Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Reconsidering the varying faces of infrastructure and their sometimes competing imperatives 9: the New Deal and infrastructure development as recovery 3

This is my 10th installment to a series on infrastructure as work on it, and as possible work on it are variously prioritized and carried through upon, or set aside for future consideration (see United Nations Global Alliance for ICT and Development (UN-GAID), postings 46 and following for Parts 1-8 with its supplemental posting Part 4.5.)

I have, up to here, made note of and selectively analyzed a succession of large scale infrastructure development and redevelopment initiatives in this series, with a goal of distilling out of them, a set of guiding principles that might offer planning and execution value when moving forward on other such programs. And as a part of that and as a fifth such case study example, I have been discussing an historically defining progression of events and responses to them from American history:

• The Great Depression and US president Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal and related efforts that he envisioned, argued for and led, in order to help bring his country out of that seemingly existential crisis.

I began this line of discussion in Part 7 and Part 8, focusing there on what the Great Depression was, and with a focus on how it arose and took place in the United States. And my goal here is to at least begin to discuss what Roosevelt did and sought to do and how, in response to all of that turmoil and challenge. And I begin doing so by offering a background reference that I would argue holds significant relevance for better understanding the context and issues that I would focus upon here:

• Goodwin, D.K. (2018) Leadership in Turbulent Times. Simon & Schuster. (And see in particular, this book’s Chapter 11 for purposes of further clarifying the issues raised here.)

As already noted in the two preceding installments to this series, the Great Depression arguably began in late 1929 with an “official” starting date usually set for that as October 29 of that year: Black Tuesday when the US stock market completed an initial crash that had started the previous Thursday. But realistically it really began as a true depression and as the Great Depression on March 13, 1930 when the Smoot–Hawley Tariff Act was first put into effect. And Herbert Hoover was president of the United States as the nation as a whole and much of the world around it, spiraled down into chaos.

There are those who revile Hoover for his failure to effectively deal with or even fully understand and acknowledge the challenges that the United States and American citizens and businesses faced during his administration, and certainly after his initial pre-depression honeymoon period in office. And there are those who exalt him and particularly from the more extreme right politically as they speak out against the New Deal – and even for how its programs helped to pull the country back from its fall. All of that, while interesting and even important, is irrelevant here for purposes of this discussion. The important point of note coming out of that is that unemployment was rampant, a great many American citizens had individually lost all of whatever life savings they had been able to accumulate prior to this, and seemingly endless numbers of business, banks and other basic organizational structures that helped form the American society were now unstable and at extreme risk of failure, or already gone. And the level of morale in the United States, and of public confidence in both public and private sector institutions was one of all but despair and for many. And that was the reality in the United States, and in fact in much of the world as a whole that Franklin Delano Roosevelt faced as he took his first oath of office as the 32nd president of the United States on March 4, 1933.

Roosevelt knew that if he was to succeed in any real way in addressing and remediating any of these challenges faced, he had to begin and act immediately. And he began laying out his approach to doing that, and he began following forward on that in his first inaugural address, where he declared war on the depression and where he uttered one of his most oft-remembered statements: “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

Roosevelt did not wait until March 5th to begin acting on the promise of action that he made to the nation in that inaugural address. He immediately began reaching out to key members of the US Congress and to members of both political parties there to begin a collaborative effort that became known as the 100 Days Congress, for the wide ranging legislation that was drafted, refined, voted upon, passed and signed into law during that brief span of time (see First 100 Days of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Presidency.) This ongoing flow of activity came to include passage of 15 major pieces of legislation that collectively reshaped the country, setting it on a path that led to an ultimate recovery from this depression. And that body of legislation formed the core of Roosevelt’s New Deal as he was able to bring it into effect.

• What did Roosevelt push for and get passed in this way, starting during those first 100 days?
• I would reframe that question in terms of immediate societal needs. What were the key areas that Roosevelt had to address and at least begin to resolve through legislative action, if he and his new presidential administration were to begin to effectively meet the challenge of this depression and as quickly as possible?

Rephrased in those terms, his first 100 days and their legislative push sought to grab public attention and support by simultaneously addressing a complex of what had seemed to be intractable challenges that included:

• Reassuring the public that their needs and their fears were understood and that they were being addressed,
• And building safeguards into the economy and into the business sector that drives it, to ensure their long-term viability and stability.
• Put simply, Roosevelt sought to create a new sense of public confidence, and put people back to work and with real full time jobs at long-term viable businesses.

Those basic goals were and I add still are all fundamentally interconnected. And to highlight that in an explicitly Great Depression context, I turn back to a source of challenge that I raised and at least briefly discussed in Part 8 of this series: banks and the banking system, to focus on their role in all of this.

• The public at large had lost any trust that they had had in banks and in their reliability, and with good reason given the number of them that had gone under in the months and first years immediately following the start of the Great Depression. And when those banks failed, all of the people and their families and all of the businesses that had money tied up in accounts with them, lost everything of that.
• So regulatory law was passed to prevent banks and financial institutions in general, from following a wide range of what had proven to be high-risk business practices that made them vulnerable to failure.
• And the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) was created to safeguard customer savings in the event that a bank were to fail anyway, among other consumer-facing and supporting measures passed.

The goal there was to both stabilize banks and make them sounder, safer and more reliable as financial institutions, while simultaneously reassuring the private sector and its participants: individuals and businesses alike, that it was now safe to put their money back into those banks again. And rebuilding the banking system as a viable and used resource would make monies available through them for loans again, and that would help to get the overall economy moving and recovering again.

• Banks and the banking system in general, can in a fundamental sense be seen as constituting the heart of an economy, and for any national economy that is grounded in the marketplace and its participants, and that is not simply mandated from above, politically and governmentally as a command economy. Bank loans and the liquidity reserves and cash flows that they create, drive growth and make all else possible, and for both businesses, large and small and for their employees and for consumers of all sorts.
• So banks and banking systems constitute a key facet of a nation’s overall critical infrastructure, and one that was badly broken by the Great Depression and that needed to be fixed for any real recovery from it.

This is a series about infrastructure, and the banking system of a nation is one of the most important and vital structural component of its overall infrastructure system, and for how banks collectively create vast pools of liquid funds from monies saved in them, that can be turned back to their communities and for such a wide range of personal and business uses if nothing else. But the overall plan put forth and enacted into law in the 100 Days Congress (which adjourned on June 16, 1933) went way beyond simply reinforcing and rebuilding as needed, banks and other behind the scenes elements of the overall American infrastructure. It went on to address rebuilding and expansion needs for more readily visible aspects of the overall infrastructure in place too, and for systems that essentially anyone would automatically see as national infrastructure such as dams and highways. Roosevelt’s New Deal impacted upon and even fundamentally reshaped virtually every aspect of the basic large-scale infrastructure that had existed in the United States. And to highlight a more general principle here that I will return to in subsequent installments to this series, all of this effort had at least one key point of detail in common;

• It was all organized according to an overarching pattern rather than simply arising ad hoc, piece by piece as predominantly happened before the Great Depression.
• Ultimately any large scale infrastructure development or redevelopment effort has to be organized and realized as a coherent whole, even if that means developing it as an evolving effort, if coherent and gap-free results are to be realized and with a minimum of unexpected complications.

That noted, what did the New Deal, and the fruits of Roosevelt’s efforts and the 100 Days Congress actually achieve? I noted above that this included passage of 15 major pieces of legislation and add here that this included enactment of such programs as:

• The Civilian Conservation Corps as a jobs creating program that brought many back into the productive workforce in the United States,
• The Tennessee Valley Authority – a key regional development effort that made it possible to spread the overall national electric power grid into a large unserved part of the country while creating new jobs there in the process,
• The Emergency Banking Act, that sought to stop the ongoing cascade of bank failures that was plaguing the country,
• The Farm Credit Act that sought to provide relief to family farms and help restore American agriculture,
• The Agricultural Adjustment Act, that was developed coordinately with that, and that also helped to stabilize and revitalize American agriculture,
• The National Industrial Recovery Act,
• The Public Works Administration, which focused on creating jobs through construction of water systems, power plants and hospitals among other societally important resources,
• The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation as cited above, and
• The Glass Steagall Act – legislation designed to limit if not block high risk, institutional failure creating practices in banks and financial institutions in general.

Five of the New Deal agencies that were created in response to the Great Depression and that contributed to ending it, still exist today, including the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the National Labor Relations Board, the Social Security Administration and the Tennessee Valley Authority. And while subsequent partisan political efforts have eroded some of the key features of the Glass Steagall Act, much of that is still in effect today too.

And with that noted, I conclude this posting by highlighting what might in fact be the most important two points that I could make here:

• I wrote above, of the importance of having a single, more unified vision when mapping out and carrying out a large scale infrastructure program, and that is valid. But flexibility in the face of the unexpected and in achieving the doable is vital there too. And so is a willingness to experiment and simply try things out and certainly when faced with novel and unprecedented challenges that you cannot address by anything like tried-and-true methods. A willingness to experiment and try possible solutions out and a willingness to step back from them and try something new if they do not work, is vital there.
• And seeking out and achieving buy-in is essential if any of that is going to be possible. This meant reaching out to politicians and public officials, as Roosevelt did when he organized and led his New Deal efforts. But more importantly, this meant his reaching out very directly to the American public and right in their living rooms, through his radio broadcast fireside chats, with his first of them taking place soon after he was first sworn into office as president. (He was sworn into office on March 4 and he gave his first fireside chat of what would become an ongoing series of 30, eight days later on March 12.)
• Franklin Delano Roosevelt most definitely did not invent the radio. But he was the first politician and the first government leader who figured out how to effectively use that means of communication and connections building, to promote and advance his policies and his goals. He was the first to use this new tool in ways that would lead to the type and level of overall public support that would compel even his political opponents to seek out ways to work with and compromise with him, on the issues that were important to him. So I add to my second bullet point here, the imperative of reaching out as widely and effectively as possible when developing that buy-in, and through as wide and effective a span of possible communications channels and venues as possible.

I am going to step back in my next installment to this series, from the now five case-in-point examples that I have been exploring in it up to here. And I will offer an at least first draft of the more general principles that I would develop out of all of this, as a basis for making actionable proposals as to how future infrastructure development projects might be carried out. And in anticipation of what is to follow here, I write all of this with the future, and the near-future and already emerging challenges of global warming in mind as a source of infrastructure development and redevelopment imperatives. Then after offering that first draft note, I am going to return to my initial plans for how I would further develop this series, as outlined in Part 6 of this series, and discuss infrastructure development as envisioned by and carried out the Communist Party of China and the government of the People’s Republic of China. And as part of that I will also discuss Russian, and particularly Soviet Union era, Russian infrastructure and its drivers. And my intention for now, as I think forward about this is that after completing those two case study example discussion, I will offer a second draft-refined update to the first draft version of that, that I will offer as a Part 10 here.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings and series at Business Strategy and Operations – 5, and also at Page 1, Page 2, Page 3 and Page 4 of that directory. I also include this in Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time 3, and also see Page 1 and Page 2 of that directory. And I include this in my United Nations Global Alliance for ICT and Development (UN-GAID) directory too for its relevance there.

