America’s Infrastructure Gap

An anonymous Economist writer who seems to share Ryan Avent’s interests and policy preferences has an excellent article about the sorry state of American transportation infrastructure, noting that we spend less per capita on such things than Western Europe despite having a larger land area, faster-growing population, and more money:

America is known for its huge highways, but with few exceptions (London among them) American traffic congestion is worse than western Europe’s. Average delays in America’s largest cities exceed those in cities like Berlin and Copenhagen. Americans spend considerably more time commuting than most Europeans; only Hungarians and Romanians take longer to get to work (see chart 1). More time on lower quality roads also makes for a deadlier transport network. With some 15 deaths a year for every 100,000 people, the road fatality rate in America is 60% above the OECD average; 33,000 Americans were killed on roads in 2010.

Something to think about is that this is a problem that gets worse and worse as time goes on. Not that the commutes become longer (though they have) but the actual disutility of traffic delays increases. That’s because even as we get richer and invent more and more things you could be doing with your time (iPod! Netflix!) we’re not actually adding hours to the day. In a rich country like the United States we ought to be focused less on marginal increases in wealth as such and more on problems that lead to inconvenience and ill-health.