George Will makes a good point in a National Review article on infrastructure spending. The money needs to be spent precisely in those areas where the regional economy is doing well. You get far more multiplier effects – hard not to sound Keynesian when talking infrastructure spending – when you upgrade bridges, ports, airports, and roads precisely in those areas where they are straining to keep up with the traffic. Boom town areas. Not areas where there is little economic activity. Where tax and regulatory reform might be better at attracting investment and jobs.

Will also makes this point: aside from being intelligent about where to spend the money – always hard to do when each member of Congress wants as much spending as possible in their district, regardless of whether the local economy really needs it – that the regulatory process in 21st century America is an overwhelming burden. You’d think with improvements in construction technology that it would be far quicker to build things in today’s world than 70 or 80 years ago. Forget about it. The regulatory process is endless and an army of stakeholders is waiting to derail, or delay, or detour, any major project that comes under consideration and reaches the active planning stage.

In other words, what Washington needs is to drain the stakeholder swamp, and then you can build that dam a heck of a lot quicker. Just in case it does rain in the future and the swamp fills up again. This will take someone with both a tough disposition and an ability to work with Congress. Elaine Chao – you have, not a battle on your hands, but rather a multi-year war, with just about every entrenched interest in America lining up to stop you or to change your course. Yes, a little pillow talk with your husband, who happens to be the Senate Majority Leader, will help – and surely has helped in years past and years present – but you will be in the spotlight like never before.

She just might be up for the challenge, but it may be best to keep expectations cautiously optimistic at best. If Elaine Chao can reform the approval process for large projects – in as much as a Cabinet Secretary can influence local rules, aside from whatever changes she can push for at the federal level – that would be a major step forward. Because until the burden of a crushing regulatory process is lifted, no project will ever truly be shovel-ready in America.

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