How to Spend 2 Trillion Dollars

April 8, 2021
Whenever you’re talking about water infrastructure, you’re not just talking about money, you’re talking about people’s lives.

So a big infrastructure bill—the holy grail of the last two presidential administrations—seems back on the table. The proposed price tag: two trillion dollars. Trillion. With a “T”.

How do you even wrap your head around a number like two trillion? I don’t know about you, but I have a mental breakdown somewhere between a million and a billion. I have to keep reminding myself that a billion is actually a thousand million; that someone with 100 million dollars in the bank is only one-tenth of the way to being a billionaire. That someone with 500 million dollars is still only halfway to being a billionaire. And a trillion is a thousand billion.

One way to think about it is in terms of time. A million seconds is about 11.5 days, a billion seconds is about 32 years, and a trillion seconds is 32,000 years. Or you could think in terms of space. If you had it in hundred-dollar bills, a thousand fits in your pocket, a million fits in a briefcase, a billion will fit in your van—and to hold a trillion you need a football field. Two trillion dollars is just a staggering number representing a staggering amount of wealth.

And it looks like the final number will be somewhere in that ballpark. For once, the money is not coming from deficit spending, but instead will be raised by taxes on corporations over the next 15 years. I have seen, on social media, a healthy dose of skepticism on that point. Corporations, those skeptics say, will only pass the costs along to the consumer and in the end we will all bear the price together.

But the price of inaction is one that we’re already paying, and have been paying for decades. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, the poor state of America’s infrastructure costs each household roughly $3,300 per year. That includes everything from getting your car fixed after hitting a pothole to buying bottled water after a storm wrecks a municipal system.

And remember, whenever you’re talking about water infrastructure, you’re not just talking about money, you’re talking about people’s lives. If Flint, Michigan isn’t enough of a reminder, as I type this Manatee County, Florida is under emergency orders with more than 300 homes evacuated due to a leak at a wastewater reservoir.

The infrastructure plan currently includes $111 billion for investment in water infrastructure. To break things down a little, there’s $45 billion towards replacing lead pipes, $56 billion in loans and grants to modernize dams, reservoirs and other systems, and $10 billion to monitor and improve the quality of drinking water.

That level of investment means a lot of work for people in the plumbing business. Combine that with all the work that was cancelled or delayed due to the pandemic and we could be looking at what American Builders and Contractors is calling a tsunami of growth (check the jobs story on the cover). Fortune magazine thinks this year could see the U.S. economy outpace China’s for the first time in 45 years.

So yes, it’s a lot of money. And yes, there will be waste, fraud and mismanagement (because there always is with a program this big). But there’s a lot to be gained, and the benefits could pay dividends—in economic competitiveness, in national security, in health and well-being—for decades to come.

About the Author

Steve Spaulding | Editor-inChief - CONTRACTOR

Steve Spaulding is Editor-in-Chief for CONTRACTOR Magazine. He has been with the magazine since 1996, and has contributed to Radiant Living, NATE Magazine, and other Endeavor Media properties.

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