Guest Post: Government And Collapsed Bridges

Tyler Durden's picture

Submitted by James E. Miller of the Ludwig von Mises Institute of Canada,

The recent collapse of a small commuter bridge in Washington has brought back memories of Minnesota. Back in August of 2007, the I-35W Mississippi bridge connecting the Downtown East and Marcy-Holmes neighborhoods plummeted to the river below like a Chinese-made sofa. Thirteen individuals lost their lives while 145 escaped with injury. The suddenness of the debacle was met with the blunt response system of the state. That is, politicians in Minnesota and elsewhere went before the public to decry the deteriorating condition of government infrastructure across the country. A flurry of taxpayer money dedicated to overhauling the nation’s bridges followed. Five years after millions in tax dollars were fleeced, allocated, and distributed to this new urgency, less than two dozen of the state’s 172 “structurally deficient” bridges have been made whole.

The total failure to provide safe infrastructure, especially in the aftermath of a tragedy, would be comical if it were not so representative of the ineptness of state action. If there is one thing government officials are good at, it’s going forth with failed plans while convincing themselves, and voters, that this time will be different. Following the Interstate 5 bridge collapse in Washington, the same calls to action are being issued in spite of a non-failure in the bridge design itself. Former yes-man and advisor to the President David Axelrod attempted to blame Republicans in Congress for a reluctance to spend on infrastructure investment – as if the second half of the statist party coin ever harbored a desire to tame the District’s portly appetite for wasting tax revenue. Axelrod, being a professional opportunist, was not going to let a good crisis go to political waste; a tactic he undoubtedly learned from his White House comrade in debauchery Rahm Emanuel.

Proponents of sprawling public work projects such as bridges have been apt to cite to latest scorecard from the American Society of Civilian Engineers – a report which always happens to portray the country’s infrastructure as nearing a communist-like collapse. The latest inspection in 2012 revealed the U.S. is home to least 150,000 structurally deficient bridges. In the few years I have followed the ASCE’s annual checkup, I have yet to see bright and optimistic grading. The diagnosis consistently falls somewhere between neglectful euthanasia and deliberate homicide. The string of bridge collapses plays right into the hand of the century old association. It’s never a point of suspicion for liberals that the professional body’s membership, who are predominantly employed constructing or fixing government infrastructure, would have a vested interest in wringing more money from susceptible politicians. The ASCE’s siren call is filled with everything repugnant to the Progressive mindset: profit motive, corruption, undermining of public trust. That’s all dismissed with contemplation of tangible benefits provided by government funding.

Talk of public infrastructure projects ignites the thoughts of state apologists who dedicate their career to advancing a creeping despotism. The effect on the rest of the public is much lesser. Bridges, roads, sewer systems, and the like are accepted functions of the state. But therein lies the rub: little praise is given for an expected service. The foundational elements of civilized and commercial society remain hidden, in a sense, to greater recognizability. In other words, we expect our toilets to remove waste and electricity to come with the flick of a switch. Except in the absence of function, attention is diverted elsewhere. The core component of democracy that` makes it workable political philosophy is wrong – voters are not considerate or far-thinking. They demand instant gratification. That helps explain why politicians, in their capacity as crowd charmers, dedicate little time and even fewer resources to keeping government infrastructure in pristine shape. As former New York City mayor Ed Koch liked to say, “It’s hard to hold a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a new sewer line.”

Even with the less-than-glorifying esteem that comes with respooling electrical wire, the state maintains an iron-tight grip on commercial infrastructure for a reason. Monopoly control equates to societal power – nothing more or less. The free, voluntary transactions of individuals is without a doubt the best means to ensure an efficient use of resources. Ports, roadways, drainage systems, and bridges have all been provided for by the private economy. In government form, they provide a benefit; one which comes at the expense of an undetermined number of wrongs. As essayist Frank Chodorov wrote, “If we get any­thing for the taxes we pay it is not because we want it; it is forced on us.”

It can’t be said for sure if the I-35W Mississippi bridge was left in private hands, maintenance and upkeep would have been performed more regularly. I would wager my money on the profit spell, acting as a driving force to preserve quality. The theory of collectivism relies on the unsteady moral conscience of leadership. Capitalism rests only on the material desire for more. The former requiring more virtue than the latter, it would be wiser to put one’s faith in that which does not demand the all-knowing hubris of central planners.

