Establishment media are starting to notice that Obama's plan to add 2.5 million public works jobs in "infrastructure" in 24 months seems implausible. The LA Times observes:
One detail of the recovery plan that may not emerge until closer to Inauguration Day is how the money will be disbursed for infrastructure projects. Such undertakings often require long lead times to prepare engineering studies and environmental surveys and address other technical issues, possibly delaying their stimulative effect.
You don't say?
Consider the Big Dig in the heart of Blue State America, Boston. This 3.5 mile freeway tunnel was conceived in the 1970s, officially proposed in 1982, got federal funding in 1987, and the first dirt was turned in 1991. By the end of 2003 it was more or less usable and by the end of 2004, it was reportedly 95% finished. Then, it started leaking.
It supposedly cost about $14 or $15 billion (assuming it's done, which it probably isn't), up from an initial estimate of $4 billion in today's dollars.
Now, here's an interesting number: at its peak, the Big Dig employed about 5,000 construction workers. That's a lot of construction workers relative to most big projects. But it's a tiny number compared to Obama's 2.5 million number. So, Obama is proposing, in effect, to have 500 Big Digs going full blast in 24 months.
Even assuming away the lead time issue, just notice from the Big Dig that infrastructure is a very, very expensive way to create jobs. This isn't 1935. Public works workers need more than just shovels. The capital requirements for infrastructure jobs are enormous.
The next thing the media are going to notice about infrastructure projects is that they and the rest of Obama's base don't actually want jobs operating, say, a jackhammer. If a journalist gets laid off by his newspaper, is he going to want Obama to give him a jackhammer job? Of course not. He's going to want Obama to get him a job where he sits at a desk with a computer and a phone in an air-conditioned office.
In fact, Obama's people don't want anybody operating a noisy, smelly jackhammer anywhere near them. It's not that they're against infrastructure per se. Indeed, they would like infrastructure to have been built, but Obama People are going to oppose via lawsuits the actual building of infrastructure anywhere close to them, with its attendant racket, odors, and traffic jams. Not in my back yard!
In contrast to infrastructure jobs, Obama will eventually realize, makework office jobs are relatively cheap and easy to create. To employ people to administer programs aimed at, say, enhancing outcomes among our troubled youths, you don't need an environmental impact statement. You don't need to buy a bulldozer for a new worker, just a computer, a desk, and a chair. (Eventually, you'll need guys with jackhammers to come build another office building for all the new staffers, but you can squeeze them in for awhile.) And every bureaucracy already has lots of existing plans on file to hire more staffers to help them do whatever it is they do.
And Obama's kind of people like office jobs administering social work programs a lot more than they like jackhammer jobs. So, it's a win-win proposition!
Therefore, expect to hear the term "human infrastructure" a lot this winter as the Obama Administration starts to realize that actual infrastructure projects aren't going to make much of a dent in the unemployment rate before the 2010 elections, but hiring a ton of people to staff, say, innovative programs to foster excellence in public schools are an easy way to provide jobs for the boys (and girls).