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Did you hear? South Africa can’t keep the lights on… again.
Who could have imagined this, in a country where, until last November, the top electrical utility was legally required to pick suppliers based on the race of their owners?
But surely America is better, at least?
We’re not gonna sugar coat it—time to say what most of us already know in our bones. It’s not just you: big power outages really are a lot more frequent than they were a couple decades ago.
The chart above is only half the story, too. Overall, major power outages are way up since the 1980s.
American aircraft keep nearly running into each other, while scheduled flights are canceled at rates far above the pre-Covid norm, even when there are no weather reasons for it at all. From 1980 to 2015, violations of the U.S. Safe Drinking Water Act more than doubled. In San Francisco last summer, the on-time rate for BART trains dropped to less than two-thirds, putting BART in its worst situation in decades (hope their $190k/year senior social justice manager has some ideas!).
Oh, and there’s the whole freight train derailment thing. You probably saw something in the news about that.
Before our eyes, Revolver’s warning of two years ago is coming to pass.
In the years to come, American infrastructure will fail more and more often, as America becomes less capable of maintaining the core elements of a First World country.
Why would America become less First World? That’s a simple question to answer: Because America is making itself less First World.
Read the Rest: Texas’s Power Grid Disaster Is Only the Beginning
Americans have gotten used to hearing complaints about the country’s “failing infrastructure.” This has typically centered on the most straightforward, easily understood infrastructure: Bridges, highways, subway tunnels and the like. And, yeah, sometimes there’s a lot to be desired there.
This isn't a railway in a Third World County
This is in Ohio pic.twitter.com/VIYykDgwcJ
— Jack Posobiec ?? (@JackPosobiec) February 16, 2023
But infrastructure isn’t just the existence of physical assets. It’s also how well they are used: How quickly is damage fixed? How well-made are they in the first place? How well do they avoid accidents or systematic screw-ups?
At its bedrock, infrastructure is substantially just people: a population of workers with the expertise and experience to keep a complex system functional, reliable, and accident-free. Decline in this infrastructure — the human infrastructure — may be papered over with improved technology and automation. But when problems do arise, it is impossible to miss the decay. In a recent Twitter thread, venture capitalist Balaji Srinivasan noted the ultimately human roots of America’s declining infrastructure:
One answer is that the only type of maintenance that’s even semi-prestigious in American society is software maintenance.
That is, it's not prestigious to be plumber, mechanic, or electrician.
You can make money, but it doesn't have cultural cachet.
And so maintenance suffers.
— Balaji (@balajis) February 14, 2023
Two years ago, when Texas practically collapsed after a severe but hardly insurmountable ice storm, we mentioned the non-physical dimension of infrastructure in the United States:
But infrastructure isn’t just about allocating enough funding. It’s about people. The quality of a country’s broad-based infrastructure is heavily linked to the skills of its common blue-collar workers and local bureaucrats. When these groups are more capable, everything works a little bit better in a country. They cut fewer corners when building new infrastructure, and are more diligent in maintaining it. They work more diligently and efficiently. They are more likely to use the right materials. They avoid preventable errors.
For decades, local planners and technicians and civil engineers were often unsung heroes of American life. Even as American family life frayed, industry moved abroad, and crime soared, they built and maintained the amenities that are synonymous with the First World.
But the Heroic Age of Americans who actually built infrastructure is long past. The Silver Age of those who could at least maintain it is disappearing as well, like the Elves departing Middle-Earth. The average American utility worker is nearly fifty years old. In the next ten years as many as fifty percent of these workers will retire. There are plenty of critiques to be made of elderly workers — we published one just the other day! — but if there is any industry where experience is truly invaluable, it is in maintaining and managing the enormously complex systems that America’s cities and states use to generate power, supply water, move people, and generally keep everything functioning. These workers started their careers in a very different America: one with a higher-quality working class, which felt far less shame about hiring based on knowledge and ability, even if it produced a workforce that was “too white” or “too male” or too anything. Now, they are passing the baton to a population with different skills and very different values. Is anybody confident we’ll be able to manage the handoff?
Early signs aren’t promising. When Colonial Pipeline suffered a major outage due to a cyberattack, the company’s CEO had to admit that the company was essentially incapable of operating its pipelines manually, not because it was impossible, but because everyone with the knowledge to do so was retired or dead.
