Government Spending on ‘Infrastructure’ Not Quite What You Think

 

Allow me to explain how my experience with the TVA (Tennessee Valley Authority) and the NFS (National Forest Service) informs my view of BBB (Build Back Better) and other Democrat initiatives.  Please bear with me on the background for the next several paragraphs – it’s relevant.  I hope you find these patterns as interesting as I do.

Before I moved to the festering swamps of South Carolina, I lived in the majestic mountains of East Tennessee.  I lived at 3,300 feet, on 56 acres surrounded by National Forest.  There was a National Forest access road that crossed my property for about a mile, and it was the only way into the National Forest for miles in any direction.  So I got to know the National Forest guys – they would need the code to my gate to access their road.  We got along well – really good guys.

About two miles behind my house was a major power right of way, where huge power lines carried electricity from a power plant on one side of the mountain to the Tri-Cities area on the other. The TVA also needed to cross my property to get to their lines.  We had a good relationship as well. Which was good, because the power poles up on top of the mountain were getting old, and there were a lot of power outages, so they had to go up there a lot.

As it turns out, those power poles were rated to last 25 years, and they were over 40 years old.  So the whole system up there needed to be replaced.  Which would be difficult, because this was extremely steep, rocky terrain.  Boulders, cliffs, and rattlesnakes.

So the TVA guy stopped by one day and said, “Hey, look, we need to get some heavy equipment up the mountain.  Big track hoes, D8’s, and huge trucks with big poles on them.  The trail on your property will be widened a bit, and we may tear some stuff up.  We’ll fix it all when we’re done, of course.  But this is big stuff, and you’ll know we’ve been here.  I’m really sorry.”

I said that I wasn’t real excited about that.  He explained about all the power outages in the nearby cities, and how old the equipment was, and that they sort of had to do this – they really didn’t have a choice.  He was very nice about it, and I saw his point, so I said ok.  He again assured me that they would clean up their mess when they were done.  He had always been honest with me in the past, so I agreed.

He then called the National Forest, and explained the same thing to them, that he would be crossing their land on the way to his power right of way.  The National Forest said no.  Heavy equipment is not permitted on a nature preserve (or wildlife refuge, or however it’s classified).  The TVA guy said he understood, but this wasn’t really optional – he had to do this.  The National Forest said no.  They talked repeatedly over the coming months, with no compromise from either side.  The TVA guy had to keep the lights on, and the National Forest guy had rules to follow, so there was really nothing to compromise about.  So there you go.

Meanwhile, the repairs of the lines over the mountain were becoming more frequent and more dangerous.  One day, when the TVA guy was watching one of his men hanging out of a helicopter in a snowstorm trying to fix a power line while trying not to get electrocuted, he decided that he just had to do this.  Somebody was going to get killed if they didn’t just fix the problem.

So when the weather got better, he called me and asked if he could bring his equipment up like we had talked about last year.  I said sure, and gave him my gate code.  He didn’t bother to ask NFS again.  Because he already knew what their answer would be.

The NFS had their own gate, at the back of my property – it was a big metal gate with a protected padlock.  The TVA guys just used their track hoe to lift the whole gate out of the ground, and laid it off to the side, to be replaced later when they were done.

They were very busy for about two months, and I was impressed that they didn’t change my trail too much.  And true to his word, when they left they took dozers and re-sloped the trail, planted grass seed, re-did the drainage ditches, and left it much better than they found it.

The National Forest trail was the same way – it went from a rutted, washed-out mess to a beautiful road with no erosion, due to better drainage and lots of grass seed.  A few months later, you couldn’t even tell they had ever been there, except the trail was in much better shape.

And the lights were on in the cities.  All the time.  And I didn’t see the TVA guys on my property.  There was nothing up there for them to fix anymore.

Nothing happened for a year or two.

Then one day a National Forest guy went up the mountain to check on something, and noticed the beautiful new metal power poles instead of the ancient rickety wooden ones that were there before.