In any service, the government has achieved the perfect deal. When a private entity fails at meeting consumer desire (or its negligence results in death), a drop in income and market share follows. When the faultiness of a state product is revealed, more money is requested to atone for the deficiency. Success for failure is a perverse incentive – all the more fitting for the government’s wheelhouse of inconsistencies such as “destroy to save” or “fascism to save the free market.”

Being the state iconoclast that I am, I find myself split between admiration for industrial feats and loathing for the dank, unscrupulous actions which cemented the wonder on fertile ground. It can be captivating to gaze upon a bridge spanning the length of a tumultuous river – a demonstration of man’s capacity to overcome the Earth’s obstacles and create his own future. Witnessing mammoths of concrete, steel, and calculated texture is humbling. The intricacies of meticulously crafted metal enveloped among stalactitic, concrete protrusions make for a web of human engineering that cannot begin to be understood by the layman. The knowledge necessary to erect such a structure has been kept and passed down for centuries. Its dissemination is a human achievement ranking among the great architectural undertakings.

The bridge is really a connector of civilization. Without it, the flourishing of the division of labor would be heavily constrained. The wilderness in remote parts of the Earth would remain untamed. It is certainly true that industrial structures that cultivate mobility have been used for campaigns of aggression and invasion, namely by militaries. But I have never been a fan of laying blame on technological innovation for enrapturing the destructive tendencies of man. Responsibility flows from human free will. The objects created by the employment of mind and labor are incapable of volition, and thus outside the bounds of being moral agents.

Indispensability is all the more reason to remove the state’s unprofitable hand from infrastructure investment such as bridge building. Enough economists have brought attention to the inability of government bureaucrats to utilize pricing signals in an effective manner. Public works projects often serve to enrich well-connected interest groups, with actual serviceability being a secondary concern.  Here’s hoping to the quick rehabilitating of the Interstate 5 bridge in Washington, and to the broadspread realization of the perversion government has on such endeavors.

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.
SafelyGraze's picture

moral hazard meets sovereign immunity

they have a baby named bridge collapse

don't dare call it ugly


MiguelitoRaton's picture

The bridge was struck by a truck that exceeded the maximum allowed height...other than that, you may be right...

SafelyGraze's picture

I stand corrected

there is also the kind of moral hazard in driving a truck that can cause damage you can never ever possibly pay for


Bay of Pigs's picture

"small commuter bridge in WA"?

That would be Interstate 5 and six lanes wide. WTF is he talking about? That is the main north-south arterial on the entire West Coast US.

71K vehicles a day cross that bridge.

Anusocracy's picture

Seemed pretty short and small to me.


SafelyGraze's picture

some conspiracy theorists claim that the video shows trusses in freefall

knukles's picture

Need to repair the bridges shit after Minnesota just resulted in a waste of money... not shit went to repairing bridges...
It's the standard gubamint yelling "Wolf!"
Just like Sequester.

Same thing about 20 years ago.  Remember this one (longer ago than many you youngin's) the Great Black Death... Sickle Cell Anemia. 
Nothing was ever done with all the money spent, and nobody died.


Like vaccines.
Like the Wars on Poverty, Drugs, Terror, whateverthefuck

Fucking wasteland this is... fucking wasteland

RockyRacoon's picture

Sure.  Yet we have bridges to nowhere in Alaska.  Political power is rampant.  And the Japanese at least got infrastructure out of their binge on spending.   All our money went to banker bonuses.   Where's the justice?

Acet's picture

This article is pretty much a mad-man slanted rant.

Saying that the string of bridge failings fell right into the hands of the civil engineers society that has been trying to warn about it is like saying that a string of deaths fell right into the hands of the chemists society that were trying to warn that it was poisonous.

Maybe, just maybe, the reason why the civil engineers' reports always make dire reading is because the reality on the field IS dire!? And maybe, just maybe, the reason why it is so is that nowadays the US spends far, far, far more money in needless pork, bank bailouts and imperialistic military ventures than in essential infrastructure!?

If there is one thing more infuriating that seeing that the guys giving the warnings were right is seeing the refuseniks that will even deny the reality. What's next, blame the dead!???


malikai's picture

He's not saying that.

