Leverage Points and Leapfrogging

Just about everyone agrees that much U.S. infrastructure is “crumbling.” So, what to do about it?

The obvious answer is to fill the potholes and fix the bridges. And a large chunk of post-2008 federal stimulus money went to doing exactly that.

But it’s worth remembering that roads and bridges presuppose cars, which presuppose carbon. To paraphrase a quip from Dr. Russell Ackoff, making the best cars in the world sounds great, until you consider that the world can’t bear so many cars.

Rather than going down the tired old road of declaring war and/or calling for a “moonshot” on an issue — infrastructure, healthcare, or anything else big and complex — only for it to devolve into squabbling over the details and eventual, ineffective compromise, it’s worth thinking about leverage points and leapfrogging.

With the twin forces of a historic presidential transition and a pandemic, there’s both a need and an opportunity to build what really matters — systems, infrastructure, and services that work.

This might be more retail-politics than some progressives are comfortable with, but “better” needs to be clearly and effectively defined. If climate is the challenge, paving isn’t likely to be a long-term solution. And if it’s a diverse democracy we want, safe, secure, accessible, and guaranteed voting systems will go a long way.

Some things might best be left to crumble. And we don’t need to go to the moon tomorrow. What if, instead, we combined broadband, bicycles, trains, and small planes to work and travel more efficiently — with nary a pothole in sight?