Working on the highway, laying down the blacktop

One of my all time favourite albums was Springsteen’s “Born in the USA”.  I listened to it non-stop one summer every day as I worked flipping burgers in Alberta as a newly minted MBA.

Workin’ on the Highway was a song looking at the life of a highway construction worker.

The New Brunswick Road Builders & Heavy Construction Association issued a press release yesterday entitled “Skilled road and construction workers fleeing province” which details the economic impact of the reduction of government spending on related projects in the name of austerity.

It’s a powerful statement and does show the economic impact of highway construction.  If you are in need of high paying jobs and visible stimulus – road building is the way to go.

In 2011, construction GDP in New Brunswick declined by over 7 percent and this was a major reason why overall GDP grew by only 0.1 percent.

Followers of this blog will know that I think we spend too much in this area. New Brunswick has more kms of four-lane highway than any other province (adjusted for population size) and spends more per capita on roads each year than just about everywhere else.  In fact, we spend the most on asphalt and the least on universities.

But this is a stark reminder of the impact of austerity and the need to build an economy (or rebuild in the words of the government) that is not as reliant on public sector spending.   Public sector spending growth each year has outpaced private sector growth by 2 to 3 times since the late 1990s.

2 thoughts on “Working on the highway, laying down the blacktop

  1. And at the same time, we have some roads in the province that are in absolutely terrible shape, with no short-term plans to fix them. Our obsession with twinning highways leads to some very out of whack priorities.

  2. > Public sector spending growth each year has outpaced private sector growth by 2 to 3 times since the late 1990s.

    You say this like it’s a criticism of public sector spending.

    But I read this as indicative of the hoarding of wealth by the private sector – the sort of hoarding that has resulted in a greater and greater divide between rich and poor.

    Were it not for public sector spending, the draining of money from the economy by the financial services and banking sectors would have been devastating. As it is, a lot of people are hurting and youth in particular are being denied the opportunity to make their way in the world.

    Similarly, I see the situation regarding roads in a completely different light from the perspective you offer.

    The roads are necessary; the province would be in an even more serious economic crisis had it tried to get by with a 1960s road system.

    What’s key to the statistic you cite is the phrase ‘per capita’. The roads appear expensive because New Brunswick’s population is not being sustained. With population growth similar to other parts of the country, and especially in places like Toronto and Vancouver, the roads would not seem nearly so expensive.

    The problem for New Brunswick is that population growth necessarily involves welcoming outsiders, and that’s where you will find the root cause of the province’s economic slump.

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