Tuesday Edition


1. We Used to Be Way More Awesome at Building Stuff

The United States’ recent infrastructure development record doesn’t inspire a ton of confidence when it comes to rebuilding Baltimore’s Francis Scott Key Bridge, which collapsed last week. (AP)

Experts say it could take up to 10 years and at least $400 million to fix the bridge. It’s a stark contrast to say, the construction of the Empire State Building, which took slightly over a year and came in under budget. President Biden often points out U.S. infrastructure, once considered the best on the planet, now ranks only 13th.

A laundry list of recent American infrastructure projects have been plagued by delays, inefficiency and ballooning costs:

According to Governing Magazine infrastructure columnist Alex Marshall, there are a few reasons it’s gotten harder and more expensive for the government to build stuff.

  • Spending cuts have lead to outsourcing, which is less cost-efficient than keeping construction in-house.

  • Regulation has led to lengthy environmental reviews, which delay projects.

  • Our complex legal system burdens would-be builders with pricy litigation and detailed contracts.

  • Labor unions are also to blame, by making it less efficient to hire workers.

Marshall: “All these factors and others mean that infrastructure construction in the United States has come to resemble health care and education, sectors that are bloated with far higher costs than in other countries, with often worse results.”

Bubba’s Two Cents: It’s not that we’re not capable of building a bridge or other ambitious projects, it’s that the hurdles laid in front of building have seemingly become as important as the projects themselves, lengthening timelines, increasing costs, and bloating the administrative side of government. For a lot of people, this is where partisan politics leaves the chat, and where people get really frustrated with bureaucracy, generally.

2. The Incarceration Rate Has Plummeted

The U.S. imprisons way more people than most other countries, but that’s starting to change. (Kevin Drum)

The total number of people locked up in U.S. prisons has decreased nearly 25% in the past decade, according to the latest Bureau of Justice statistics data. That’s been happening all while the U.S. population has been going up, meaning the country’s incarceration rate has fallen by more than a quarter.

Political blogger Kevin Drum on why it’s happening: “First, crime rates have fallen dramatically since their peak in 1991, leading to lower arrest and incarceration rates. Second, less punitive treatment of nonviolent drug offenses has produced a lower overall incarceration rate.” [Bubba’s emphasis]

As Drum notes, 21% of all prisoners in 2001 were in prison on drug convictions. That dropped to just 12% in 2021. The decriminalization movement has picked up steam in recent years, with many states legalizing marijuana for recreational use, and Oregon going as far as to decriminalize small amounts of all drugs.

The results of such experiments have been mixed.

Bubba’s Two Cents: It’s hard to argue having less Americans in jail isn’t a good thing (especially when violent crime rates don’t appear to have spiked as a result). But there are tradeoffs with all policies. With the U.S. in the midst of a fentanyl overdose crisis, a drug crackdown push might be on the horizon.

3. Trump’s Plan to Weaponize Civil Rights Law

If Donald Trump wins in 2024, his allies reportedly plan to use anti-racism laws to protect white people from discrimination. (Axios)

Axios national political correspondent Alex Thompson: “Trump's Justice Department would push to eliminate or upend programs in government and corporate America that are designed to counter racism that has favored whites.”

Trump spokesman Steven Cheung: "President Trump is committed to weeding out discriminatory programs and racist ideology across the federal government."

America First Legal, a pro-Trump legal activist group, has given us a glimpse into what this might look like in practice.

  • The organization sued CBS and Paramount Global, claiming a white, straight male writer for "Seal Team" was discriminated against in 2017.

  • It filed a complaint against the NFL's "Rooney Rule," arguing the rule limits opportunities for non-minority candidates by requiring teams to interview at least two minority candidates for key positions.

  • In 2021, the group successfully blocked a $29 billion pandemic program intended for women- and minority-owned restaurants, alleging it was discriminatory towards white-owned businesses.

Bubba’s Two Cents: The notion of reverse racism is a whole can of worms. But many people (not just racists) believe laws designed to correct past racism can end up being unfair. For example, the Supreme Court scrapped affirmative action last year partly because it was found to unjustly disadvantage Asian-Americans. And Americans of all races agree with SCOTUS’ affirmative action ban, including 68% of Hispanics, 63% of Asians and 52% of blacks.

4. Sam Bankman-Fried Played the Game

Sam Bankman-Fried, who’s going to jail for 25 years for defrauding crypto customers to the tune of $8 billion, is a product of the times. (Commentary)

Bankman-Fried’s commitment to “effective altruism” made him a media darling before his downfall. Effective altruists believe in using evidence and reason to do the most good. Many effective altruists believe in maximizing their wealth to be able to donate as much money as possible to righteous causes (like climate change in Bankman-Fried’s case).

But people like Commentary Magazine editor John Podhoretz say Bankman-Fried’s effective altruism was mostly a front for his schemes.

Podhoretz: “What you have done here is seized on a set of blathering concepts to justify being a big left-wing, stateless, unpatriotic person who thinks that all that matters is some abstract concept of the planet — While then doing whatever the hell you want to maximize your own gain, because at the end, you're gonna use your gain, supposedly, for this larger purpose. And why Sam Bankman-Fried is so important is that he exposes that it's a sham and a con.”

There’s plenty of evidence Bankman-Fried was a lot more cynical than his do-gooder, effective altruist persona let on. Here are some texts Bankman-Fried exchanged with a Vox reporter in 2022:

Bubba’s Two Cents: In our social media age, it’s getting harder and harder to tell who’s doing it for real and who’s doing it for clout. These days, it’s not enough for every business to just be profitable. They’ve got to be “making the world a better place” while they’re doing it. That may sound like a good thing in theory, but in practice it’s led to a lot of hypocrisy and grifting.

5. Keep an Eye on California’s $20 Minimum Wage

A California law raising the minimum wage to $20 (up from $16) went into effect yesterday. (AP)

500,000 employees were affected by the hike in pay. The $20 minimum wage law, resulting from negotiations between the fast food industry and labor unions, applies to certain fast food chains but exempts others like restaurants inside grocery stores or those selling bread as a main item. Despite support from trade associations, many franchise owners worry the law will increase operational costs, leading to higher prices, automation, reduced hours, or closures.

In December, two large Pizza Hut franchises announced they were laying off over 1,200 delivery drivers in response to the law. Fast-food employment dropped 1.3% from September to January as talk of wage hikes heated up. A Congressional Budget Office study found that raising the federal minimum wage to $17 an hour could increase wages for over 18 million people but might also reduce employment by about 700,000 workers.

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