He's illustrating the creeping nature of the state via it's own fuckups.

If you haven't already, check out this book by James Scott: Seeing Like a State. It's a great way to explore the subject of creeping statism. In particular the cause/effect of central planning.

Acet's picture

No two people have the same opinion on where the border lies on "where your rights stop and my rights start".

Plenty of economic activities out there are prone to the Tragedy of the Commons, the Prisioners Dilema or a miriad of other Games Theory problems where if all individuals are left to follow their own selfish interests, either a shared resource is destroyed or something that would be good for everybody never gets done.


This is why any successfull society that grows enough to survive destruction at the handes of neighbouring societies has some form of central authority that is responsible for deciding and enforcing rulings on conflicts between men and organising and controlling at least some communal actions.


So some State is needed. The problem is that the State is made up of people and people are greedy, corrupt and power-hungry, so a system has to exist to reduced the abuses of those who yield the responsabilities of the State.

Fighting the notion of State, rather than the corruption of the individuals who yield the power of the State, is like tearing down a House because it has mice, rather than killing the mice.

malikai's picture

EDIT: Make it easy.

I think we've got termites, not mice. We've had them for years. It appears that the termites have somehow formed their own structure, but it is crumbling at the core. The foundation still looks good, though, being a nice reinforced concrete slab. I think we should try to salvage that.

GetZeeGold's picture




Send me in coach.......I'm shovel ready!!!

Debt-Is-Not-Money's picture

"...I'm shovel ready!!!"

Would you be the shoveler or the shovelee?

akarc's picture

It's already here. The people are getting what they have and have been voting for.  Inmy neighborhood you let somebody take your wallet one time, they will come back and take it again. And again, and again........ We have no one to blame but ourselves.

malikai's picture

At least a pickpocket has the decency to give you a chance to kick the shit out of him.

The owners and pals pick your pocket from afar and command your obedience, whether you know it or not.

Ignatius's picture

I lived/worked in Seattle.  This is a BIG deal.  There are few alternate routes to handle this traffic efficiently.

Kayman's picture

Drive over it.  You might appear short and small.

Quantum Nucleonics's picture

The truck was issued an oversized permit by the State of WA to travel that section of I-5 even though the vehicle's height exceeded the bridge's maximum clearence.  

Supernova Born's picture

The truck would have easily passed under the arched trusses if it would have driven in the center of the roadway as is permissible for permitted "wide loads" with pilot cars.

Driver error, not gooberment in this case.

robertocarlos's picture


SAT 800's picture

I want to know if it was a Mexican Truck brought here by Silly Billy's Nafta.

Bring the Gold's picture

And driven by driver's that Bush made sure could come here. Don't worry it's equal opportunity for BOTH globalist parties D AND R.

Dr. Sandi's picture

No, it was from Alberta. A Canadian truck, running amuck. And yes, it was moving oil drilling equipment to Vancouver, WA, and that probably was because of NAFTA.

This is one of those trestle bridges with the 40s look. Less clearance at the shoulder than in the middle. You have to drive an oversize load in the middle lane or the middle of both lanes to clear the slanty overhead beams along the sides.

Driver didn't do that. He saw the first section crashing down right behind him in the rearview mirror as he hauled ass across the bridge.

This implies that the impact of the trailer started a resonance in the bridge structure that gave it a second or two to decide whether it was going to collapse or not. Kind of like Wile E. Coyote taking a pause before gravity sucks him down into the ravine.

Kayman's picture

It was Mullen Trucking.  A $2.5 billion dollar company. And they say the driver has hauled oversized loads down I5 previously. Seems odd...

akarc's picture

A collapsed bridge by any other name is still a collapsed bridge bubba

markettime's picture

Bridge collapses, bullish for the DJIA! 

LetThemEatRand's picture

So stay off our fucking bridges, then.  For fuck's sake, have you heard of the Brooklyn?  I've got a good price for you.

sitenine's picture

Meh. The Keynesian utility of a failed bridge to stimulate the economy far outweighs the usefulness of the bridge anyway. No, seriously - I talked to Krugman about it, and he agrees 100%.

Bananamerican's picture

it aint about "fixing" amerika any more...It's about getting your snout as deep into the tax trough as possible before it all goes tits up....get your crony on y'allz!