He called his boss.  His boss called the TVA guy, and asked if he knew anything about those new power poles.  The TVA guy responded, “What?  Somebody put new power poles up there?  You’re not allowed to do that, you know.  Did you get their license plate number?  I’ll bet some idiot rednecks snuck up there one Saturday night with some beer, some fireworks, a team of structural engineers, and fifteen million dollars worth of heavy equipment and redid the whole dang thing!  My God, if I ever lay my hands on those sneaky kids…”

The National Forest guy was unamused, and filed a lawsuit against the TVA.  After all, there are rules.  What else could he do?

I didn’t hear anything about it for several years.  Until one day in my office, I asked a patient what he did for a living.  He said he was an attorney.  I asked what type of law he practiced, and he said that he had spent his entire career so far working for the federal government, on a lawsuit between the TVA and the National Forest Service.  I can’t remember which side he represented.

It had been over 10 years at this point.  He and his legal team had a few other little things come up from time to time, but he said the vast majority of their resources and time were spent on this case.  Year after year.  They knew the opposing attorneys very well, because they had been working on the same case for so long.  Over time, their wives and families became friends, and they often vacationed together.  They had one joint Christmas party every year for both opposing legal offices.

I asked if he was going to win the case.  He looked a little surprised at the question, and then said, “Yeah, well, it’s more of a process…”  I’m not sure what that means, exactly.

I asked if he enjoyed his job, and he said it was a good gig.  Pay was ok, job security was outstanding, he didn’t have to move to bigger and bigger cities, no real pressure, great benefits.

I called the TVA guy that night – he and I had a good relationship.  I asked him about it.  He said that he heard about the lawsuit from time to time, but it wasn’t really part of his world.  His job was to keep the lights on.  He figured that lawsuit would still be going on in a few decades when his replacement had to replace the power poles that he had replaced.

I wondered aloud whether this was the most efficient use of taxpayer dollars.  He just said, “Eh, that’s how the government does things.  Just the cost of doing business, I suppose…   Gotta keep the lights on, right?

I wonder how much they spent on repairs for the 10-15 years before they replaced those power poles, working on top of a remote mountain in thunderstorms.  I wonder how much they’ve spent on this lawsuit, for the federal government to sue itself over a job that it had no choice but to do?

I wonder what the price of electricity in east Tennessee would be if some woman named Kate was in charge.  Someone who has to balance her own checkbook, someone with a high school education who works two jobs to make the payment on her double-wide, and who has more than a bit of common sense.

Federal bureaucrat:  “Hey, Kate.  We’ve got some extra ‘infrastructure’ money to spend, so we’re going to sue ourselves for environmental destruction that didn’t happen to provide a jobs program for our legal departments.

Kate:  “No.

But electricity is expensive because Kate is not in charge.  No one is, really.


A friend mentioned to me the other day how incredible it was, that when he turned on a light switch, the lights came on every time.

I told him that it was even more incredible than he understood.  He just had no idea.  He was probably thinking about electrons.  I was thinking about bureaucrats.

Under President Biden, the federal government is attempting a rapid takeover of as much of the American economy as possible.  When you read the next news story about “Build Back Better” or whatever the program of the day is, think about my story about the TVA and the NFS.

You don’t need to wonder how all those Democrat infrastructure spending bills will work out.  You already know:

A lot of money will get spent on stuff that has nothing to do with infrastructure.  Lots and lots and lots of money.

Much of this money will be paid to people with white-collar government jobs, who are expected to vote Democrat.  Other portions of that money will go to unions, who then donate that very same money back to the Democrat party.  Other portions of that money simply disappear, like fog on a beautiful sunny morning.

Very, very little of that Democrat campaign money will be wasted on anything resembling ‘infrastructure.’  Why would they do that?  That’s not what it’s for.

But despite their best efforts, things may actually sort of work.  The lights may continue to turn on, even in California.  The water may continue to be safe, even in Flint.  The levees may be maintained, even in New Orleans.  Things may actually sort of work.  For a while.