Reconsidering the varying faces of infrastructure and their sometimes competing imperatives 8: the New Deal and infrastructure development as recovery 2

Posted in business and convergent technologies, strategy and planning, UN-GAID by Timothy Platt on August 4, 2019

This is my 9th installment to a series on infrastructure as work on it, and as possible work on it are variously prioritized and carried through upon, or set aside for future consideration (see United Nations Global Alliance for ICT and Development (UN-GAID), postings 46 and following for Parts 1-7 with its supplemental posting Part 4.5.)

I have, up to here, successively addressed and discussed each of a set of four large scale infrastructure development and redevelopment initiatives in this series, with a goal of distilling out of them, a set of guiding principles that might offer planning and execution value when moving forward on other such programs. And as a core foundational element to this narrative, I began discussing a fifth such case study example in Part 7, that I will continue elaborating upon in at least selective detail here:

• US president Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal and related efforts to help bring his country out of a then actively unfolding Great Depression.

I focused in Part 7 on some of the underlying causes of the Great Depression, and both for clarifying for purposes of this discussion as to how that historically transformative event arose, and for more clearly stating how and why Roosevelt was challenged as he sought to orchestrate a real recovery from it. And at the end of that posting, and in anticipation of this one to come, I said that I would turn here to quantify the bank failures and their timeline to more fully present the economic challenges faced, as a completion at least for here and now of an underlying cause-oriented discussion as to what motivated a need for the types of infrastructure and related changes that consequentially took place. And I said that I would then discuss Roosevelt’s New Deal as a massive recovery effort, and one that had within it a massive infrastructure redevelopment effort too.

I will in fact delve into those issues as outlined there, continuing my discussion of relevant overall economic background issues in the process, as part of that. But before doing so and to put what follows into clearer perspective, I am going to step back from the specifics of this particular case study to make note of a fundamental aspect of large scale infrastructure development projects and their underlying driving needs in general, that this case study in fact can be seen as highlighting, for its core importance:

• Most people: with a significant proportion included there of the people who would plan out, approve and fund, and carry out large scale infrastructure projects, focus on what is physically built from scratch or replaced with new, and on the visible end-results of infrastructure development per se. This makes sense insofar as these are the aspects of essentially any such large scale initiative that are lastingly visible and that are going to be directly used and long-term.
• But just as importantly, and certainly during early planning and support building stages for realizing such accomplishments, and for when this work is being carried out, are the behind the scenes economic and financing-based considerations and all of the rest of the politically driven decision making processes that are required to make any such development project happen. They shape the What and the When and the How and the By Whom of what in fact can be done, and consideration of them must be included too, in any inventory of what is included in such work, and in any understanding of what is accomplished from it.
• So, for example, in my Great Depression example, I could cite Roosevelt era initiatives such as the Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC) with its explicit physical infrastructure building efforts, and I will in fact do so as I proceed with this case study. That is important here in this case study narrative. But the context and context-building effort that made programs such as the CCC possible, and that made even attempting it challenging, have to be considered and included here too.

In anticipation of my more general comments to come here in this series, regarding infrastructure development as a whole and in general, and with the above points in mind, I offer the following at least preliminary overarching comments:

Infrastructure development, and certainly large scale development and redevelopment projects that would fit into such a rubric, are – or at least should be driven by what can at least categorically be divided into two sometimes competing, sometimes aligned considerations:

• Human needs and meeting them more fully than would be possible absent some given infrastructure effort, and
• Economic and other wherewithal and sustainability factors and how they would be worked within, or adjusted to accommodate new needs and priorities.

The issues that I raised in Part 7 as leading up to and causing the Great Depression, and that made it a true depression and not just a recession, all fit into the second of those bullet pointed considerations. And actually carrying out the programs of Roosevelt’s New Deal and related initiatives, as he conceived them and strove to achieve them as his response to that challenge, was intended to address significant widespread unmet human needs as the Great Depression brought them about.

And with that noted, I turn back to my largely-economics oriented outline of how the Great Depression arose and as a depression: not just as yet another recession, and with a goal of laying a more complete foundation in preparation for a discussion of the “what would be done” side of this, by more fully outlining the societal context that would make that a realistically considered possibility.

I made explicit note of three dates in Part 7 that I would cite again here, as benchmarks for what is to follow. The stock market as tracked on the New York Stock Exchange was seriously challenged on Thursday, October 24, 1929 when it faced what became a catastrophic collapse in value and in underlying investor confidence. And it fell into what amounted to freefall the following Tuesday, October 29: Black Tuesday. And when the US Congress reacted to this and to what immediately followed it from public response, they did so as a reactionary pulling back with the enactment of the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act on March 13, 1930 – setting off a trade barrier erecting conflict that ultimately largely shut down international trade and not just for the United States.

And to complete this timeline-based set of benchmarks, I add two more dates that should at least be kept in mind for what follows in this posting, including them here to put what I will say in what follows into fuller perspective. And I will make explicit reference to them and to the reality they benchmark, in my next installment to this too. The dates themselves are March 4, 1929 – March 4, 1933: the dates when Herbert Hoover served as the 31st president of the United States. And to round out this dual benchmark entry and at least briefly explain the relevance of it for this narrative, Hoover was elected at a time when most everyone, and both among the general public and among the nation’s leading economists, tacitly assumed that prosperity was there to stay, as an essentially immutable, reliable reality. Then half a year later the United States economy and in fact much of the overall world economy began to collapse. Hoover tried course correcting from this through presidential policy, and he tried leading a recovery from it, in an effort that lasted until late winter, 1933 when Roosevelt was sworn into office and this became his problem.

What, in at least selective numerical detail, was the challenge that Hoover faced and that Roosevelt inherited? Let’s start addressing that question with consideration of the banking system in the United States and on what happened there. Starting from the two October 1929 benchmark dates just cited, and looking out through the first ten months of 1930, a total of 744 US banks failed in the United States: 10 times as many as did in the corresponding 1928-29 period as a closest point of pre-depression comparison. And when trade barrier walls really began to spread, as more and more erstwhile national trading partners took retaliation against the new tariffs that they suddenly faced, by imposing tariffs of their own, this pace accelerated. In all, 9,000 US banks failed during the decade of the 1930’s, and close to 4,000 of them did so in one year alone: 1933. By the start of 1933, depositors had already seen approximately $140 billion of their invested wealth: their life savings disappear through bank failures, independently of any loss faced through failures of the stock market, or from lost income as more and more businesses that they had worked for, scaled back and let employees go, or failed outright themselves.

To put those numbers and bank and business failures in perspective, and to add an impact indicating scale to that, consider the following (with data drawn from U.S. GDP by Year Compared to Recessions and Events:

Year Reported Nominal GDP
($trillions)
GDP ($trillions) GDP Growth Rate % Benchmark Events
1929 0.105 1.109 NA Depression began
1930 0.092 1.015 -8.5 Smoot-Hawley
1931 0.077 0.950 -6.4 Dust Bowl began
1932 0.060 0.828 -12.9 Hoover tax hikes
1933 0.057 0.817 -1.2 New Deal
1934 0.067 0.906 10.8 U.S. debt rose
1935 0.074 0.986 8.9 Social Security started
1936 0.085 1.113 12.9 FDR tax hikes
1937 0.093 1.170 5.1 Depression returned
1938 0.087 1.132 -3.3 Depression ended
1939 0.093 1.222 8.0 WWII began; Dust Bowl ended

Notes, clarifying the events listed in this table for their meaning and relevance here (focusing on entries not already at least briefly discussed:

• The Dust Bowl was an environmental disaster brought about by prolonged drought in the heart of one of the primary agricultural regions in the United States, at a time when the banking system in place was so stressed and limited that it could not offer financial support to farmers, and at a time when the US federal government was unable, unwilling or both, to provide any significant relief. This was all exacerbated by, and in several respects even caused by widespread use of farming practices that did not and could not sustainably work, and certainly under the ongoing drought conditions faced.
• President Herbert Hoover attempted to help pull the United States out of a recession, turned Great Depression, by imposing with Congressional support, a tax increase bill that if anything worsened matters.
• President Roosevelt, pushing back against the concern and even fear of raising taxes and of even attempting tax reform during the Great Depression, and certainly given the outcomes of Hoover’s 1932 effort, decided to reframe and reattempt this basic economy-impacting, government financing approach with his own tax reform: his Revenue Act of 1936.

To put those numbers and their impact into more individually human terms, during the Great Depression the United States as a whole was hit with extremely high unemployment rates. By 1933, the overall national unemployment rate had climbed from 3% (as measured just prior to the October 1929 stock market collapse), up to to 25%. By 1932, over 13 million Americans had lost their jobs. And between late 1929 and late 1932, average incomes were reduced by 40% (see The Great Depression Facts, Timeline, Causes, Pictures.)

And Franklin Delano Roosevelt was sworn into office as the 32nd president of the United States on March 4, 1933. And one of his first acts in office was to formally start a 100 day collaboration with the US Congress that has become known as the 100 Days Congress, for the amount of and far reaching variety of legislation that was debated, voted upon and passed during that fast start to Roosevelt’s first term in office (see First 100 Days of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Presidency.) And that is where the “what was done” in his response to the Great Depression really began. And I will continue this narrative in a next series installment with an at least selective discussion of that.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings and series at Business Strategy and Operations – 5, and also at Page 1, Page 2, Page 3 and Page 4 of that directory. I also include this in Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time 3, and also see Page 1 and Page 2 of that directory. And I include this in my United Nations Global Alliance for ICT and Development (UN-GAID) directory too for its relevance there.

Reconsidering the varying faces of infrastructure and their sometimes competing imperatives 7: the New Deal and infrastructure development as recovery 1

Posted in business and convergent technologies, strategy and planning, UN-GAID by Timothy Platt on May 27, 2019

This is my 8th installment to a series on infrastructure as work on it, and as possible work on it are variously prioritized and carried through upon or set aside for future consideration (see United Nations Global Alliance for ICT and Development (UN-GAID), postings 46 and following for Parts 1-6 with its supplemental posting Part 4.5.)

I have already briefly discussed four infrastructure development case study examples in this narrative. And my goal for here is to at least begin a similarly brief and selective discussion of a fifth such case study, large scale infrastructure development (or redevelopment) initiative, as drawn from at least relatively recent history:

• US president Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal and related efforts to help bring his country out of a then actively unfolding Great Depression.

