by Adam Gopnik published in The New Yorker
Read original on The New Yorker's website
Gopnik reviews two new books: John Sedgwick's "Fro...Show description
Posted 697 days ago
[A]t a moment when arguing about infrastructure is the rage, it may be useful to have a reminder that there was a time when the word was nonexistent but the thing it refers to was burgeoning.
Many of Biden's new packages revolve around "infrastructure" and jobs. This is a very hard thing to define, because it essentially makes up the backbones of an entire country. His opposition opposes his bills, as well as some within the Democratic Party, because they would give too much power and authority to the federal government and would "stifle" competition in the capitalist market.
Supporters, on the other hand, believe that "late-stage capitalism" has not been investing at all in the infrastructure of the US. Instead, money has been going into the hands of the few, financial managers, wealthy families, etc. who are not building out critical infrastructure. Gopnik uses this argument and compares it to the building of the railroads across America, where tycoons spent gobs of money to build out what would soon become public transit.
Many people contrast our current economic moment to the Gilded age that Gopnik talks about, where inequality was at its peak (and the Great Depression was knocking at the door). Some people think that these investments only happened because of these better-than-man tycoons, but Gopnik thinks otherwise. He writes:
Sedgwick’s insistence on the centrality of his two heroes to what happened is, in some respects, overdrawn. The transcontinental railroads would have come into existence no matter who was in charge. The paradox of all such progress is that it is both driven by a visionary figure and, in the nature of things, impersonal in its advance. Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone, but someone else would have if he hadn’t. Had Jeff Bezos not gone warily into the Amazon of Internet shopping, someone else would have. That he did so as he did is important for our shopping habits, and for the Bezos family, but he did not make the Internet, or Internet commerce, any more than Palmer and Strong “made the West.” The most they did was inflect it a little.