points: that this bridge collapse provides very little data relevent to an objective judgement of the state of our infrastructure, that we do have a rather large body of evidence that we under-invest in infrastructure maintainance, and that a systemic reason for this is that politicians are incentivized against such "invisible" spending.

I don't, however, love the piece, because instead of continuing on a deep and insightful line of thought, he prefers to stop and take a rather ill-considered cheap-shot at an evil Republican, for the unpardonable sin of doing what O'Hare wants but having the wrong ideological predilictions.

That politician just illustrates another systemic problem, from which Demorats and Republicans suffer equally: that politicans are incentivized to react visibly to the catastrophe of the day. Witness the nationwide chorus of public servants ordering that bridges be checked, at a time when no-one knows what they should be checked for.

Indeed, given that the political response to a catastrophe usually involves public spending, and that the spending on the resulting programs is rarely cut, one might guess that we would tend, over time, to over-spend on public goods. In that case, the appropriate response to our under-investment in infrastructure might be to say, spend less of medicare in order to fund more infrastructure spending, instead of raising taxes to fund more infrastructure spending.

11:43 PM  
Anonymous Peter said...

I'm glad that he brought up Tuesday's complete subway meltdown. Slow, non-catastrophic infrastructure degredation of that sort gets little attention but causes all sorts of misery when it occurs. And knowing that it's bound to happen again soon make things that much worse.

6:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with dcw that the shot at the republican gov was cheap. But I do love the article because it puts into words most of my thoughts on the event. I was in the Twin Cities that day and there was the predictable outcry and worry... "I drove across that bridge twice this week," said a friend. But, low probability events happen, and, considering the number of people involved, the number of deaths and injuries were very low.

I wouldn't have put it this way, but I like it and will use it myself: Low probability events give us very little information. No need to freak out about a plane crash or bridge collapse. The probabilities didn't change by virtue of that event. Sure, we should do inspections and push the probability of that event even lower if we can, but no one shoud start avoiding planes or bridges...

Cheers,
Tim.

5:38 PM  

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