Then after discussing that, I will turn to consider a sixth such example, with an at least brief and selective accounting of how:

• A newly formed Soviet Union sought to move from being a backward agrarian society, or rather a disparate ethnically diverse collection of them that had all existed under a single monarchical rule, to become a single more monolithic modern industrial state.

And I will of necessity find myself referring back to two other infrastructure development examples that I have already cited and explicitly discussed here, continuing them for purposes of comparison to these two: the Marshall and Molotov Plans as can be found in Part 4 and Part 5 of this series respectively.

My overall goal for this series as a whole has been to successively explore a progression of such current and historic large scale infrastructure initiatives, with a goal of distilling out of them, a set of guiding principles that might offer planning and execution value when moving forward on other such programs. I continue developing this narrative as a foundation building outline, as based upon real world experience at infrastructure development, with that goal in mind. This type of more organized consideration, I add, will prove to be of crucial importance as we all face and societally so, an imperative to more effectively address large-scale and even globally spanning challenges that only begin with global warming and its already visible impact: challenges that history will all but certainly come to see as defining a large part of this 21st century experience and the legacy that we will leave moving forward from that. Ad hoc and one-off cannot offer lasting sustaining value for that, so regardless of where a more organized understanding of large scale infrastructure development comes from, such an understanding is needed.

I write a lot in this blog about the new and unexpected and about the disruptively new as that would call for entirely new understandings of challenges and opportunities faced, and of best ways to address them. There were a variety of issues that led to the Great Depression that people in elected office and that people with training in economics and related fields thought they understood, from their apparent similarity to at least seemingly parallel events from their past. And they were correct on some of those points, even as they were hopelessly wrong about others and with great consequence for how they sought to correct for them.

I begin this posting’s main line of discussion here by citing two such factors: one effectively more understood at least in principle if not in practice, and the other much less so and certainly when effective action could have had a positive impact:

• Pre-Great Depression bank holding companies and their acceptance of their own stock shares as preferred collateral when making loans, creating vast liquidity and reserves gaps in their systems in times of stress (and also see Banking Panics of 1930-31.)
• And tariff barriers with their effect of killing overseas markets that American industry depended upon for its very survival, and particularly at a time when local and national markets were drying up for lack of available liquidity. See in particular the Hawley–Smoot Tariff Act of 1930 for an orienting discussion as to how these business challenging and economy breaking barriers were erected.

Both of these developments happened: the first as a leading cause for what became the Great Depression for its bad banking practices consequences, and the second as an ill-considered response to a deepening recession, that made it the Great Depression for its duration and for its depths of severity.

I just identified the first of those two contributing factors: bad banking practices, as having been understood in principle if not in practice, and the second of them: tariff barrier protectionism as being less fully understood of the two. But in all fairness, faulty assumptions and fundamental misunderstandings contributed to both, and both for their occurring and for contributing to their consequences. And as I will briefly note in what follows here, these and other related failures in understanding and action fed upon each other and over a course of overlapping timeframes. And those toxic synergies made the Great Depression into the systemic collapse that it turned into. But let’s start with the banking system and its challenges.

Even the leadership of the bank holding companies that failed during the Great Depression knew and understood that they should not make unsecured loans and certainly not as a matter of routine practice. They required collateral on the part of businesses and other entities that would take out loans from them, as assurance that if those loans were in danger of defaulting, they could recover at least significant amounts of their invested capital. Their mistake, or at least the fundamental one that I would cite here: the point where their understanding of this type of due diligence as a matter of principle, broke with their understanding of it in practice, came from what in retrospect can only be called their hubris. They saw themselves as absolutely secure and stable, and as a result saw themselves as organizations as being immune from market-based stress or volatility. So when their customers saw the economy that they had invested in begin to collapse and when those customers started going to their banks that they had put their savings in, and in increasing numbers, those banks were unprepared. And as their customers started lining up at their doors to take their money out, more and more of them panicked and joined the lines until their banks’ cash holdings were so depleted that they could no longer function.

I cited in my above bullet point how these holding companies had accepted shares in their own business as even preferred collateral for the loans they made. As their own systems began to fail, one member bank at a time, they found themselves as having in effect made vast numbers of loans without requiring any real collateral at all – or at least any that could still hold outside-validated value. So a bank in such a holding company might fail with others in that system finding themselves in distress but still remaining recoverable, at least in principle. But the house of cards nature of how they had all managed their businesses, in-house, as their own collateral valuation standard meant that those banks folded too. Their customers knew they had nothing real backing the loans they had entered into and they knew that the banks they had entrusted their savings in were now unreliable for that. And there was no Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) or similar outside supportive agency in place, at least yet, that might have quelled the panic and stopped the cascades of failures that quickly brought down entire bank holding companies and all of their member banks.

The dynamics that led to these banking system collapses were understood in principle and in the abstract, even if no one in those bank holding companies seemed capable of turning that abstract understanding into prudent due diligence and risk management practice. The second of the pair of examples that I cite here was, and I have to add still is a lot less well understood and certainly as the current presidential administration in the United States is playing with the fire of trade wars and tariff barriers even as I write this.

Ultimately, there is no such thing as a national economy. Nations operate in larger contexts and they have financially for as long as there has been international trade, and with the roots to that going back to before the dawn of recorded history. And ultimately, economies are liquid reserve and cash flow determined, and with trade shaping and driving all of that. Stop trade and you stop the flow of money and you challenge and even kill the economies involved. And that holds when considering the overall and even global economy as a whole, or when considering the portions thereof that are based in some particular country or region, but that depend for their existence on the ongoing functioning health of the larger economy that they are part of.

As just noted, even today there are people in positions of real power and authority who do not understand this. And a lot fewer seem to have understood this in 1930 when the Hawley–Smoot Tariff Act was put into law and into practice, and the American economy and other national and regional components of the overall global economy began to really collapse.

I at least alluded to timing overlap and toxic synergies in these systematic challenges in the above text, and explicitly make note of that point of detail here. The stock market of the Roaring 20’s was impulse driven for the most part and with seemingly everyone investing in it looking for quick riches. And investing in it was comparable to walking a tightrope without a safety net. But the structural instabilities and the lack of anything like regulatory oversight to limit if not prevent bad business and investment practices that characterized this early stock market, only constituted one of several systematic sources of failure, that all came to collapse together, with a pattern-setting start to that developing over a period of about one year starting in October, 1929 and continuing on to the Fall of 1930.

• To explicitly connect two points of detail just touched upon here, stocks and other investment instruments that might be counted as representing saved and invested wealth, were not necessarily considered to be reliable sources of collateral to individual banks or to their parent holding companies, for their volatility and their potential for it. But these banking institutions thought that they at least knew and could trust their own paper: their own traded stock shares as reliable collateral when making loans. So many if not most came to preferentially keep this “in-house” and asked for proof of ownership in their stock and with it used to back loans signed for through them.
• My point here is that all of the factors and considerations that I make note of here, and a lot more that also contributed to the Great Depression, interacted and reinforced each other for their toxic potential and for their eventual consequences.

The American economy and other national and regional economies in general, all took a real beating in late 1929, and with the US stock market collapse only serving as one measure of that. But these markets were actually beginning what would have seemed a long slow path back to stability and recovery. Recessions end and more recent ones of note in particular, had generally begun to significantly turn towards recovery within about 15 months from their visibly impactful starts. As one admittedly limited and skewed measure in support of that claim for what might have happened here too, consider the collapse of the New York City based stock market itself as tracked by an already relied upon and trusted Dow Jones Industrial Average as a measure of stock market performance and of public confidence in that. The stock market crash began on Thursday, October 24, 1929 with nervous investors trading a single day record 12.9 million shares and with many more trying to sell than to buy. The overall market valuation at measured by the Dow Jones average began falling precipitously.

The weekend that followed did not have a positive impact, in giving investors time to reconsider and settle their nerves. Tuesday, October 29: Black Tuesday came and by the end of that trading day, the overall Dow Jones average had fallen nearly 13%. And the stock market was effectively in freefall as investors panicked, losing their faith in the value of their investments, and any sense of safety in the security of their life savings insofar as they were invested in stock shares. (For further background information on this see for example, this piece on the Wall Street Crash of 1929.) But even the stock market was beginning to recover by March 13, 1930 as the Hawley–Smoot Tariff Act was first put into effect, as investors began buying stock shares again, looking for undervalued ones and real bargains to be gained from them. Then international trade effectively died as nation after nation began raising their own retaliatory and presumed self-protective trade barriers in response to what was going on around them and from their erstwhile trading partners. And that, to my thinking is when the actual Great Depression itself actually began. That is when what might have been just another significant recession became The Great Depression.

That overall systemic economic collapse did not take place all at once; it took a number of months for the real impact of this decision and action on the part of the US Congress to be realized. So for example, US based banks began to be stressed from panicked customer withdrawals and from larger numbers of their customers no longer being able to pay back loans, in late 1929. But many of the larger bank holding companies that failed from this onslaught of challenges, did so in the Fall of 1930 and over the next two years as the strangling of international trade really took hold with so many of their business customers – so many employers facing bankruptcy from loss of business and incoming revenue. And they continued to fail for years to come and at an incredibly impactful rate.

My goal for this posting has been to outline something of the challenge that Franklin Delano Roosevelt faced when first taking office as the 32nd president of the United States. I will continue its narrative thread in a next installment to this series where I will among other things, quantify the bank failures and their timeline to put what I am writing here into clearer perspective. And I will then discuss Roosevelt’s New Deal as a massive recovery effort, and one that had within it a massive infrastructure redevelopment effort too. Then after completing that narrative thread, I will continue in this series as a whole, as briefly noted above. But in anticipation of the next installment to this to come, I step back from the details to reframe this discussion in a second, and here-crucially important way. What Roosevelt faced, underlying and infusing all of the toxic details of policy and practice and on so many fronts, was a complete failure of an underlying world view as to how businesses and economies run, and of how and why they fail when they do that too. Roosevelt faced the problem of a broken puzzle with its pieces having to be reconnected. But at least as importantly he faced a problem of a broken and failed puzzle where its business as usual assumptions and understandings could no longer be made to apply. He had to find a way to fundamentally reshape and redefine the overall image in that puzzle too. And that is the challenge that I will write of in my next installment to this series.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings and series at Business Strategy and Operations – 5, and also at Page 1, Page 2, Page 3 and Page 4 of that directory. I also include this in Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time 3, and also see Page 1 and Page 2 of that directory. And I include this in my United Nations Global Alliance for ICT and Development (UN-GAID) directory too for its relevance there.

Reconsidering the varying faces of infrastructure and their sometimes competing imperatives 6: an orienting outline of what is to follow here

Posted in business and convergent technologies, strategy and planning, UN-GAID by Timothy Platt on March 22, 2019

This is my 7th installment to a series on infrastructure as work on it, and as possible work on it are variously prioritized and carried through upon, or set aside for future consideration (see United Nations Global Alliance for ICT and Development (UN-GAID), postings 46 and following for Parts 1-5.)