Until they don’t.

But don’t worry.  The government will fix it.

As long as you agree to increase your taxes again to pay for ‘infrastructure’.

So you shouldn’t complain about your taxes.  Your tax dollars are not campaign contributions for the Democrat party.  Remember – your taxes are used for ‘infrastructure.’  All this tax money is being spent on you!  Not the Democrat party!  Really!

I know it’s true – I saw it on CNN…

Published in General
This post was promoted to the Main Feed by a Ricochet Editor at the recommendation of Ricochet members. Like this post? Want to comment? Join Ricochet’s community of conservatives and be part of the conversation. Get your first month free.

There are 62 comments.

Become a member to join the conversation. Or sign in if you're already a member.
  1. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    This does demonstrate how government cannot manage to manage. 

    • #1
  2. JoelB Member
    JoelB
    @JoelB

    “Environmental Concerns” are always the big roadblock. They are the means by which the shadow government/deep state is taking over. It’s not just air and water pollution. It’s community cohesion, environmental justice, and the like. Common sense is quite uncommon. 

    • #2
  3. Dr. Bastiat Member
    Dr. Bastiat
    @drbastiat

    Bryan G. Stephens (View Comment):

    This does demonstrate how government cannot manage to manage.

    I think the government is actually quite effective at managing to get Democrats elected despite the Democrat Party’s horrifying record on race, national security, the economy, and many other issues. 

    That’s what it’s built for, and that’s what it does.

    • #3
  4. Old Bathos Moderator
    Old Bathos
    @OldBathos

    So the TVA (a federally owned executive branch holding) was sued by the (federal) National Forest Service–for what? Will the Treasury write a check to itself for damages?  

    It is all reminiscent of the ending of the lawsuit in the background of all 800 pages of Bleak House. All claims against the Jarndice estate by multiple claimants were finally dropped because a lifetime of endless process and legal fees had consumed the entire estate–and the lawyers congratulated themselves on resolving the complex matters at issue.

    It would be interesting to get a count of all the pages of judicial and regulatory actions involving the TVA since its inception. It would be more like a warehouse than a library if printed.

    • #4
  5. Ekosj Member
    Ekosj
    @Ekosj

    Thinking that government exists to solve problems and get things done is a fatal first mistake in any analysis of what the government does.  Government’s job is to spend every nickel authorized this fiscal year (more if possible) and develop plans to spend even more next year.

    When I was a young college student in DC, friends who had internships within the Federal bureaucracy would routinely get invited to “we spent the last of our budget“ office parties.  I even attended a few as a “+  guest” so I can personally attest that these events are not apocryphal.

    Spending money is their job.   They do it very well.

    • #5
  6. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Dr. Bastiat: Government spending on ‘infrastructure’ is not quite what you think

    You mean we’re going to get some infrastructure out of it this time? 

    OK, I’ll read the article now.  

    • #6
  7. Old Bathos Moderator
    Old Bathos
    @OldBathos

    I have not read the bill and never will.

    I assume that a certain percentage of all construction costs must go to firms owned by bi- or trans dwarves vertically challenged persons of color and that most of the remaining specified sets of qualifications will by coincidence apply only to a Committee Chairman’s wife’s idiot nephew or, more likely, long-time campaign donors.

    All heavy equipment must be solar-powered–no rush to see if that equipment actually exists–an accelerated 10-year mandatory environmental impact study period will make sure that when whatever is finally built will no longer be relevant to the needs of the community anyway.

    “Shovel-ready” would mean sexist allocation to guy-stuff type jobs so equal amounts must be spent in grants to trans puppet street theater and/or counseling outreach to all-female urban gangs reported having killed at least four victims.

    The DOJ would be barred from bringing prosecution against local officials for outright theft of BBB funds until after their re-election after which they would be told not to file anyway.

