The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

the decline of society's basic infrastructure

Mar 5, 2001

The electric power crisis in California has highlighted the degree to which the basic infrastructure has been left to rot.

In California, as in most states, almost nothing has been done to keep up and expand the entire system of both producing and delivering electricity, an obviously key commodity for the running of the economy and the entire society. The average age of the electric generating plants in California is more than 30 years old, and for more than a decade, the private electric utilities did not bother to build even one new plant. At the same time, the electric power grid, the system of transmission power lines, has not been extended; cutbacks in maintenance have left what exists in a state of severe disrepair. With little slack in the system, any little accident can cause power outages. And during periods of high, but still normal usage, there is not enough capacity in the transmission lines connecting the north and south of the state, and this also leads to power cutbacks.

The choice that the electric utility companies made not to invest to keep the system running adequately is not the exception. The state government itself has dramatically reduced spending on infrastructure across the board. In the late 1960's more than 20% of the state government budget went into building up the infrastructure, that is, roads, bridges, water and sewerage lines, public lighting, public transportation, etc. But with the recessions of the 1970s and 1980s, state spending was slashed to only about three% or less of the budget. With the supposed economic boom of recent years, spending on infrastructure was cut even more, running at less than two% of the state budget. And most of that money has been eaten up by the construction of new prisons.

Added to this are the cutbacks in public housing, schools and hospitals. Daily life in California, as in most states, is marked by jammed freeways and airports, dilapidated schools and public hospitals. Water supplies are strained and water and sewerage lines break.

To take care of even the simplest tasks –turning on an electric appliance or light, commuting to work, going to school –becomes ever more costly and stressful for the population.

The capitalist class claims that its function in society is to plan and invest for the rest of the population, using the state where necessary.

Instead of that, we have degeneration and rot all around us. In fact, the economy is not "booming" –it has been caught in decades of virtual stagnation. And this has led the capitalists to cut back in their investments, while milking old and inadequate facilities for every last nickel of profits, while calling on the state for ever more subsidies –taken from the state's construction and maintenance of public services.

No, the function of the capitalist class is to make profits –and they make those profits today from stagnation and cutbacks, just as they made them from growth and expansion in an earlier era. Not only don't they assure the functioning of society in the best possible way, they are the real impediment in the way of that functioning.