I began this series with analyses of two admittedly largely failed infrastructure development and redevelopment initiatives that have received wide ranging news coverage in recent years, as of this writing:

• The US government’s efforts to help remediate immediate disaster impact in Puerto Rico and rebuild from it, coming out of Hurricane Maria in 2017 (see Part 1 and Part 2)
• And efforts to maintain and extend the New York City Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) subway system (see Part 2 and Part 3, and supplemental posting Part 4.5 as added in as an initially unplanned for update on this too.)

I then continued on from there to consider two arguably very successful infrastructure development and redevelopment programs, noting and discussing how the meaning of the word “success” varies widely, depending historically on who got to more forcefully determine what that word should mean from when these projects were first developed and carried through upon. See Part 4 and Part 5.

My overall goal for this series as a whole has been to successively explore a progression of current and historic large scale infrastructure initiatives, with a goal of distilling out of them, a set of guiding principles that might offer planning and execution value when moving forward on other such programs. My initial intention in this overall effort, moving on from Part 5, was to turn to consider China and its complexities as a next step forward in developing the case study foundation that I would require for that. But I have to add that I have also expected to see need to add more case studies to this narrative, in order to reach my overall goals for this series as a just stated. So I digress from my initial plans for how I would proceed in this overall endeavor starting here, and with that need in mind.

I am going to very explicitly and directly discuss a complex and nuanced infrastructure story that has been central to China and that nation’s history and certainly since the rise of Mao Zedong. Noting that, I add that I will also at least make note of some of China’s earlier and even more ancient history as well. And turning to consider modern China, and the China of the past few decades in particular, I will discuss how its recent and current leadership have sought to use infrastructure building and even infrastructure revolutionizing and both within their own national borders, and as a tool of international statecraft and diplomacy, in order to build itself into a true globally leading superpower.

To put that assertion into perspective with what I have offered up to here, the Marshall and Molotov Plans as already discussed in this series (in Parts 4 and 5) were more about containment and consolidation, and the development of a balanced reliability for both sides: East and West that would allow for stability and growth and for both the United States and their allies and for the Soviet Union and theirs. China’s ambitions are wider and more open ended than that, as I will discuss in detail, even if much if not all of their effort has been politically shaped and motivated too.

But once again, I have said that I will add in at least selectively detailed and framed discussions of at least a few other significant infrastructure efforts as well. And in preparation for what I will offer here regarding China, I am going to at least selectively delve into two of them:

• US president Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal and related efforts to help bring his country out of a then actively unfolding Great Depression,
• And a newly formed Soviet Union’s efforts to move from being a backward agrarian society, or rather a disparate collection of them that had all existed under a single monarchical rule, to become a modern industrial state.

Both offer specific explanatory insight into China’s history in this regard and certainly where that country’s modern history is concerned.

Then looking ahead, I will begin exploring the above outlined China narrative thread that I have proposed developing here, with a discussion of internal reorganizing and rebuilding efforts as China’s leaders have sought to move their country from the status of primitive agrarian society to that of technologically and industrially advanced world power. And then I will consider their more outwardly facing, globally involving efforts as those initiatives have fit into and supported that overall goal for them too.

I offer this posting as a brief orienting installment for what is to come here, adding that I will supplement what I have just outlined above as needed, with further case study examples and related details in order to clarify and flesh out this overall discussion. My overall goal through all of this series is and will be to facilitate development of an at-least starting outline of a set of more generally applicable principles for better selecting, shaping, planning and executing large scale infrastructure projects moving forward, as will become pressingly important in the coming century and certainly as unfolding realities such as global warming demand them. After presenting the more general approach that I am leading up to in all of this, I will consider that challenge as a source of infrastructure development imperative, doing so in light of my more general infrastructure development approach. And I will also, and in the same way discuss and consider our still very actively, globally emerging internet as an overarching infrastructure system too.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings and series at Business Strategy and Operations – 5, and also at Page 1, Page 2, Page 3 and Page 4 of that directory. I also include this in Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time 3, and also see Page 1 and Page 2 of that directory. And I include this in my United Nations Global Alliance for ICT and Development (UN-GAID) directory too for its relevance there.

Addendum note update as added here on January 30, 2019:
I was not initially planning on updating my account of and discussion of the New York City MTA and its challenges here, even as this is a rapidly evolving news story as I write this series. So for example, I did not see specific need to update my note on how Governor Cuomo, with his political ambitions, has gotten his way in overruling the MTA board and its three year study on the best way to fix their subway system L line and that his plan will be followed instead, no matter how casually and quickly arrived at. (For an as-of-this-writing current news story on that, see: The L Train Will Stay Open. So What Happens to All Those Plan B’s?) But this unfolding story is not just about the ongoing consequences of this transit system infrastructure as it has become a political football. True, Governor Cuomo and I add New York City Mayor De Blasio both have presidential ambitions, but this is not all about them. It is also about lives and very poignantly it is about the life lost, of a 22 year old mother who died yesterday, falling down a flight of subway system stairs while trying to maneuver them with her young child and baby carriage.

This happened at one of the many subway stations that has never been made compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, as discussed in this series in its Part 3. See:

A Mother’s Fatal Fall on Subway Stairs Rouses New Yorkers to Demand Accessibility.

I can only hope that the title of this here-cited news piece proves accurate and for a lot longer than some single news cycle. I have noted how the deaths of MTA workers on the job, have come and gone without real public notice or reaction. When I write of infrastructure here and how it is and is not carried through upon, I am not just writing about abstract business or related systems. I am writing about real people and real lives, and in all of the case study examples that I have, will, or could include here. And the ongoing abject failure on the part of all politically contesting parties in this example, to make this system accessible or even safe, simply highlights that. The issues that I write of here are important, and in ways and to degrees that no one can safely overlook.

Reconsidering the varying faces of infrastructure and their sometimes competing imperatives 5: the Marshall Plan and the Molotov Plan, continued

Posted in business and convergent technologies, strategy and planning, UN-GAID by Timothy Platt on January 18, 2019

This is my sixth installment to a series on infrastructure as work on it, and as possible work on it are variously prioritized and carried through upon, or set aside for future consideration (see United Nations Global Alliance for ICT and Development (UN-GAID), postings 46 and following for Parts 1-4.)

I began this series with two admittedly quite negative case study examples that both rise to significance for scale and impact, and that have both been well documented in more primary news and analysis sources: the failed US government led recovery efforts in Puerto Rico after the disaster brought on there by Hurricane Maria in 2017 (in Part 1 and Part 2), and the mismanagement of the New York City Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) as a political football, caught in the middle between New York City and New York State politics (in Part 2 and Part 3.)

I then turned in Part 4 to consider two infrastructure redevelopment programs that I argued were both successful – according to their own politically and governmentally defined criteria, and certainly as established by the nations that led them: the American-led the post-World War II European Recovery Program, or Marshall Plan as it is better known, and its Russian-led Eastern European counterpart: the Molotov Plan.

I said at the end of that series installment that I would continue my discussion of those two programs here, to round them out for purposes of this series. And I at least begin to do so by more fully explaining why I would argue that both were in fact successful.

• The Marshall Plan was not perfect, and it did not fully put Western Europe entirely back on its own feet again, leaving a lot left for those nations to do for themselves (which was in fact, good for them as it allowed them to regain real autonomy as independent nations again.) The nations that benefited from this effort were also dictated to from it, for how they were to be rebuilt through this program and with what priorities and in ways that did not always entirely please the new emerging national governments of the region, or align with their emerging nationalistic priorities. France, as a case in point example, pushed back against this and related “foreign interference”, and the public sentiment that arose there did a lot to shape the often contrarian government of Charles de Gaulle.
• And the United States did impose a long-term presence over Western Europe coming out of World War II, and both through this reconstruction effort and through the shaping of a Western European-based mutual defense force that the United States effectively came to lead: the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) as it was developed as a response to Russia’s emerging empire building ambitions. All of this support was both appreciated and seen as a source of friction too. That noted, the Marshall Plan, overall, was a stunning success, and was so on a level that had no real historical precedent.
• The Molotov Plan, on the other hand is often viewed as much more of a failure, and it would qualify as such and without real grounds for argument if its driving goals had been the same as those of the Marshall Plan. But its goals were fundamentally different, and even diametrically opposed to those of its Western European counterpart.
• The Marshall Plan was first and foremost a rebuilding effort, and secondarily, if still importantly an effort to create a new political order there so as to prevent further war. And much of that stemmed from an emerging awareness of threat of conflict and of a possible World War III, coming from the East and from Russia.
• What were the defining goals that led to and shaped the Molotov Plan: the criteria that it in fact succeeded at and until the fall of the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union itself? They were secondarily to rebuild Eastern Europe, and primarily to create a defensive buffer zone separating Russia and Russian soil from a now American-led Western Europe. So the official name of the Molotov Plan was the Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance (Договор о дружбе, сотрудничестве и взаимной помощи). And this was first and foremost a “mutual” defense treaty, much as NATO was, but not as a separate effort from any rebuilding effort: as a primary overall goal with some infrastructure and related aid tacked on, and with that organized around the Sovietizing of all of the Eastern European governments and with a Russian military and a Russian KGB presence there to enforce that.

When did the “mutual assistance” of this play out? When was it invoked and acted upon? It was only really actively called upon when Soviet Union supportive Eastern European puppet governments came into danger from uprisings or threat of them from the citizenry of those same nations. I cite by way of examples, the abortive Hungarian Revolution of 1956 and the abortive Prague Spring, or Czech Uprising of 1968. Both were widely supported citizen created efforts to achieve democratic reform and increased personal freedom, within their respective Eastern European nations. Both were seen as direct threats to Russia and its overall security. And both were suppressed by direct militarily backed “mutual assistance” support of other Eastern European Warsaw Pact member nations, with their forces acting under the orders of and the control of Russia as backed by the Russian military.

I have recently offered an at least brief and selective account of the why of this, in another series when discussing why Russia has acted so belligerently towards its neighbors from well before the rise of Communism and the Soviet Union per se. And I have been discussing there, how and why this pattern has continued since the fall of Communism and of the Soviet Union as Russia’s sociopolitical form and image too (see Rethinking national security in a post-2016 US presidential election context: conflict and cyber-conflict in an age of social media 13.) My point here, however, is more focused and specific for raising that side to Russia’s overall history. This history and the lessons that its leadership have continuously learned from it, including the searing lessons coming from a World War II that had just concluded, and the lessons from their going into a Cold War that was just taking shape, led to both the Warsaw Pact and the Molotov Plan and all else that Russia did – that the West in turn responded to in its collective thinking and acting as well.

