Emotional Infrastructure

Who doesn’t appreciate the need to maintain infrastructure? Well, that depends on how one defines infrastructure, which most of us understand to mean bridges and roads, electrical grids and pipes, all of which have been neglected because there wasn’t much to be gained by politicians doing the unsexy work of maintenance.

But to his credit, particularly after Infrastructure Week, perhaps the only thing to which Trump’s limited skillset could apply, failed to appear (like his beautiful health care plan), President Biden seized upon the opportunity and need and went big. Huge. $2.3 trillion dollars huge. which should give us some sweet new infrastructure.

Sure, there were some bits in there, like 500,000 charging stations for Electric Vehicles that raise innumerable questions of timing and efficacy, but at least it was infrastructure even if the public’s desire to buy EVs remains tepid and the tech employed today might look nothing like the tech available ten years from now, should EV development succeed and people prove interested in buying them rather than just praising the idea of them.

But just as Biden’s American Rescue Plan included some things related to rescue and a trillion dollars of collateral pork, so does his Infrastructure Plan. The question isn’t whether you like what he’s doing or not, but whether it’s infrastructure or not.

When is a $2.3 trillion infrastructure bill not really about infrastructure? How about when $400 billion would go to expand Medicaid payments for home healthcare, with much of that padding the rolls of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU)? That not-so-little detail is one of the line items the media don’t want to cover in President Biden’s latest spending blowout. Allow us to fill the information gap.

To be fair, Biden has made no bones about being the “Union President,” promising to restore unions to prominence even if people don’t want to join them or pay for them.

Mr. Biden wants to spend $400 billion to expand Medicaid in-home and “community-based” care (e.g., adult day care), increasing annual spending by 50%. The fine print of his proposal says his home-care plan would “create good middle-class jobs with a free and fair choice to join a union . . . and the ability to collectively bargain.” This is where the SEIU comes in. The union has been able to exploit Medicaid home-care programs to expand its membership with help from state Democratic lawmakers.

This makes it smell as if it’s just union pay-to-play, and that might be unfair. Sure, the Service Employees International Union contributes significant donations to political candidates of the Democratic persuasion, but Biden is of an age when the belief that unions were inherently good for employees was taken for granted. And if they were good in the private sector, they were good in the public sector, because good things are good. Of course, if Joe wanted to raise the salaries and increase the benefits of federal employees, he could have just said so, but then how could unions benefit if employees were just paid well?

Many home-care workers are family members or hired by families. But since Medicaid pays for home care, Democratic states have deemed them public employees and designated the SEIU as their exclusive representative for collective bargaining. The union then bargains with the same politicians the union supports in elections to deduct member dues automatically from home-worker Medicaid payments.

The problems with an aging population, where medical science has enabled us to live beyond our natural expiration date without coming up with a way to enable us to remain vital and self-sufficient, are manifest. Old folks have to be somewhere, and they usually prefer to remain in their homes, places of comfort and normality, for as long as possible. This doesn’t mean they can do so safely and without help, but since they want to, and old people are cute even if they smell like old radishes, who would deny them their wants?

But isn’t caregiving just another job, except one that burdens family members who would otherwise be out working for a living, breaking glass ceilings, curing cancer while being flexible enough to never miss a dance recital? Meet your new employee. Meet your new member of the union. Meet your new dues deduction resource.

You may well be cool with all this, though you care little about whether anyone else shares your views because you’re invariably right and they’re invariably evil. But is this infrastructure?

MARGARET BRENNAN: This $2 trillion ask, only about 5% of the funding goes to infrastructure. Viewers can take a look at the breakdown here of all the programs that are called for funding on. But of the $620 billion for infrastructure upgrades, it includes incentivizing purchases of electric cars. Can you honestly call this a focus on building roads and bridges?

DR. [Cecilia] ROUSE: I think it’s important that we upgrade our definition of infrastructure. One that meets the needs of a 21st century economy.

Upgrade? Was our definition of infrastructure as archaic as our bridges and roads?

DR. ROUSE: –continue to flourish as we go forward. But now that men and women are in the labor force, we need for our- our loved ones to be taken care of. Otherwise, women cannot go to work, as this pandemic has highlighted.

Nice as it is to be called “loved ones,” which is usually reserved for emails relating to great inheritances from Nigerian royalty, is the serious problem of what to do about the old really all about women going to work? Sure, they can just lock their kids in a closet under the stairs, but that doesn’t do much to address the solution of making women into an ATM for the SEIU.

Addressing the needs of an aged population is a worthy concern, as is addressing the reality that family structure is out of fashion and yet kids have this burning desire to eat every day. These are, indeed, issues that need to be squarely faced. But what they are not is infrastructure, and yet that, as happened with the Rescue Plan, is all we’re going to hear about as the rest of this scheme slides under the radar. Or maybe when Dr. Rouse spoke of “loved ones,” she didn’t really mean old folks, but the SEIU?

11 thoughts on “Emotional Infrastructure

  1. delurking

    This is over 8 years, which means an average of $290B per year. I assume it starts at significantly less and rises over time, but it is still close to a 20% increase in discretionary spending, which is pretty big. And a lot of it is pork by another name, as one would expect in politics.

    But, apparently math is hard. If $620B is for infrastructure upgrades, that is 27% of $2.3T, which is a lot more than 5%. Furthermore, “power grid” and “broadband” are definitely infrastructure, even if you think as I do that the gov’t shouldn’t pay for the latter, and that was lumped into a separate $552B line item (which also had “housing”, which isn’t infrastructure, to further confuse the issue). Combine those and you are at 50%. The press sucks at this, as usual. So, probably somewhat over half is true pork.

    1. SHG Post author

      If you do to the word “infrastructure” what has been done to so many words over the past decade, it won’t be a lie at all.

  2. Jake

    This isn’t the 80’s, Scott. What is the infrastructure of capitalism, in the 21st century, if not that which further increases our ability to generate capital more efficiently?

  3. Thomas Johnson

    Thanks for another thought provoking piece.

    So much so, that I’m heading to the produce section immediately to purchase some radishes, keep them in a dark place until they age and then smell them. If theu smell like me. I’m switching soap.

  4. losingtrader

    “even if the public’s desire to buy EVs remains tepid and the tech employed today might look nothing like the tech available ten years from now, should EV development succeed and people prove interested in buying them rather than just praising the idea of them.”

    Sounds like you’re the investor I’ve been seeking for my interest in a chain of gas stations. Nevermind the tanks are leaking into the water table and there’s that pesky CERCLA statute.

    I’ll even pump the first tank for you.
    Next up, the payphone route .


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