    • #7
  8. Dr. Bastiat Member
    Dr. Bastiat
    @drbastiat

    Old Bathos (View Comment):

    I have not read the bill and never will.

    I assume that a certain percentage of all construction costs must go to firms owned by bi- or trans dwarves vertically challenged persons of color and that most of the remaining specified sets of qualifications will by coincidence apply only to a Committee Chairman’s wife’s idiot nephew or, more likely, long-time campaign donors.

    All heavy equipment must be solar-powered–no rush to see if that equipment actually exists–an accelerated 10-year mandatory environmental impact study period will make sure that when whatever is finally built will no longer be relevant to the needs of the community anyway.

    “Shovel-ready” would mean sexist allocation to guy-stuff type jobs so equal amounts must be spent in grants to trans puppet street theater and/or counseling outreach to all-female urban gangs reported having killed at least four victims.

    The DOJ would be barred from bringing prosecution against local officials for outright theft of BBB funds until after their re-election after which they would be told not to file anyway.

    That would be really funny.  Except that a lot of it is probably true…

    • #8
  9. Hang On Member
    Hang On
    @HangOn

    TVA didn’t have an easement? 

    • #9
  10. Ekosj Member
    Ekosj
    @Ekosj

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    Dr. Bastiat: Government spending on ‘infrastructure’ is not quite what you think

    You mean we’re going to get some infrastructure out of it this time?

    OK, I’ll read the article now.

    If we do it will only be because the $ might be specified for that particular purpose…and if it provides the opportunity for huge cost overruns.   Plus, it will give them something whose state of disrepair they can spend money chronicling beginning next year.

    • #10
  11. Full Size Tabby Member
    Full Size Tabby
    @FullSizeTabby

    Different pieces of government suing each other is not particularly unusual. Since power and authority is so diffuse (especially in the federal government) there is rarely anyone who can bang heads together and demand they stop. Rigid rules that must be followed at all costs (see your example of the Forest Service) hamper resolution of disputes. Further, the participants are spending other peoples’ money with no negative impact on their own entities’ financial position (i.e., no profits being dissipated), they lack incentive to resolve matters quickly or cheaply. In fact, many incentives (such as outlined by the attorney you met) are to prolong the dispute as long as possible. These are almost inevitable consequences of a large and sprawling government. 

    It even happens in private industry. At a former employer of mine somebody in the corporation had filed suit against another company, and no one noticed for quite some time that the defendant company was a subsidiary of the corporation that had filed suit. 

    • #11
  12. Hang On Member
    Hang On
    @HangOn

    Does anyone have an idea how long it takes for a new road to go from an idea to reality? Or to upgrade a road or even a bridge? Or a water treatment plant or an airport or a port? And the litigation that is usually involved? That was what Obama’s shovel ready quip was such a punch line and not reality. If the clowns known as politicians were for real about infrastructure,  it would be a steady stream over a protracted period of time and not stop-start measures like this. Most states have 10 or more year spending plans for roads.

    • #12
  13. Paul Stinchfield Member
    Paul Stinchfield
    @PaulStinchfield

    Full Size Tabby (View Comment):
    Different pieces of government suing each other is not particularly unusual. Since power and authority is so diffuse (especially in the federal government) there is rarely anyone who can bang heads together and demand they stop. Rigid rules that must be followed at all costs (see your example of the Forest Service) hamper resolution of disputes.

    Yes, but notice that the TVA people were willing to restore the landscape to its original state–even make it better–while the Forest Service people were entirely uncooperative. Why? Because many in the TVA are decent sane human beings, while the Forest Service and EPA are largely staffed by eco fanatics.

    • #13
  14. Dr. Bastiat Member
    Dr. Bastiat
    @drbastiat

    Hang On (View Comment):

    TVA didn’t have an easement?

