The Repairing Of America

Forgive us for sometimes feeling like Americans live in a Third World country. Planes don't take off or land on time. Electricity shortages plague business and consumers alike in California. And cell phones don't work nearly as well in the U.S. as they do in Europe, much less Korea, Hong Kong, and even parts of China. Then there's the image of ATM-savvy voters electing the President by poking holes in a paper ballot. What gives? Despite its vaunted high-tech prowess, America suffers from severe infrastructure problems that require immediate attention from policymakers. A deft mix of more government investment, privatization, deregulation, and better regulation can get the U.S. back to First World standards.

Take flying. More air and ground capacity is needed to cope with the explosion of travel. With better technology, more planes could be accommodated in the nation's existing airspace. But the Federal Aviation Administration's air-traffic control system has done a poor job of modernizing. More money would help, but the U.S. should think of following Canada in privatizing the air-traffic system while the FAA continues to oversee safety. Airlines also are behind in modernizing. Their investment in technology tapered off in the early '90s and needs to be revived once again. Better information systems would let employees have earlier data on delays and speed the rebooking of passengers. And why can't curbside skycaps in all airports give out boarding passes when they take bags, saving passengers a wait in line?

Thanks to a single standard, Europe is ahead of the U.S. in the use of cell phones and the shift to the mobile Net. The U.S. market cannot seem to establish one best standard, and America risks falling further behind as mobile broadband technology rolls out. Just as Washington plays a legitimate role in financing basic science research, it should play an active one in steering the telecom industry to agree on a single, national cell-phone technology standard.

Finally, the electricity mess in California points to immense policy mistakes. Deregulation was poorly planned and implemented. Beyond that, demand has outstripped supply because not a single generating plant has been built in California in a decade, in part because of environmental regulations. More efficient use of energy, higher mileage for cars, and solar and wind generators are all important tools in conserving energy. But reasonable people should agree that public policy must allow for some increase in the supply of electricity as the economy and population grow over time.

It's the 21st century, folks, time to rebuild America's archaic infrastructure.

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