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Biden Plan Spurs Fight Over What ‘Infrastructure’ Really Means

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“Many people in the states would be surprised to hear that rural broadband no longer matters,” said Anita Dunn, a senior adviser to Mr Biden at the White House. “We think the people of Jackson, Miss., Might be surprised to hear that repairing this water system is not considered infrastructure. We believe the people of Texas might disagree with the idea that the power grid is not an infrastructure to be built resiliently for the 21st century. “

White House officials said much of Mr Biden’s plan reflected the reality that infrastructure had taken on a broader meaning as the nature of work changed, focusing less on factories and shipping of goods and more on creation and creation Focus on selling services.

Other economists support the idea that the definition has changed.

Dan Sichel, an economics professor at Wellesley College and a former Federal Reserve research officer, said it might be helpful to think of the infrastructure as a series of concentric circles: a basic inner band of roads and bridges, a larger social ring of schools and hospitals, then a digital layer with things like cloud computing. There could also be an intangible layer, such as open source software or weather data.

“It’s definitely an amorphous concept,” he said, but basically, “we mean important economic assets that support and enable economic activity.”

The economy has continued to develop since the 1950s: in the past, manufacturers employed around a third of the workforce, today it is only 8.5 percent of jobs in the USA. As the economy has changed, it is important that our definitions be updated, said Sichel.

The debate about the importance of infrastructure is not new. In the New Deal-era Tennessee Valley Authority days, scholars and policymakers argued over the need for universal access to electricity for public infrastructure, Shane M. Greenstein, an economist at Harvard Business School, said the youngest Research focuses on broadband.

“Washington has an attention span of several weeks and this debate is a century old,” he said. Nowadays, he added, it’s about digital access instead of clean water and electricity.

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Robert Dunfee