I’m flying back to the USA today, and as an infrastructure aficionado, it’s nice to be going home, but I’m dreading the disappointment. I just spent two weeks in Singapore and Thailand; last year I spent time in Hong Kong and Shenzhen; and compared to modern Asia, so much American infrastructure is now so contemptible that it’s hard not to wince when I see it.
The USA is nine times wealthier than Thailand, per capita, but I’d far rather ride Bangkok’s SkyTrain than deal with NYC’s subway nowadays. I’d much prefer to fly into Don Muang, Bangkok’s ancient second-tier airport — which was actually closed for years, before being reopened to handle domestic flights and low-cost airlines — than the hostile nightmare that is LAX. And those are America’s two primary gateway cities!
So imagine what it’s like coming to America from wealthy Asian nations, and their gleaming, polished, metronomically reliable subways, trains, and airports. I don’t think Americans understand just how that comparison has become a quiet ongoing national humiliation. If they did, sheer national (and civic) pride would make them want to do something about it. Instead there’s a learned helplessness about most American infrastructure nowadays, a wrong but certain belief that it’s unrealistic to dream of anything better.