• No one in all of this acted as if in a vacuum, and in any of this and in either shaping or carrying out these redevelopment programs: the Marshall and Molotov Plans. And both sides set their goals and their priorities and their criteria for success in them accordingly.

And with that, I finally turn to consider China, and both as it has pursued massive infrastructure development and redevelopment within its own borders and as it has used infrastructure development offerings as tools of statecraft beyond those borders as well. And I state here in anticipation of discussion to come, that the government and the Communist Party of China, and the leadership of both, have selected and shaped their plans and their goals for all of this according to their own goals and their own priorities, and yes their own hopes and fears too – just as the decision makers did who created and led the Marshall and Molotov Plans.

I will begin discussing that complex narrative in my next installment to this series. And after completing that line of discussion, with at least brief digressions into other infrastructure development and redevelopment efforts added in as necessary, I will step back to consider a basic success or fail model for such efforts, as a possible predictive resource for achieving more effective, mutually agreed to success in them and from all involved stakeholders.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings and series at Business Strategy and Operations – 5, and also at Page 1, Page 2, Page 3 and Page 4 of that directory. I also include this in Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time 3, and also see Page 1 and Page 2 of that directory. And I include this in my United Nations Global Alliance for ICT and Development (UN-GAID) directory too for its relevance there.

Addendum note re. the New York City MTA and its subway system, as discussed in Parts 2 and 3: I primarily focused on the subway system and its issues when discussing it up to here in this series. But I see need to more explicitly note here, how the inefficiencies and mismanagement of this system have impact that extends way beyond the subway tunnels and stations themselves, adversely affecting all who use and rely upon this system.

This has been a long-simmering issue in New York City, and not just for those who are challenged by the failure of the MTA to become more compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), as already made note of in this series. The chronic and I have to add progressively advancing breakdown and decay of this subway system and its critical infrastructure affects all who would use it and every business that relies upon those who do. And the move that Amazon is making into the borough of Queens, as a site for a major new secondary headquarters, with the prospect of all of their new employees having to use this already overloaded system there, has only brought already ongoing concerns, and anger to the surface and in a more widely visible form (see Maybe It’s Not Taxes That Scare Off Business but Failing Subways.)

Note that the finalized online version of the title for the just-cited news analysis piece, focused on how an already over-stressed subway system can and will create increased challenges for businesses that it should be serving, and especially when a same already inadequate system is about to face whole new additional challenges. The original print edition title to this piece was: Job Growth Gets Stuck on the Subway, highlighting the impact of all of this on individual riders, and on their employment prospects. Both perspectives fully apply, and both serve to illustrate how an infrastructure development and maintenance failure is certain to have widespread negative impact, and of a scale that at the very least matches the scale of that infrastructure system itself.

Addendum note 2: Unfolding events in the politics of the New York City MTA prompted me to offer an initially unplanned-for add-on installment to this series, between the time that I wrote and posted its Part 4 and when I wrote and uploaded this Part 5. So I added that in as a Part 4.5 addendum posting. And events have continued to unfold that I decided I should make note of here in order to bring that narrative up to date.

I begin this continuation of that note by citing three news and analysis pieces from the New York Times:

Is the Fix for the L-Train Apocalypse Too Good to Be True?
Cuomo’s Risky L Train Fix
Cuomo Swooped in as L-Train Savior, but M.T.A. Rejected Similar Approach Over Safety Concerns

The bottom line from this is that the MTA claims and with documentation to prove their point, that they considered the type of “solution” to the L Train problem, that governor Cuomo is now pushing. They studied its feasibility and its risk and benefits issues in detail. And they had already rejected it as creating too much risk, as well as for its effective lifespan limitations as a workable solution. But this is not about engineering solutions to a complex and pressing infrastructure maintenance and repair problem and it is not about the risk or benefits of possible solutions under consideration, or possible approaches for realizing them. This is about politics and political ambition. And for governor Cuomo it is likely that this is about the soon to arrive 2020 US presidential race and his desire for higher office. He is focusing on short-term MTA rider approval for stopping a complete shut-down of the L Line during its repair. And he wants to look presidential in how he does this. Other considerations, of necessity have to carry lower priority in the political calculus that this entails.

Reconsidering the varying faces of infrastructure and their sometimes competing imperatives 4.5: an addendum update on the New York City MTA as a case study

Posted in business and convergent technologies, strategy and planning, UN-GAID by Timothy Platt on January 7, 2019

This is my fifth installment to a series on infrastructure as work on it, and as possible work on it are variously prioritized and carried through upon, or set aside for future consideration (see United Nations Global Alliance for ICT and Development (UN-GAID), postings 46 and following for Parts 1-4.) And this is also an unplanned for addendum posting to this series that I have chosen to insert into this blog here as a breaking news and commentary update to a case study example that I have been developing and offering here since Part 2.

Let’s begin this posting’s narrative with a brief recent history-based digression and with Hurricane Sandy as it made landfall in New York City and its vicinity on October 29, 2012. Global warming with its resulting increased ocean water temperatures in the Atlantic and along the coast of the United States led to this storm remaining a strong Category 2 hurricane when it arrived there. And it did so, making landfall during high tide for the area and during a full moon, meaning that this would be an unusually high, high tide anyway. And when Sandy struck, it did so on a path that took it straight up the Hudson River and into lower Manhattan, creating storm surge flooding that inundated lower coastal areas throughout the City.

Large sections of the New York City subway system: their MTA subway was completely flooded, with salt water filling up subway stations to their ceilings and completely filling long tracts of the underground tunnels that connect them. And this led to massive salt water corrosion and destruction throughout the affected areas of this system.

One of the key points that I have been raising in this series, and certainly when considering the NYC MTA and its management and development, has been how this vitally important infrastructure system has become a political football between competing politically motivated forces: one in New York City’s City Hall and the other in Albany in the state legislature and the office of the governor. And one consequence of that, is that here in month 75 after that storm landfall, when any clock would begin ticking for any response to that disaster, there is still a significant amount of even basic repair work that is still to be done. And this brings me to the late breaking, as of this writing, news story that has prompted me to add this posting to this series and this blog, and now.

Current, updated and more completely documented estimates for how much it would cost to correct all of the ongoing and developing problems that the MTA currently faces, total something just over twice the total capital plan budget that is (still officially) assumed necessary for that, at some $60 billion. That includes still ongoing and necessary repairs from damage incurred from Sandy, but it also includes updates and repair work that have in some cases been put off for decades and even for entire generations. As noted in earlier installments to this series, some of the switches and switching technology that control train traffic flow through this system date to as far back as 1934 for their initial installation! See:

7 Ways to Fix the M.T.A. (Which Needs a $60 Billion Overhaul).

That expanded budget calculation includes in it fixing the still very extensive damage that Hurricane Sandy did to the MTA’s L Line. The MTA itself, carried out a three year study to find the most functionally effective, and cost effective and least disruptive approach to actually do this repair work. And they concluded after all of their onsite expert evaluations and all of the documentation and all of the hearings that that assessment work led to, that the best way to do this and at least limit the possible impact of a Sandy Part 2, would require shutting down the L line for a period of up to 15 months for systematic repair with much of that taking place in the L Line tunnels. And plans were developed to proceed with that. Then a newly reelected Governor Andrew Cuomo, feeling invincible and perhaps a bit omnipotent and omniscient from how he won and from how his political party took control of the state legislature too, stepped in.

It seems that he got into a conversation with an irate L line rider who told him in no uncertain terms that this shutdown would create problems for him and for others as well. And that is certainly true. Approximately 300,000 people take L Line trains between Brooklyn and Manhattan on an average day and depend on its being available for that. This impending closure has forced some people to move to new homes or change jobs and it has forced a great many to seek out least onerous travel alternatives that would still bring them where they have to go, and hopefully without tremendous extra delays or expense. Cuomo had his conversation when on a photo opportunity in New York City and in the MTA system as a part of that. And he unilaterally chose to override the MTA and all of its work related to this repair initiative, and declare by fiat (and by the power granted him by the New York State constitution to do so) that he would not allow the L Line to be shut down. The repair work that would be carried out now has to be completely reconsidered and redesigned and in such a way as to allow at least partial service throughout any planned and executed repair period.

Was the planned for 15 month shutdown that the MTA was expecting to follow, the best possible approach that they could have arrived at? I am fairly sure that there were other possibilities there that might have been as good or better, depending on precisely what criteria are considered. That certainly holds true when the balance between short-term commuter needs are balanced against long-term risk possibilities of the City experiencing a repeat of the type of storm damage that caused all of this here in the first place, from Hurricane Sandy.

But was Governor Cuomo’s knee jerk reaction to the political opportunity that this situation presented him with, the best alternative to what the MTA was doing and planning on doing? And can it be argued that his approach was intrinsically better than that? Cuomo made his decision strictly on the basis of short-term convenience and inconvenience measures, and from what has to be considered a smallest of all possible small sample, completely impromptu data sets, and on more here-and-now political polling number considerations where his being seen as taking action would impact upon them for him. See:

The L Train Shutdown Plan Was 3 Years in the Making. It Unraveled in 3 Weeks.

And note that unlike the MTA approach to this challenge, with its detailed costs and budget analyses for the various repair options that they considered over that three year period, Andrew Cuomo arrived at his executive order alternative, numbers-free at least for financial impact.

The MTA was already facing $60 billion in capital improvement needs, with their approved L Line repairs and their expected costs built into that. How much more would a complete, and I have to add unprepared-for replacement of those plans cost, when this was decided without even considering a bidding process as to who would be best suited to carry out the types of repairs now envisioned, and at what specific costs? Given the way this was so publically handled, it is safe to assume that costs of this restoration and repair work will only increase and certainly as Governor Cuomo has put pressure on the City government and the MTA to get this done as quickly as possible.

So who wins here? Subway riders who depend on the MTA’s L Line trains for their commutes will fare better – except for how this will force a prioritization lowering for other capital repair and maintenance work that might matter to them too, if the overall MTA budget is to be kept at least as close as possible to what it is now. The MTA and Mayor Bill de Blasio’s government have certainly lost in this. Andrew Cuomo has probably gained a boost in his statewide polling numbers and certainly given the all too often animus between Upstate New York and New York City, where too many Upstate residents seem to see the City as receiving undue preferential treatment and with that leading to an all but adversarial relationship between those parts of this same state, as a result. Ultimately though, I would argue that everyone loses, and certainly everyone who relies on this transportation infrastructure system and on a regular, ongoing basis. And this still unfolding but now more toxically transformed news story, highlights how politics and self-interest-based political maneuvering impact upon both costs incurred and repairs and maintenance needed, and how that work is or is not carried out.

