Shitty BridgesJune 23, 2012
I was recently reading Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington, and the Education of a President by Ron Suskind and found this little gem, relayed by Paul Volcker:
That idea of accomplishment, something you could be proud of, reminded him [Paul Volcker] of a breakfast he'd gone to a few months before that had helped him "see things more clearly, even at my age." It was a breakfast of "right-thinking citizens" who were worried about the crumbling infrastructure in the country.
"At the end of the breakfast, this gray-haired old man says, 'I know something about this. I'm a professor of civil reengineering at Princeton. And I was up at Yale the other day and they've given up teaching civil engineering. There are just two old geezers like me up at Harvard, and once they're gone that'll be it. There's hardly an elite university in the United States that pays attention to civil engineering. What's the result? We hardly know how to build bridges; they tend to fall down. It's cost twice as much to build that new bridge across the Potomac as it would have cost if it was built in Europe …. I assure you, I know … and besides our bridges are ugly and theirs are beautiful'"
Then something dawned on Volcker that he told the old engineer. "Well, I said, 'The trouble with the United States recently is we spent several decades not producing many civil engineers and producing a huge number of financial engineers. And the result is shitty bridges and a shitty financial system!'"