Sunday's New York Times has a dispatch by Chris Buckley from Chishi, China, that is a terrific antidote to years worth of Thomas Friedman columns and speeches by U.S. politicians of both parties about how America needs to spend more taxpayer money on "infrastructure" to keep up with China:
Fueled by government-backed loans and urged on by the big construction companies and officials who profit from them, many of the projects are piling up debt and breeding corruption while producing questionable transportation benefits.
For all its splendor, the Chishi Bridge, in Hunan Province, exemplifies the seamy underside of China's infrastructure boom. Its cost, $300 million, was more than 50 percent over the budget. The project struggled with delays and a serious construction accident and was tarnished by government corruption. Since it opened in October, the bridge and the expressway it serves have been underused and buried in debt....
A study that Mr. Ansar helped write said fewer than a third of the 65 Chinese highway and rail projects he examined were "genuinely economically productive," while the rest contributed more to debt than to transportation needs.
It's one thing for an individual household to borrow money to spend on things it doesn't need; it's another thing for a government to do it using its power to tax. The contractors getting rich from the contracts to build this stuff may not mind, but the people being taxed to pay for it do. One reason that the U.S. may be "behind" China on this stuff is that in our country, unlike China, voters have more say.