Larry Summers on deck after the Bernanke....all is well

BeetleBailey's picture

..or that cuntrag Janet "Smellin Yellen"...the female Larry SummersEve

otto skorzeny's picture

Get rid of Davis-Bacon Act and it's labor price-setting collusion and infrastructure repair will get a hell of a lot cheaper. Don't forget all of the AFSCME govt DOT incompetence thrown in.

Bananamerican's picture

yeah, we got all the mexicans we need!! Let's get amerika (er, mexico) working again!!!!!!!

otto skorzeny's picture

So some Local 150 shithead driving a vibratory asphalt roller DESERVES $50 an hour + another $25 in benis? Fuck-there'd be a line around the block to do it for $15 an hour. The scam is the same asshole Dems that suck up $ from the unions( who are dumb enough to keep supporting them) are the same ones that let the Mexs flood in for the votes.

robertocarlos's picture

fORGET mEXICANS, GET THE cHINESE, OPPS, Get the Chinese here to rebuild the country. They'd have that bridge rebuilt in 36 hours and all for under 50k.

akarc's picture

Dat be's true cause it weren't none of dem sugarcane, orange, lettuce, tobacco, you name it field owners what wanted no beeners pickin al dem veggies and shit on the cheap so republicans and democrats could by groceries. And all dem chilluns what didn't get to go to no school cause dey be workin 10 hours a day and 7 days a week and womens what burned up in garment district fires would be so much better off if dem damned ol unions woulda just left the free market capitlistic system work. China knows better than to let unions have so much control. They insures lots of peoples gets to work cause by 30 their workers are disabled by repetitive motion injuries so mericans can git an Iphone 5 dollars cheaper and dat apple peoples don't need to pay no taxes.


THE SCAM IS: the same ol Koch/cock brother shills who have yet to realize their ass was SCAMMED by hate fueled propaganda designed to keep the fat cats drinking cream while you eat shit!

Monedas's picture

The United States of Bacon with Todd Fisher as your rolly, polly host !    I've never seen a "Chinese made sofa" collapse into a river ?

Quantum Nucleonics's picture

Yep, that's what they did when the Northridge earthquake took out the Santa Monica Freeway in LA.  It was finished months early and millions under budget.

tango's picture

Otto skorzeny

Good comment but the real solution is common sense.  If you want something done correctlyy on time use one of those hard-nosed no-nonsense guys who are not beholden to bureaucrats, political correctness or politics.   Develop a master plan, use private companies (not those schooled in government inefficiency) and you will get the job done.   The head of the Hoover Dam was given free rein and with the six contractors finished ahead of time.  Same is true for the San Fran interstate rebuild after the earthquake. 

It's what successful companies do so why shouldn't governments do it also?  (I know, I know)

disabledvet's picture

at least if it's owned by the private sector we'll know who to arrest. no one cares. Interstate 5 is not some "backwater" either.

duo's picture

If electricity had been in the hands of private companies from day one, our farmers and rural areas still wouldn't have electricity, and our cities would look like Port Au Prince.

Abaco's picture

More likely that if you hadn't pissed billions away with the Rural Electrification Administration and other monopolies and subsidies you would have more cost effective alternative energy sources including solar, wind, micro-hydro, fuel cell, etc. and much broader wireless coverage out in the less densely populated areas.  Similarly, if the government hadn't interfered with the market and subsidized the development of the interstate highway system we would have a much more efficient and less energy intensive transportation system.

Spitzer's picture

Euro vs dollar

ECB's purchases are 3.5% of euro area GDP, for FED its 22.1% of USA GDP, for BOE its 26.3% of England's GDP and for BOJ its 37.3% of Japan's GDP.

q99x2's picture

400 people have taken the money. Got to go after them.

FreeMktFisherMN's picture

another good article debunking the whole idea that there are 'some things only .gov can do'. In a free society people would voluntarily pitch in for things and would have private insurance and private militias and they'd have direct skin in the game. 

Strut's picture

I'm  all for "direct skin" in this game, but what would our interstate highway system look like if it was hacked together by small communities across the nation? How might have WWII turned out?

knukles's picture

Thinking that way the Axis powers woulda never got their shit together, either....

Strut's picture

You missed the point. The Axis weren't exactly private militias.