Public investing

The American Society of Civil Engineers issues a periodic report on the nation’s infrastructure, assigning letter grades to each sector. In its most recent report (2013), the society gives an overall score of D+. The authors estimate that it would take about $3.6 trillion by 2020 to meet the country’s infrastructure needs.

This sounds like a lot of money, and it is. But the figure helps quantify just how much we’ve neglected our schools and roads, to name just two components. We have a $17 trillion economy. As always, how we choose to spend those dollars has everything to do with political focus and will.

According to the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the U.S.’s total tax revenues represent about 25.4 percent of GDP. The OECD average is 33.7, with the highest, about 49 percent, being Denmark. At our current rate, cities, counties, states, and federal governments collect roughly $4.4 trillion per year. If the U.S. were to collect the OECD average, the country would realize $5.9 trillion/year. At Denmark’s rate, all governments here would collect about $8.5 trillion per annum.

So, we need only tax at the OECD average, or 33.7 percent, to add another $1.5 trillion a year. By 2020, we would have collected at least $7.5 trillion, or about twice the level recommended by the engineers.

I know. Not going to happen.