    The National Forest Service won’t even allow their own trucks up there.  Where there’s a forest fire, the fire fighters have to hike in, and fight the fire with only what they can carry.  You may think I’m joking, but it’s true.  The whole forest is burning down, and they’re afraid of leaving tire tracks in the dust.  Makes no sense…

    • #14
  15. Old Bathos Moderator
    Old Bathos
    @OldBathos

    Hang On (View Comment):

    Does anyone have an idea how long it takes for a new road to go from an idea to reality? Or to upgrade a road or even a bridge? Or a water treatment plant or an airport or a port? And the litigation that is usually involved? That was what Obama’s shovel ready quip was such a punch line and not reality. If the clowns known as politicians were for real about infrastructure, it would be a steady stream over a protracted period of time and not stop-start measures like this. Most states have 10 or more year spending plans for roads.

    Did you file a Ricochet cognitive climate impact report before posting this?

    • #15
  16. Jim McConnell Member
    Jim McConnell
    @JimMcConnell

    Ekosj (View Comment):

    Thinking that government exists to solve problems and get things done is a fatal first mistake in any analysis of what the government does. Government’s job is to spend every nickel authorized this fiscal year (more if possible) and develop plans to spend even more next year.

    When I was a young college student in DC, friends who had internships within the Federal bureaucracy would routinely get invited to “we spent the last of our budget“ office parties. I even attended a few as a “+ guest” so I can personally attest that these events are not apocryphal.

    Spending money is their job. They do it very well.

    Yes. Back in the ’80s, my brother had a large building supplies/hardware/housewares business, and he would regale me with stories of end-of-year sales rushes as government offices struggled to spend their budgets. If they didn’t exhaust the entire yearly budget, the next year’s would be decreased by the amount of the “shortfall.”

    • #16
  17. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    My family used to live in a national forest – the largest in the Continental US. We had a horrible relationship with the FEDS.  They considered us to be a blight on the perfect natural landscape.

    • #17
  18. Hang On Member
    Hang On
    @HangOn

    Old Bathos (View Comment):

    Hang On (View Comment):

    Does anyone have an idea how long it takes for a new road to go from an idea to reality? Or to upgrade a road or even a bridge? Or a water treatment plant or an airport or a port? And the litigation that is usually involved? That was what Obama’s shovel ready quip was such a punch line and not reality. If the clowns known as politicians were for real about infrastructure, it would be a steady stream over a protracted period of time and not stop-start measures like this. Most states have 10 or more year spending plans for roads.

    Did you file a Ricochet cognitive climate impact report before posting this?

    Oh no! Environmental Impact Statements are difficult and litigious enough. A new layer of complications will turn decades into centuries. 

    I knew someone who worked for the Corps of Engineers in Charleston, SC who started his career working on a project and 25 years later retired without the project being either built or canceled. 

    • #18
  19. Chuck Thatcher
    Chuck
    @Chuckles

    iWe (View Comment):

    My family used to live in a national forest – the largest in the Continental US. We had a horrible relationship with the FEDS. They considered us to be a blight on the perfect natural landscape.

    Conservatives are so…unnatural.  And imperfect.

    • #19
  20. Caryn Thatcher
    Caryn
    @Caryn

    iWe (View Comment):

    My family used to live in a national forest – the largest in the Continental US. We had a horrible relationship with the FEDS. They considered us to be a blight on the perfect natural landscape.

    iWe’s mother’s book about their time living there is well worth reading.  I’ll leave it to him to link it, given privacy issues and all that.

    • #20
  21. Caryn Thatcher
    Caryn
    @Caryn

    Have any of you read any of Philip K. Howard’s books?  They are full of these types of stories and worse.  I’ve read three of them, “The Death of Common Sense” “The Collapse of the Common Good” and  “The Rule of Nobody.”  All excellent and infuriating.  

    • #21
  22. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    There is no risk to a bureaucrat to say no. All the risk is with a yes.

    • #22
  23. Randy Webster Member
    Randy Webster
    @RandyWebster

    MMT, baby.

    • #23
  24. Lois Lane Coolidge
    Lois Lane
    @LoisLane

    My big question… Why would you ever leave such a beautiful house in East Tennessee???

