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This Election Business
November 11, 2016
Perhaps it is time for me to make some “public” comment about the election. This isn’t an article about politics. It is, however, a polemic. We must rebuild our social compact. A good place for me to start is an observation about current politics in the light of the topic of this blog: Cooperative Construction
I have some significant feelings arising from the election this week. There aren’t really about public policy, although policy is implied; they aren’t really political although they are political-adjacent.
My feelings are about business interactions and the representations or misrepresentations presented by the election. “Cooperative Construction.” has a premise that the construction industry, must set aside its tired old ways of ferocious competition, contentious operations and terrible waste. This is partly due to the industry’s consumptive nature, partly due to its poor quality thinking, but whatever the origins, and they are ancient, the construction industry must realign itself to eliminate waste and create a new ethos to keep up with modern society. We must do this for our industry and for our society. This will require building new a societal awareness in a galactic-sized industry. The opposite came out of this election cycle. Nothing about this election helped our industry at all.
I am unsettled that both of the Presidential Candidate’s business dealings are very poor quality as alleged by the opposing camps. To me, business dealings and the proper behavior are important to our lives and for the health of our society. Neither camp refuted the claims about poor quality business dealings, as if such assertions weren’t significant, emails and insults were. Allegations such as those made in this election should be horrifying to the campaigns. Other categories such as unwarranted military aggression or economic repression, are even more urgent and important to our overall societal health, but aggressive or corrupt business interaction should be addressed in elaborate detail in a campaign. We mustn’t tire of seeking proper behavior in our public persons’ business dealings.
I will need to walk through the connections between the election and my feelings about my writing project. I intend my project to be a contribution to society as a whole. The election as it came out was damaging to the society as a whole in that it honored poor business practices or ignored them. The Democrats complained that Mr. Trump had built an empire on aggressive, even predatory development practices, including bankruptcies, and tax evasion that harmed businesses up and down the construction industry hierarchy. In response, he just reported that he took advantage of existing laws to develop his properties. It was as if, because he hadn’t violated any laws, his risky aggressive investments were just fine.
The Republicans claimed that Mrs. Clinton was corrupt in two large, if vague, assertions. She allegedly, promoted donations to the Clinton Foundation through here positions in government, and she and the former President earned unreasonable speakers’ fees from connections to her influential positions. None of these things were adequately addressed or refuted. It may be a large reason why Mrs. Clinton lost because she rarely mentioned any defense against the claim of unfair influences.
Let me be a little more precise, in a Presidential election, we are trying to assess a candidate’s fitness to occupy an office that will affect our lives and the world as well. We ignored the necessary resolution of claims by both sides of improper business and societal behavior. It was as if we were too busy to require the candidates to produce answers to the other side’s assertions, except when it was salacious or insulting. We missed the point.
In this election, we found that the most poorly understood quality of the electorate is its divisiveness. The society is dividing itself. It seems to me that the society is increasingly tearing itself apart. None of the candidates addressed this societal self-destruction adequately. Bernie Sanders recognized it most elaborately when indicating the income disparity in the society. Donald Trump paid lip service to the real social divisions by addressing the basest of human concerns…because they are the most impactful and memorable. He recited observations and reported exaggerations of the chaotic nature of the poorest neighborhoods and the newest or most isolated of our society. Among many vague and regressive suggestions for policy, he kept up the divisive rhetoric to grow his audience. These unsavory elements of the Trump campaign were combined with nearly childish braggadocio about the cleverness of his approach to business, in contrast to the brute aggression that came out of the record.
For the Democratic Party side of the election, it was almost as if business didn’t exist. The void of direction, of leadership on how the structure and attitude of our business climate was an open field for the Republican vague promises and misrepresentation to take hold. The Democrats lost the army of support that had buoyed the Sanders candidacy.
The economic results of the predatory business world were the obvious dividing lines upon which the voting decisions were made. I say this because the maps of counties voting patterns showed the economically distressed areas were lop-sided plurality for Trump. The more urban areas and more economically successful areas were for Clinton. The minority urban vote went for the Democratic candidate, but that is elaborately covered by other observers.
My interest is that the geographic divisions of economic viability (as shown by de facto segregation of economic voting geography) is a function of predatory real estate development arising, in turn, from poor business practices and poor management of our process of creation of infrastructure. The worst of these failures is wasteful development and construction.
Any work of architecture that has with it some discussion, some polemic, I think is good. It shows that people are interested, people are involved.
For a vacation two years ago, my partner and I took a 480 mile trip to Flagstaff on Route 66. (We were both 66 years old, and it the trip sort of suggested itself) It was shocking to see the deterioration of once-successful regions of south California. Boarded up buildings, empty lots, broken down parks, abandoned cars and homes. I never saw these conditions from the freeway, often less than a mile away. I remembered traveling as a child in rural Midwest and seeing such symbols of economic segregation, but it was striking because I hadn’t noticed it recently or nearby my comfortable home in Los Angeles.
On Tuesday night, I saw those rural counties colored red and the urban counties colored blue in state after state. Florida, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. In fact, every state, including California, had the same pattern. You have seen it. I submit that it is an economic de facto segregation both caused by and resulting in poor quality infrastructure and aggressive, predatory real estate development.
It is a further leap to my topic of economic and material waste in construction projects, but they are directly connected. Further, waste is something that we can fix, fairly easily once we create the correct environment around the development of our built environment. Let me explain.
The development of roads, bridges and importantly, schools are our largest community project. Where societies invest in these projects (and divest in military spending, or at least try to make it efficient) the society flourishes. Northern European countries shown in Michael Moore’s latest film, “Where to Invade Next,” displays this success repeatedly. Right now, some sources suggest that half of the money spent on the built environment is wasted. Wasted time, money, materials, incompetence, overly aggressive competition, failed risk analysis, unsafe practices and lack of cooperation.
Apparently the scuttle-butt in Washington right now is that the Trump administration may push for substantial increase in infrastructure development. I’m sure that there are some good intentions for the improvement of society in that proposal. Rumors of lesser intentions, such as roping progressives into acquiescence on regressive tax polies abound. They will have to stand up for proper behavior in infrastructure spending and avoiding proven failed approaches to tax policy. It won’t be easy, but it must be done.
Development of new infrastructure must be done with great care. We forget that the I-35 bridge over the Mississippi collapsed in 2007, killing 13, due to overloading from poor original and re-construction design and an ongoing construction materials storage. Thirteen people died due to poor design and poor project management.
President Obama already signed a $305 Billion transportation funding bill in December 2015. That funding is intended to fund projects for 5 years. It was $100 Billion smaller than requested by the White House, but was the first long term funding bill in 10 years. Throwing together an infrastructure bill may increase tendencies for inefficiencies and should be cautiously approached. But there is obviously plenty of room for expansion of investment and an opportunity to change the patch-together style of funding for projects to a more long-term and well-planned investment strategy. Not to mention increased maintenance and inspection.
In this election, California passed a $9 Billion school construction bond measure, the first since 2004. There was already a backlog of hundreds of millions of dollars in school projects in California. In Los Angeles, a service and infrastructure proposal for $1.2 Billion for homeless was approved this week. It does appear that the public is supportive of large public works.
Imagine if the rumors were correct that 50% of construction funding is wasted? What kind of improvements could our country really make? What kind of more equitable distribution of community development could be achieved? What kind of elections would result from a more equitable distribution and just plain dramatically improved infrastructure development?
It seems to me that the construction industry could lead the country and the society in a sea-change toward a more balanced society. All we need to do is agree to do so. Due to my studies, and the well-documented of efficiency in construction, we are facing a horizon with a rising sun.