The president takes it as a given that Chinese infrastructure is better than America’s; the reality is otherwise.
In an address to a joint session of Congress, President Obama lamented that “building a world-class transportation system is part of what made us an economic superpower—and now we’re going to sit back and watch China build newer airports and faster railroads?”
The appeal to superior Chinese infrastructure being a manifestation of America’s ills—and Chinese economic might—is a familiar trope for the president. He made a similar argument in defense of the infrastructure investments contained in the original 2009 stimulus bill, as well as during the 2008 presidential campaign. The American Jobs Act of 2011 includes $140 billion of infrastructure investments, among them provisions to modernize schools, improve roads, and establish an infrastructure bank.
This appeal that we keep up with the Chinese begets two questions: Is our infrastructure really lagging that of China’s? And if so, should that be a motivating factor in how—and how much—we invest in infrastructure?
While the United States could (and should) be doing more to develop infrastructure, keeping up with China is not the reason for doing so; and China is actually far behind America’s level of infrastructure.