    • #24
  25. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    Caryn (View Comment):

    iWe (View Comment):

    My family used to live in a national forest – the largest in the Continental US. We had a horrible relationship with the FEDS. They considered us to be a blight on the perfect natural landscape.

    iWe’s mother’s book about their time living there is well worth reading. I’ll leave it to him to link it, given privacy issues and all that.

    Here it is.

    • #25
  26. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    iWe (View Comment):

    Caryn (View Comment):

    iWe (View Comment):

    My family used to live in a national forest – the largest in the Continental US. We had a horrible relationship with the FEDS. They considered us to be a blight on the perfect natural landscape.

    iWe’s mother’s book about their time living there is well worth reading. I’ll leave it to him to link it, given privacy issues and all that.

    Here it is.

    I read that some time back, and got snoopy enough to figure out on Google maps where it all was.   (I can hardly read a book these days without using Google maps.)  It was definitely worth reading.  

    • #26
  27. kedavis Member
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    Dr. Bastiat (View Comment):

    Hang On (View Comment):

    TVA didn’t have an easement?

    The National Forest Service won’t even allow their own trucks up there. Where there’s a forest fire, the fire fighters have to hike in, and fight the fire with only what they can carry. You may think I’m joking, but it’s true. The whole forest is burning down, and they’re afraid of leaving tire tracks in the dust. Makes no sense…

    Isn’t it actually illegal to prevent someone from crossing your property to access their property, if they have no other way to do so?

    • #27
  28. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    kedavis (View Comment):

    Dr. Bastiat (View Comment):

    Hang On (View Comment):

    TVA didn’t have an easement?

    The National Forest Service won’t even allow their own trucks up there. Where there’s a forest fire, the fire fighters have to hike in, and fight the fire with only what they can carry. You may think I’m joking, but it’s true. The whole forest is burning down, and they’re afraid of leaving tire tracks in the dust. Makes no sense…

    Isn’t it actually illegal to prevent someone from crossing your property to access their property, if they have no other way to do so?

    That’s a complicated subject, with rules varying from state to state. There are companies that will offer to teach your township officials how to deal with it, as they are required to do in some states, without getting sued from all sides.  

    • #28
  29. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    kedavis (View Comment):

    Dr. Bastiat (View Comment):

    Hang On (View Comment):

    TVA didn’t have an easement?

    The National Forest Service won’t even allow their own trucks up there. Where there’s a forest fire, the fire fighters have to hike in, and fight the fire with only what they can carry. You may think I’m joking, but it’s true. The whole forest is burning down, and they’re afraid of leaving tire tracks in the dust. Makes no sense…

    Isn’t it actually illegal to prevent someone from crossing your property to access their property, if they have no other way to do so?

    That’s a complicated subject, with rules varying from state to state. There are companies that will offer to teach your township officials how to deal with it, as they are required to do in some states, without getting sued from all sides.

    If you do an internet search for “cartway access Minnesota” you’ll be able to find some interesting case studies and court cases. I wrote a blog article or two about it at one time, but they are not accessible now. There is a lot of landlocked property in Minnesota lake country and elsewhere, and the whole process can result in hard feelings between neighbors, and toward township officials, as was apparent from the few comments my blog article received. 

    • #29
  30. Flicker Coolidge
    Flicker
    @Flicker

    kedavis (View Comment):

    Dr. Bastiat (View Comment):

    Hang On (View Comment):

    TVA didn’t have an easement?

    The National Forest Service won’t even allow their own trucks up there. Where there’s a forest fire, the fire fighters have to hike in, and fight the fire with only what they can carry. You may think I’m joking, but it’s true. The whole forest is burning down, and they’re afraid of leaving tire tracks in the dust. Makes no sense…

    Isn’t it actually illegal to prevent someone from crossing your property to access their property, if they have no other way to do so?

    You have to sue for an easement.

    • #30