Colonial Pipeline CEO Joseph Blount says workers who historically operated pipelines and other infrastructure manually have retired. pic.twitter.com/M2izZWFDCP
— The Post Millennial (@TPostMillennial) June 8, 2021
Right before our eyes, America is losing that ability to sustain the complex systems that are the markers of modern civilization. Even more appalling, this transformation is a choice.
Remember that trillion dollar infrastructure bill Biden passed? Did you know that construction companies who want access to any of that gigantic pile of federal dollars need to implement major affirmative action policies to favor people based on race and sex? And did you know that if a company is getting a government contract on even one project, they need to practice affirmative action on everything? Law firm Jackson Lewis explains:
For women, the participation goal is 6.9%, meaning we are going to strive to make 6.9% of the total hours worked on each and every project, be performed by women. For minorities, we have a different goal, percentage goal, it may be 7%, even up to 23% or more, and that’s based on each individual geographic region in which you’re performing the project.
For our individuals with disabilities, it is a utilization goal under that Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act, we’re trying to hit 7% of our workforce in each trade, identify as having a disability. And that number isn’t pulled out of thin air. It really is an estimate of the population of the United States that identifies as having a disability.
Is it any surprise that while the East Palestine train derailment mess was unfolding, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg was off giving a speech about the need to make construction work less white?
Buttigieg made no mention of the Ohio train derailment while speaking at a conference this morning but did find the time to say that there are too many white people who work construction. pic.twitter.com/q4WNcq10h9
— Greg Price (@greg_price11) February 13, 2023
When you see stories about American planes nearly crashing into each other, do you feel more or less confident when you also see stories about the pressing need to make pilots more diverse?
Try to imagine if we ever would have gotten to the moon with this set of twisted priorities. Speaking of which, what better example of the decline in human capital and infrastructure than our inability to repeat the moon missions we achieved over a half century ago with pre-pocket calculator technology?
This was 50 years ago, a feat achieved with pre-pocket calculator technology, that no advanced nation has been able to replicate since pic.twitter.com/59kRRKVFil
— Darren J. Beattie ? (@DarrenJBeattie) December 20, 2021
Oh yeah, and we managed to “lose” the technology too:
Unsurprisingly, America’s permanent crusade against phantom racism in everything is closely linked to the country’s decay in managing complex systems. Remember the crippling water crisis in Jackson, Mississippi last fall? It didn’t come out of nowhere. Rather, it was just the culmination of more than a decade of steadily-escalating failure in the local government, until finally the city couldn’t even fulfill one of the most basic functions that even lower-middle income countries typically manage. Even the Biden Administration’s planned solution to the Jackson crisis has been to appoint an emergency manager in order to save Jackson from its own incompetence.
The Washington Post, though, simply took one look at the crisis and decided that, welp, racist white people were to blame:
Urban planning experts contrast the investment that flows to better-off White areas with that lacking in places like Jackson.
“Racism set Jackson up for failure. It was a man-made disaster that was decades in the making,” said Andre Perry, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Program. “It was a lack of investment in Black people that failed the water system.
“When you do get a new mall, a new community college, a new movie theater, they’re typically placed in non-Black areas. Those developments lead to infrastructure development,” he said. “So there is a tacit refurbishing or a greater likelihood that infrastructure is built in White areas.”
Of course, even if mass flight of people and capital explains Jackson’s troubles, the Post doesn’t dare admit why the people and the money fled. The typical response is simply handwaving about racism: white people (and also middle class black people, evidently) are just so racist, and so evil, that they will abandon entire well-made, functioning cities just to indulge their racism.
The reality, of course, is that people flee cities precisely because they are already becoming unlivable. Jackson has a murder rate of nearly 90 per 100,000 people, more than triple the rate of Chicago and higher than any large city in the country. In a given year, a random resident of the city has a nearly one in a thousand chance of dying by violence.
Trace it all back, then, and Jackson’s water troubles are substantially driven by the political failure to maintain basic safety… but of course, a police department capable of suppressing crime is itself a complex, infrastructure-like system, and it’s yet another system that America loves to ruin with affirmative action and gutted standards.
Blaming “racism” for the problems of Jackson, or Chicago, or any other city is a cliché, an excuse used to avoid engaging with America’s steady decline or why it seems inexorable. Yet this cliché is the only response America’s regime knows. To react any other way — by restoring meritocracy, by enforcing laws, by favoring the capable and law-abiding over the useless and parasitic — has become unthinkable.
We were sadly right two years ago. But it’s all going to get worse in the years to come.
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