Yes, Governor Cuomo would argue that I am fundamentally wrong here and in all that I write about this, and certainly where his decisions and actions are concerned. He would, among other points argue that he was acting in the best interest of MTA’s customers and that he did in fact base his decision on more than just a single round of casual chats with a few commuters during a photo op. But even allowing for a measure of truth in that, he did step into a complex situation and he acted and without more than just a superficial level of forethought or planning, or allowance for either. So how good can the results of this be?

I will continue this series with its planned for Part 5, set to go live on this blog on January 18, 2019. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings and series at Business Strategy and Operations – 5, and also at Page 1, Page 2, Page 3 and Page 4 of that directory. I also include this in Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time 3, and also see Page 1 and Page 2 of that directory. And I include this in my United Nations Global Alliance for ICT and Development (UN-GAID) directory too for its relevance there.

Reconsidering the varying faces of infrastructure and their sometimes competing imperatives 4: the Marshall Plan and the Molotov Plan

Posted in business and convergent technologies, strategy and planning, UN-GAID by Timothy Platt on November 7, 2018

This is my fourth installment to a series on infrastructure as work on it, and as possible work on it are variously prioritized and carried through upon, or set aside for future consideration (see United Nations Global Alliance for ICT and Development (UN-GAID), postings 46 and following for Parts 1-3.)

I began this series narrative with two admittedly negative examples, focusing in them on what should at least be their more arguably avoidable shortcomings:

• The failed US government led recovery efforts in Puerto Rico after the disaster brought on there by Hurricane Maria in 2017 (see Part 1 and Part 2) and
• The mismanagement of the New York City Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) as a political football, caught in the middle between New York City and New York State politics (see Part 2 and Part 3.)

My primary goal for this series moving forward, is to follow that here with consideration of a positive example of how infrastructure systems can be built or in this case rebuilt: the post-World War II European Recovery Program: commonly known as the Marshall Plan. And then I will step back to address the topics and issues of this series in more general terms. As part of that, I will explore and discuss the questions and issues of what gets supported and worked upon and why in this, and of what is postponed or simply set aside in building and maintaining, or rebuilding infrastructure systems. And as a key goal in all of that, I will at least offer a perspective as to how and why some infrastructure programs succeed or fail. That, ultimately is the overall goal that I have set for this series. And in the course of developing and presenting that line or argument, I will of necessity at least shed light on a few other large-scale infrastructure projects and programs as working examples too.

Let’s began all of that with the Marshall Plan and with an at least brief consideration of the levels of damage that Europe endured from going through World War II on its soil, and what both the war itself and the Marshall Plan cost. I have read figures of up to the equivalent of some four trillion 2018 US dollars when adjusted for inflation, for the overall cost to the Allies for carrying out this war and certainly when both the cost of conducting that war itself and the costs of all that was lost and the costs of recovery or at least replacement from that damage are included.

It is of course, impossible to put a cost on the loss of the truly priceless in all that disappeared in that war, from Europe’s cultural heritage. And how could a costs-based number be meaningfully arrived at for all of the pain and suffering and loss that was faced by the people caught up in this conflict, individually and in their millions? So on the recovery and rebuilding side of this global war as it played out in Europe, I can only address funds raised and approved and expended, and with a goal of restoring a more functional and capable Europe that could “stand on its own feet” again.

According to that criterion, the Marshall Plan: the United States government’s backed and supported recovery plan for rebuilding at least Western Europe, cost some 13.3 billion US dollars counting just United States funded support directly provided. That total funding support expanded out to some $40 billion for total actually spent and from all sources by the time this program was functionally ended in early 1953: when Western Europe was declared to actually be “back on its feet” again. Those numbers translate to approximately $108 billion and $322 billion respectively, when rescaled for inflation to their 2018 dollar equivalents. But for purposes of this narrative, that is probably only really significant when considering how inexpensive this overall program actually was and certainly when compared to the overall cost of the war itself.

More importantly, the Marshall Plan and its recovery efforts were only made available to areas of Europe that were placed under Western ally control after the formal end of the war. Soviet controlled European territories, encompassing essentially all of Eastern Europe were explicitly excluded from participation in this program as a direct and explicit Soviet Union decision. So I have written here of my addressing the Marshall Plan (in Western Europe) as a working infrastructure (re)development program. But to put that in perspective, I also have to specifically address how the countries that Soviet Russia controlled in Europe after the end of the war, that were organized into their Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance (Договор о дружбе, сотрудничестве и взаимной помощи): their Warsaw Pact were rebuilt and restored. This means my writing about Russia’s Molotov Plan too: their counterpart to the West’s Marshall Plan, which was later expanded to become the USSR’s economic side to its overall program for achieving positive global influence: their Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (Сове́т Экономи́ческой Взаимопо́мощи) or Comecon.

Western European nations were rebuilt through the Marshall Plan, and regardless of whether they had fought for or against the allied forces that proved victorious in the war. That included Marshall Plan rebuilding of Italy that had fought alongside Hitler and his Nazi forces, and it included West Germany too, as Germany as a whole was essentially cut in half geopolitically with the eastern half falling under Soviet control. And as noted above, Western Europe was essentially back on its feet by the end of 1953, even if there was still a great deal of work to do in repair and reconstruction, in addressing the scars of war that were still in place. Entire cities were all but leveled all across Europe by this war as were towns and smaller communities, and Europe’s basic infrastructure systems were thoroughly disrupted too: West and East. But by 1953, Western Europe was essentially back on its feet again.

Eastern Europe was rebuilt through a Soviet led and controlled program, the Molotov Plan. And when the Warsaw Pact disintegrated and its vassal nation members broke away from Soviet control in 1989, there were still area in them that bore the scars of World War II conflict, and certainly in East Germany: the nation under Soviet control in this group that they exerted the most direct and immediately ongoing control over.

And this brings me to the basic questions of how and why some infrastructure programs work and others do not. I will in fact circle back to consider my first two, US-based examples in addressing that complex of issues. But I will begin doing so by comparing the Marshall Plan and its Soviet counterpart. And I will begin addressing them in this context by flatly stating that both in fact succeeded – in achieving their own particular goals, which were very different from each other.

The goal of the Marshall Plan was to rebuild Western Europe and quickly, and under conditions that would lessen the likelihood of another World War breaking out there. World War I began in Europe and so did World War II. And a consensus of understanding was already in place in the West that one of the key reasons why a Hitler was able to rise to power in Germany, leading to World War II, could be found in how the allies of World War I crushed a then struggling post-war Germany with overwhelming reparations demands after their victory – and at a time when a defeated Germany was actually attempting democratic reform under their Weimar Republic. Rebuilding and under terms and conditions that would prevent the rise of another Hitler and in any of the countries involved in this program, was a key goal of the Marshall Plan.

And another goal for the Marshall Plan, was containment, and the prevention of further spread of an actively emerging Soviet empire. And that point of detail brings me directly to the Molotov Plan, and its goals and its prioritized actions. And that brings me back to historical considerations and historical lessons learned, too.

I just mentioned one of the key lessons learned that informed the development and shaping of the Marshall Plan in the West, when citing the received wisdom in place as to how a failure to rebuild and a failure to support a more favorable post-World War I German government led to the rise of Hitler and Nazism. Russia had its own lessons learned: a fear of invasion, and of invasion from the West in particular. And that shaped how the Molotov Plan was designed and carried out in Eastern Europe, and that program influenced and even fundamentally shaped how Western Europe rebuilt too, and both through the Marshall Plan and related efforts and for how the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) arose as a unifying Western European defense capability.

I am going to continue this narrative in a next series installment. Then after completing my discussion of these two post-World War II redevelopment projects and offering an initial analysis as to why some infrastructure projects succeed and some fail, I will discuss China’s efforts at rebuilding itself, and at globalizing its influence through infrastructure initiatives in what it sees as its client states. I will use those lines of discussion, as well as notes offered on other infrastructure initiatives, to refine and develop my basic success or fail model, as a possible predictive resource. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings and series at Business Strategy and Operations – 5, and also at Page 1, Page 2, Page 3 and Page 4 of that directory. I also include this in Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time 3, and also see Page 1 and Page 2 of that directory. And I include this in my United Nations Global Alliance for ICT and Development (UN-GAID) directory too for its relevance there.

Reconsidering the varying faces of infrastructure and their sometimes competing imperatives 3: continuing my second case study example

Posted in business and convergent technologies, strategy and planning, UN-GAID by Timothy Platt on August 21, 2018

This is my third installment to a series on infrastructure as work on it, and as possible work on it are variously prioritized and carried through upon, or set aside for future consideration (see Part 1 and Part 2.)

I began my discussion of infrastructure development and maintenance here, as both are shaped and prioritized by political and ideological forces in Part 1, with a briefly and admittedly selective discussion of what has and has not been done to help in the recovery of Puerto Rico after it was devastated by Hurricane Maria in 2017. And I continued that narrative in Part 2, concluding it at least for now and for purposes of this series as a whole. I then turned in that posting to similarly consider a second such case study example, as provided by the way that New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) is jointly managed at a city level and a state level. And I stated at the end of Part 2 that I would conclude that case study here in this posting.

I begin doing so here by picking up on a case in point detail of how need can fall by the wayside, when an infrastructure system becomes a political football that is fought over by competing forces and the power brokers who effectively own them.

I wrote in Part 2 that “even when a subway station is being rebuilt as a major redevelopment initiative that is approved by Albany, it is rare that any effort be made to comply with the US Federal government’s Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in that. As a result, most of the subway stations in this system are still not handicapped accessible. And that federal law was passed in 1990, fast approaching 30 years ago too!” As it turns out, others have also been thinking and writing about this, and the following news piece came out in the New York Times between the time that I write Part 2 of this series and when it first went live, and now as I write this Part 3 next installment:

For Disabled Subway Riders, the Biggest Challenge Can Be Getting to the Train.

As noted in Part 2, the New York City subway system includes in it 472 subway stations, making it the largest such system in the world by that metric. But of that number, 354 are not handicap accessible, lacking elevators that people in wheelchairs would need if they are to make use of this transportation resource. That means only 25% of the stations in this system comply and even just by that measure with the US Federal government’s Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which as just noted above was passed into law almost 30 years ago now, in 1990. That failure to meet genuine public need, among things puts the New York City MTA in what is essentially last place for handicap accessibility among larger mass transit systems as found in the United States. And it leads to the New York City system ranking similarly badly when compared to large-scale mass transit systems globally too.

The MTA has a goal of someday developing enough of their subway stations for handicap accessibility so there is at most just one non-compliant station positioned between any two that are complaint for this. But as of now, and as the above news piece cites in detail, there are numerous stretches in this system where there can be as many as 10 or more non-compliant stations positioned between handicap accessible compliant ones: as many as 10 or more stations that anyone with a wheelchair or a walker who cannot safely use stairs or an escalator, cannot make use of before they reach a station that can accessibly meet their needs.

