“. . . This is the story of so much of what went wrong last year. Doctors and nurses were left without basic protective equipment because the United States lacked the manufacturing capacity to produce it. Efforts to track and contain the virus were delayed by bottlenecks in test production and shortages of supplementary equipment like swabs. Once tests could be administered, a nationwide scarcity of test-processing equipment prolonged the delivery of test results.
The reason: More than a decade into a hospital-closure crisis, the United States faced a shortage of beds and medical facilities necessary to manage an emergency. Hospitals overrun with Covid-19 patients turned away ambulances. Vaccine distribution, while steadily improving, has been hampered by shortages of both staffing and supplies. The poverty of local government infrastructure has disgraced the rollout further. Websites crash, phone lines are busy, parking lots are full.
These are not only public health failures but also economic failures — an inability to marshal resources to solve a problem. And the often-toxic incompetence of American political leadership has obscured the structural causes of this failure.
The United States once maintained a robust commitment to public investment in things like spaceflight, medical research, the interstate highway system and the development of the internet, backed by Republican and Democratic administrations alike. Staying at the cutting edge is expensive: Between 1965 and 1980, federal expenditures on scientific research, physical capital and education regularly amounted to about 2.5 percent of G.D.P., more than $500 billion today.
But that number plummeted in the 1980s. By Mr. Trump’s first year in office, Washington was spending less than 1.5 percent of G.D.P. on public investment, according to an analysis of Office of Management and Budget data from the Progressive Policy Institute, a center-left think tank. Before the pandemic, this plunge meant bridge collapses, Amtrak derailments and other disasters that Americans had come to see as inevitabilities. During the pandemic, that same chronic underinvestment invited mass death. Even the typically conservative U.S. Chamber of Commerce has spent years lobbying unsuccessfully for major increases in federal infrastructure spending.” . . .
This op-ed might be optimistic, but is my kind of optimism.