When we hear the word “infrastructure,” most of us think of highways, bridges, airports, water mains….the physical apparatus built and paid for with tax dollars. And that’s accurate–so far as it goes. But most of us fail to recognize both the extent of the “public goods” we support and how essential they are to private enterprise.
In a recent issue of PA Times, the publication of the American Society for Public Administration (yes, I am a nerd), a contributor forcefully made the point that citizens are generally uninformed about the public goods they enjoy, and especially oblivious about how dependent they are on those goods. This expansive infrastructure is the “ecosystem” that supports commerce and business activity as well as our quality of life.
Elements of that ecosystem include clean air, clean public water supplies, street lights, food and drug safety, 911 services, police and fire protection, sewers and wastewater treatment facilities, interstate highways, education, national defense, a currency system, weather forecasting, disaster relief, registration systems for property, births and deaths, libraries, basic research and development, jogging trails, public parks, insurance of bank deposits, air traffic control, airports….the list goes on and on.
There is another “infrastructure” that makes civilization possible–the intellectual contributions of those who have gone before us. Today’s science and technology build on the discoveries of scientists long dead. We learn (okay, mostly we fail to learn) from the histories that have been recorded. We learn from research into the nature of our environments, both physical and social, and into experiments that have succeeded and failed. Etc.
I suppose it’s human to minimize the immense debt we owe to those who have provided the assets upon which even the most “self-made” build. But candidly, I find the preening “look at what I did all by myself” folks pretty insufferable.
And I find those who are unwilling to support that infrastructure, unwilling to “pay their dues,” immoral.