• The MTA’s current goal is to add elevators to 50 more stations over the coming years, and in principle by the end of 2025, but that could only happen if the gridlock and conflict that has been ongoing between New York City’s city hall, and the governor and legislature in Albany were to become resolved – sort of like a modern repeat of the parting of the Red Sea for the significance and for the likelihood of that happening.
• And even successfully accomplishing that would still leave 304 of those stations effectively unavailable to anyone who needs to use a wheelchair. That would only raise the ADA compliance percentage from 25% to just over 35%, still leaving it one of the least accessible mass transit subway systems of any significant size and scale and both in the United States and when compared to what is available in London, Beijing or essentially any other major city worldwide.
• But to really put this issue into perspective, I also have to note here that according to publicly available records, as cited in the above New York Times article, on average the elevators that are in place in the NYMTA subway system, break down 53 times per year. And the MTA’s own online apps, used to publicly share information on routes and stations and what connects with what and through which subway lines, are not kept effectively up to date for when these elevators are down and effectively not there. Sharing information with the public on subway systems maintenance, and where there are breakdowns or train reroutes is supposed to be a key functional capability for these publicly available online tools. But if the data bases that drive them are not kept up to date, anyone really needing an elevator at a given station cannot know if there is actually, functionally one there, until they get there to find out. And if it is not, they have to get back on a train and hope that they can find a station further along that route that does have a working elevator, else they cannot leave the MTA system!

I said at the end of Part 2 that I would also at least briefly address the issues of how the New York City’s MTA’s track and signaling systems are in disrepair, and how as a matter of irony the fare for a ride on the subway system has kept going up and up in spite of these and other failures to actually effectively prioritize or maintain this system. And I added that I would at least briefly make note of New York State’s current governor and his political ambitions, bookending the starting point to this example as that began with then Governor Rockefeller and his political ambitions.

I begin addressing, and as necessary re-explaining that here, by noting that some of the switching technology in place in the MTA’s critical control system literally dates back to the 1930’s. That takes legacy technology as an issue, to a whole new level, and technology obsolescence. And that failure to keep this system technologically up to date, or even just vaguely close to that is also the reason why there are still parts of the MTA tracks and station system where it is impossible to know precisely where a subway train is in it, until that train actually arrives at a next station and can be entered in for its actual location there. That lack of timely information forces train dispatchers to space out the trains a lot farther apart than they would have to if they could real-time know precisely where all of those trains are and between stations too.

On the other hand, this also means those trains all have to go slower too. And that is a good thing given the fact that the MTA is always playing catch-up on maintaining their rail lines themselves. They have to go slower due to an unacceptable risk of derailments from track failures, and as much as they have to because of possible collision risks, as might occur if they were to significantly speed up those trains. Together, this means that at best, the New York MTA is forced to offer reduced overall carrying capacity for its riders, and with more crowded subway cars for those who do get on and with train delays built into their system.

I began writing in Part 2 of how this system is a political football, and about how its finances and maintenance have been used politically and by many in power and for decades now: generations actually. Then Governor Rockefeller did this to help himself in a reelection bid and current Governor Cuomo is doing the same thing now as he seeks to further his own political ambitions, and the state legislature in Albany has been in political conflict with New York City for virtually as long as there have been New York City and Albany governments and politicians. And for all of this, critical infrastructure systems such as the New York City MTA serve as easy targets.

Note that the gaps and failings that I write of here as working examples, are lower priority because they are not politically sexy, to put it succinctly if not politely. The powers that be were able to come together finally, to extend the Second Avenue line three more stops going north up Manhattan’s east side. That is visible and very photogenic. But most of the time, as already noted in this series, when a station that already exists is refurbished, elevators are not included in that effort if there were none there already – and even when those stations undergo what is essentially a complete rebuild. No one pays attention to train signal and switch systems in a subway system – unless or until there is a major event such as a costly accident, such as a major derailment with fatalities. But even focusing for the moment on fatalities, when a track worker: an MTA employee dies on the job because of safety inadequacies that stem from systems obsolescence, that never seems to stay in the news longer than a current weather report would. Politics and public visibility and their interrelationships: they contribute to and in fact fundamentally shape all of what I am writing about here. Our neighbors in wheelchairs can be, I add too often are just as invisible and certainly in any spending and policy decision making as those 1930’s era signaling boxes and switches, located away from the subway platforms that riders see. And the problems that I write of here, simply continue on. And yes, the fares that MTA riders have to pay to use this service keep going up and up too.

I am going to turn in my next series installment to consider a positive example of how infrastructure systems can be built or rebuilt: the post-World War II European Recovery Program: commonly known as the Marshall Plan. And then I will step back to address the topics and issues of this series in more general terms. As part of that, I will explore and discuss the questions and issues of what gets supported and worked upon and why in this, and what is set aside in building and maintaining infrastructure systems. I will discuss China’s infrastructure building outreach as a part of that, as that nation seeks to extend and strengthen its position globally. And I will at least touch upon and make note of a variety of other infrastructure development and maintenance examples too.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings and series at Business Strategy and Operations – 5, and also at Page 1, Page 2, Page 3 and Page 4 of that directory. I also include this in Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time 3, and also see Page 1 and Page 2 of that directory. And I include this in my United Nations Global Alliance for ICT and Development (UN-GAID) directory too for its relevance there. I begin this series with an American example, but it addresses globally impactful issues and events.

Reconsidering the varying faces of infrastructure and their sometimes competing imperatives 2: adding in a second case study example

Posted in business and convergent technologies, strategy and planning, UN-GAID by Timothy Platt on June 19, 2018

This is my second installment to a series on infrastructure as work on it, and as possible work on it are variously prioritized and carried through upon, or set aside for future consideration (see Part 1.)

I began this series in Part 1 with a negative example of how this type of need and response system can play out, as drawn from recent events on the island of Puerto Rico. That example centered on how that island was devastated by Hurricane Maria in 2017, and how this disaster and its impact on the island’s critical infrastructure was addressed. More specifically there, I wrote of the failure of the United States government to bring their Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and its emergency response capabilities to bear on this problem at anything like a significant level of action. And I wrote of the US governmental decision as made by President Trump, to in effect abandon Puerto Rico and its people in the face of this disaster. Puerto Ricans are American citizens; and they have been facing a fundamental need for what amounts to comprehensive critical infrastructure rebuilding in the face of what they have gone through from this storm: the worst historically to have ever hit their island and with records going back centuries now for that, to the time of the early Spanish explorers. And Puerto Rico and its people have been officially and formally left to their fate by this failure to follow through, and in the face of both longstanding American tradition and in the face of FEMA’s basic charter as a government agency.

I stress here that that charter mandates that this agency spearhead national government-led responses to disasters, and that it has in fact stepped forth to do that on numerous other occasions and for other American communities. But this time, President Trump visited the site of devastation to proclaim that any help from his government would be limited and of very short duration, and with nothing else to be expected. That “and with nothing else” has come to include a lack of any federal coordination or support in any longer term recovery effort too. And what effort has been mounted there has been plagued by corruption in how recovery and reconstruction contracts have been doled out, and inefficiency, and by what can only be called large-scale theft of funds that were to go towards this effort where funds have been allocated for it.

• This disaster still continues and for many as I write this, with many on the island still without electrical power to their homes or businesses, and over half a year after the hurricane first hit.

This is a series about infrastructure and its priorities, and politics. I began it with an overtly toxic example of how need and even pressing need, and political ideology and personal political ambition do not always align and in either a functional, or a moral or ethical sense. I picked a very real example to start this series with, that is still painfully playing out as I write this second installment. And it is one that I am sorry to say will likely still be playing out: dragging on, and for as long as I write to this series and beyond. And this still in the news story, is one that highlights how need and justification for action and commitment, and an idealized presumption of how infrastructure development and maintenance should be carried out, do not necessarily hold true in the real, politically charged and politically governed world that we live in.

I finished my discussion of that case study as far as I went with it in Part 1, by offering a somewhat cryptic comment as to one of the consequences of all of this, that I said I would explain and clarify here:

• “The impact that this failure to lead or to act (n.b. in addressing Puerto Rico’s problems), have had significant repercussions in the continental United States too. In anticipation of that, I note here that ongoing and unresolved damage to Puerto Rico and its infrastructure and its businesses, have had repercussions that reach into virtually every hospital in the United States.”

That assertion calls for clarification. And I begin offering that clarification with some ideologically grounded background points that can be found in President Trump’s tweets and in his more lengthy public statements and actions. Trump likes to proclaim that all Mexicans are “thieves and rapists” (though “some of them might be nice people”), to cite a parallel example of his disdain for Hispanics of all sorts. And he likes to say in justification of his decisions and actions in this disaster’s context, that Puerto Rican’s are all indolent and lazy and that they just live off of handouts and welfare from the US government. But Puerto Rico has come to play a significant, and even crucial role in the overall US economy too, and in some very specific areas of its production and manufacturing systems. Pertinently to the above repeated consequences bullet point and as an example of the island’s critical role in American manufacturing, essentially all of the intravenous hydration fluids used at essentially every hospital and clinic in the continental United States were produced by businesses located in Puerto Rico. These are vitally important healthcare resources for treating a very wide range of hospital and clinic patients, and for a very wide range of conditions and in meeting a great many types of patient needs. And those businesses were heavily damaged by Hurricane Maria, and were left without electrical power after that. They still have not recovered and a real, full recovery for them might take years if it is to happen at all. Meanwhile, US hospitals have found themselves rationing the IV fluids that they can acquire from alternative sources, and prioritizing what necessary medical care they can afford to offer that calls for this type of resource, with the more limited supplies they still have. This affects people who have to be able to receive medications that have to be delivered intravenously and with supporting IV hydration, and hospitalized patients who cannot take fluids orally among others, and impacts on the healthcare of many in need.

• When critical infrastructure systems are maintained and even improved to accommodate advancing need, this positively affects individuals and communities and even entire nations. And the ripple effects that spread out from that type of development effort through indirect benefits accrued, can be just as profound as the direct impact of this work being done where it is.
• And a failure to so act, has consequences that are at least as impactful and that can be just as far reaching – just in a different direction.

I said in Part 1 that I would turn to consider a second case study example, after concluding my at least initial take here on what has been happening and not happening in Puerto Rico. And I begin that with the New York City Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) and its convoluted City versus State politics – and the impact that the tug of war resulting from that ownership conflict have had on this crucial transportation infrastructure system and on its reliability and safety.

I began addressing this complex of issues at the end of Part 1 in my brief anticipatory note as to what I would discuss here. But I begin fleshing out that brief opening note here with some relevant background material that I offer in order to more clearly indicate what is involved in this example. The most recent ridership numbers that I have access to from the MTA itself indicate that as of the end of 2016:

• An average of 5,655,755 rides were taken on this subway system every weekday,
• And average of 5,758,201 rides were taken on it every two day weekend, and
• A total of 1,756,814,800 rides were taken on this subway system for that year as a whole.

