Kansas City and “Fraudulent” Crony Capitalism
President-elect Trump has talked a great deal about the need for massive and widespread infrastructure spending. Many people agree that there is a need for such investment, and furthermore that it is a proper role of government to make such investments. Laura Bliss over at CityLab reminds us of Trump’s nondescript plans, writing,
Trump has said some traditionally infrastructure-y words when he talks about this. “We’re talking about a very large-scale infrastructure bill,” the president-elect said in a long-ranging interview with the New York Times published Wednesday. “… [a]nd we’re going to make sure it is spent on infrastructure and roads and highways.” A proposal to privatize infrastructure projects released by Trump’s economic advisors describes the “complex network of airports, bridges, highways, ports, tunnels, and waterways” that underpins private sector growth.
Bliss worries that Trump will be more inclined toward “major new property development,” rather than infrastructure. She even cites Paul Krugman’s column, where such spending is often boosted, in The New York Times where he writes,
And we already know enough about [Trump’s] infrastructure plan to suggest, strongly, that it’s basically fraudulent, that it would enrich a few well-connected people at taxpayers’ expense while doing very little to cure our investment shortfall. Progressives should not associate themselves with this exercise in crony capitalism.
The President Elect’s infrastructure plan may or may not amount to crony capitalism. As my colleague Patrick Ishmael recently wrote, the Carrier deal in Indiana invites the accusation. Yet this is exactly the sort of crony capitalism that progressives seem to love in Kansas City and St. Louis. Recall that we’ve redirected hundreds of millions of tax revenue into property developments for wealthy corporations such as Cordish, Burns & McDonnell, Cerner, and H&R Block.
Meanwhile, important infrastructure spending (read: roads, bridges, sewers, etc.) is squeezed, because the city cannot afford it. We’ve heard that the city wants to borrow $800 million for such spending—but we have as much detail about where that money will go as Trump has given on his plans. Hopefully, those funds won’t go toward “fraudulent” infrastructure projects instead of those truly necessary for the public good.
Policy debate on infrastructure is welcome, as is skepticism toward government spending. But if you want to be critical of fraudulent public programs that appear only to enrich the well-connected, you don’t need to travel to Washington to find it—or even leave Kansas City.