Bear with me here while I put things into perspective. One million seconds ago would take us back to Halloween. (Chances are the candy didn’t last an additional million seconds.) One billion seconds ago was roughly 1983. (One of the early Ronald Reagan years.) One trillion seconds ago God may have still been fooling around with the stars and moon suspended in space. At the very least, it was well before the earliest civilizations began to emerge.
A trillion of anything is, let’s face it, a lot. Especially when you’re talking about money, cash, moolah, dinero, bread, bucks, greenbacks, legal tender, loot, coin, pesos, dough – whatever you want to call it.
Right now, in the United States, Congress is the only entity that deals in such a large number. Elon Musk or Bill Gates or Warren Buffet might someday glance at their savings account and see a “1” with 12 zeroes after it, but for now, it’s just the fine folks we’ve elected to serve us and be good stewards of our money. (Did I just hear somebody laugh? That’s not nice.)
The just-passed Infrastructure Bill is supposed to create a path to invest $1.2 trillion of our dollars in traditional items such as roads, bridges, water systems, transit, broadband, and (here’s the kicker) other public works. Apparently, many such slices of our everyday lives really need an upgrade.
There are probably few among us who wouldn’t agree that the potholes we’ve hit on the way home from work that totally throw our cars out of alignment should be a top priority for repair. And since we’re all rather dependent on our phones, computers, and the Internet, it’s probably fair to say we’d all like access to high-speed broadband whenever we want it, wherever we are.
But that’s still a lot of money to spend, especially in the somewhat nebulous “other public works” category. So, I think there should be some significant guidelines in place to make sure it is properly apportioned and not just spent because it’s there.
For example, if a city or town wants to replace an aging bridge, perhaps there should be some kind of shared cost. Like, say, the local citizens have to put up a certain percentage of the money for every project in order to qualify for the big bucks from Uncle Sam. It just doesn’t seem fair that other communities that have been good at keeping things repaired and in good working order should have to subsidize metropolises that chose to let their water pipes decay over time.
If you’ve got some of your own skin in the game, chances are you’re going to be very interested in how the game progresses. And you’re probably going to hold those in power answerable to every dollar spent. Maybe each Congressional representative should be required to publish the reason for every infrastructure project and the amount to be spent on said projects each week. I’m sure newspapers and other news sources would be glad to help the officeholders disseminate that information.
And tangential to that, it would probably behoove all of us taxpayers to know the name of every contractor given infrastructure money . . . along with any possible contributions those contractors may have made to the aforementioned Congressional representatives.
Everybody wants to get what they pay for, right? We the People have been told over and over throughout the discussion about the Infrastructure Bill that the projects are all worthy and everyone will benefit from their completion. Let’s hope that’s the case. And if it is, surely no one would object to letting us take a regular peek at the expenditures.
On the heels of this initial Infrastructure Bill, though, is another one lurking in the Halls of Congress. It’s also labeled Infrastructure but apparently bears little resemblance to anything remotely associated with roads and bridges. The terms being bandied about include human or social infrastructure, and that is somewhat harder to define than new sewer pipes or airport runways – which makes it all that much more prudent to keep tabs.
If you run a business, you have to account for all your income and outgo. The ledger that keeps a running total of assets and debits needs well-documented line items. And they’d better match up, or trouble is sure to follow.
Not that I’m an untrusting soul. It just seems to me that those who spend our hard-earned money ought to account for every dime of it. And if the somewhat free-wheeling, less-defined second Infrastructure Bill happens to pass, putting another trillion or two or more on our collective tab, make that every nickel. Because, unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to take even a million seconds to spend a trillion dollars.
©MMXXI. William J. Lewis, III – Freelance Writer