This makes the New York City MTA the seventh most heavily used subway system in the world, by ridership numbers (see this MTA facts sheet.) And to share another scale metric, this subway system as of this writing, now includes in it more than 665 mainline miles of track that run along 22 interconnected route lines, along with several permanent shuttle lines added in to more effectively interconnect this system, each with their miles of track too. This system currently includes 472 stations in operation (with a total of 424 if stations connected by transfer walk-throughs are counted as single stations), located throughout the boroughs of Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx and with a line running along the Hudson River-facing coast of Staten Island too. The NYC MTA is the largest metropolitan subway system in the world and significantly so, when scale is determined on the basis of numbers of subway stations included. And New York City would basically grind to a halt if this system were to significantly go down and for any significant period of time. The NYC MTA is very genuinely an example of a crucially important, vital critical infrastructure system.

I stress here that this is the New York City metropolitan subway system that I write of here, managed and run by a government agency that has Metropolitan in its title. And this was a City agency and the management and maintenance of it was under City government control and oversight – until that is, the State government moved in to take what effectively amounts to control over the MTA. Why and how did this happen?

I have already at least started to address that dual question at the end of Part 1, in anticipation of this installment, and for continuity of narrative repeat what I said of this there. Then governor Nelson Rockefeller imposed a layer of state control over the city’s MTA and its decision making authority in 1968, in order to garner more votes for his own reelection bid of that year. He saw his polling numbers to be weak in the New York City metropolitan area and decided that if he stepped in and blocked a planned, and I have to add needed five cent fare increase in the cost of a ride on the subway, he would garner more votes from appreciative New Yorkers (see Why Does New York State Control the Subway? That’s the 20-Cent Question.) So Rockefeller stepped in with the help and support of the state legislature in Albany that would suddenly gain veto level control over the New York City MTA and its budget and its planning, and comprehensively for that: not just control over fares charged in that system.

• And yes, Rockefeller did win his reelection bid, so this political gambit did at least seem to work for him. But this change of controlling authority was of open-ended duration, and it still holds as a defining fact for the MTA and for New York City as a whole for its ongoing consequences: 30 years later and with no end to that in sight.

I am going to continue this narrative in a next series installment, where I will at least briefly and selectively discuss how Albany politics, and New York City subway system priorities as set by Upstate politicians who never themselves ride on this subway system, are skewed to put that politely and how their priorities and their resulting decisions fail when compared to actual need faced. So, for example, even when a subway station is being rebuilt as a major redevelopment initiative that is approved by Albany, it is rare that any effort be made to comply with the US Federal government’s Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in that. As a result, most of the subway stations in this system are still not handicapped accessible. And that federal law was passed in 1990, fast approaching 30 years ago too!

I will discuss systems maintenance and how the MTA’s track and signaling systems are in disrepair, and how as a matter of irony the fare for a ride on the subway system has kept going up and up in spite of these and other failures to actually effectively prioritize or maintain this system. And I will at least briefly make note of New York State’s current governor and his political ambitions, bookending the starting point to this example as that began with then Governor Rockefeller and his political ambitions.

After concluding that case study example, I will turn from the negative and the cautionary-note view of infrastructure development and maintenance, to consider the positive side to this. I will discuss the post-World War II European Recovery Program: commonly known as the Marshall Plan. And then I will step back to address the topics and issues of this series in more general terms. As part of that, I will explore and discuss the questions and issues of what gets supported and worked upon and why in this, and what is set aside in building and maintaining infrastructure systems. I will discuss China’s infrastructure building outreach as a part of that, as that nation seeks to extend and strengthen its position globally. And I will at least touch upon and make note of a variety of other infrastructure development and maintenance examples too.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings and series at Business Strategy and Operations – 5, and also at Page 1, Page 2, Page 3 and Page 4 of that directory. I also include this in Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time 3, and also see Page 1 and Page 2 of that directory. And I include this in my United Nations Global Alliance for ICT and Development (UN-GAID) directory too for its relevance there. I begin this series with an American example, but it addresses globally impactful issues and events.

Reconsidering the varying faces of infrastructure and their sometimes competing imperatives 1: Hurricane Maria and Puerto Rico

Posted in business and convergent technologies, strategy and planning, UN-GAID by Timothy Platt on April 27, 2018

I have been posting to this blog since late 2009, so patterns have probably become evident in what I write here, and in how I schedule and prioritize that. I am at least loosely following a very specific plan with long-term goals as to what to cover and how in all of this. And I organize what I write and offer here in terms of largely-organized series and topics directories, with the occasional lone, one-off posting added into that mix.

I do in fact at least occasionally address current in-the-news issues and have even developed some of my series around them, at least for the purposes of establishing a level of news-based third party validation of the approaches that I take to addressing those topics. And linked references of that type can and do offer current supportive detail that I can use in developing more fully fleshed out lines of reasoning and analysis there too. But all of that noted, I have to add that there are also some long-term areas of interest and concern for me, that I have in effect mulled over for extended periods before getting to them here at all in this blog, too. I have by now touched upon and at least begun to address some of them; some are still pending for inclusion here. And I begin this posting by stating that my goal here is to at least begin to start an analysis and discussion of one of those topic areas that I have considered, but set aside.

I have held off on posting on some of those issues because I saw need for developing specific foundations for discussing them, and in ways that would fit into this blog as an overall organized effort. And a few of them have simply percolated in my mind as I have waited for the right moment to address them. In this case, I could cite some very specific reasons for that. I have in fact written about politics and even very directly and explicitly and certainly over the course of the last roughly two years now. But I am still reluctant to do so, and the topic at hand here is as much about political ideology and political ambition, as it is about anything.

My goal here is to discuss publically significant infrastructure and what does and does not get funded and supported, and by whom. Let me begin that by putting this into perspective:

• I have written of infrastructure systems and their development and maintenance per se, on multiple occasions in this blog, and in that regard cite series that I have offered throughout my United Nations Global Alliance for ICT and Development (UN-GAID) directory. In fact essentially everything offered there fits into the area of infrastructure development and in ways that directly fit into this series, and as foundational material that it would connect to. The issues that I would address here in this posting and in its series to come, do in fact fit into and take on deeper meaning when considered in terms of a groundwork foundation that I have laid for them, there and elsewhere in this blog.
• I have very real and I add pressingly important current events issues in mind as I set out to write about this now: another topics arena that I have written to here and in many topical contexts.
• And the core issues that I would write of here, or at least begin to address in this posting, have been on my mind for quite a while now, certainly going back as far as my experience leading up to my Haiti postings as appear at the start of my above-cited UN-GAID directory. This interest and concern on my part, means for me going back to very early in my work life and life experience too.

I begin this series and this posting in it, with a still too currently topical ongoing news story that for its severity and for the inertia that it faces, has not been resolved or even resolvable and certainly not up to now. Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico on September 20, 2017 with sustained winds of some 155 miles an hour, and before that storm was done there it has laid waste to the island. Homes and businesses were lost, and lives too, and the island’s critical infrastructure systems: their electrical grid and telecommunications systems, their fresh water and sewer systems and roadways and bridges and more were in shambles. And there are still large parts of the island that lack electrical power, just to cite one of many possible recovery metrics that I could make note of here, as I write this on April 5, 2018 and six and a half months later. The most recent figures I have seen for that rebuilding and recovery failure indicate that 11% of the entire island is still without electrical power. And with all of that still going on and unresolved from last year, Puerto Ricans are now facing the start of a 2018 hurricane season too, with its risks of new damage.

Why? How can this be allowed to happen, and particularly when Puerto Rico is an American territory and its citizens are United States citizens, and the United States is supposedly one of the wealthiest and most capable nations on this planet, and one that is based on both democratic principles, and a history and tradition of helping one’s neighbors in time of need? Other, much poorer and resource-limited nations in the Caribbean region have more fully recovered from the devastation that they suffered from that hurricane and from others of the 2017 season. How can this have happened and how and why does this persist and with so little hope left for a real and comprehensive resolution to it and certainly insofar as anything like a nationally led recovery effort might be concerned?

I keep going back in my mind as I raise those questions to the televised sight of President Trump making a brief appearance in San Juan, Puerto Rico after the storm had passed, to among other things proclaim that the people there should not expect any help of any duration or extent from the US federal government and that they would be on their own to recover as best they could. And there he was tossing rolls of paper towels from the back of a truck at the people in a surrounding crowd, as a photo opportunity for his own use and benefit – paper towels that others had sent as part of a private sector relief effort and not on his initiative or with US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) support.

One possible approach to answering those questions and certainly for this troubling and still ongoing event, would be to cite Donald Trump’s well established anti-Hispanic biases with his overtly bigoted hostility towards Mexicans, Puerto Ricans and others. But simply focusing on that type of response would only take this event out of context and treat it as if it were an isolated incidence that did not necessarily fit into a larger and more nuanced pattern. My goal here is to look beyond this one troubling incident and its still unfolding aftermath, to at least consider why some infrastructure challenges remain unaddressed, while others garner more sustained effort for resolving them, and even regardless of what might more objectively be viewed as their relative levels of need and consequence as priorities for action are set.

I began this narrative with this particular example to highlight its importance and for real people and their lives and for real communities and their lives too. And I will have more to add to that narrative in my next installment to this series, where I will discuss the impact that this failure to lead or to act has had in the continental United States. In anticipation of that, I note here that ongoing and unresolved damage to Puerto Rico and its infrastructure and its businesses, have had repercussions that reach into virtually every hospital in the United States, and in ways that president Trump would not have imagined as he threw those rolls of paper towels at people who had just lost seemingly everything. That, as I will discuss in some detail is critically important; failure to address what might seem to be more localized infrastructure challenges can and do bring much more widespread consequences, and in directions that might not be readily anticipated.

I will also at least begin a discussion of New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) and how its development and maintenance have been a political football, and a political hostage caught between New York City’s City Hall and Albany. And that has been a significant if often overlooked issue in New York and for both the city and the state, at least since then governor Nelson Rockefeller imposed a layer of state control over the city’s MTA and its decision making authority in 1968, in order to garner more votes for his own reelection bid of that year (see Why Does New York State Control the Subway? That’s the 20-Cent Question.) I will raise and discuss a number of other case study examples in further postings to this too, as I further explore and discuss the questions and issues of what gets supported and worked upon and why, and what is set aside in building and maintaining our critical infrastructure systems.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings and series at Business Strategy and Operations – 4, and see Page 1, Page 2 and Page 3 of that directory. I also include this in Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time 2, and see its Page 1. And I include this in my United Nations Global Alliance for ICT and Development (UN-GAID) directory too for its relevance there. I begin this series with an American example, but it addresses globally impactfull issues and events.

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