Great Powers Invest in Infrastructure. The West Was the Prime Example.

Oct 22, 2019 | 10:00 GMT

This file photo taken around 1930 shows New York's George Washington Bridge during its construction.

This picture shows New York's George Washington Bridge under construction, circa 1930.

(Hulton Archive/Getty Images)


  • How the West responds to its eroding strategic lead in building, updating and replacing infrastructure will do much to shape the 21st century.
  • As Western governments struggle to find ways to invest in infrastructure, China talks of spending up to $8 trillion in overseas projects through its Belt and Road Initiative.
  • The associated infrastructure costs of new technologies are great, the investment risky. But the payoffs are greater and the failure to invest is riskier.

For the past 250 years, Western Europe and North America have led the way not just in inventing new technologies of transport and communication, but also -- and equally importantly -- in building the infrastructure without which these technologies would be useless. The West has sunk astonishing amounts of energy and capital into updating and replacing its infrastructure, over and over again, as new technologies have emerged. Having the best infrastructure has been a key to global dominance since the 18th century, but in the early 21st, there are alarming signs the West is losing its strategic lead. Everywhere, infrastructure is creaking and crumbling. Every part of the system seems to be getting old at the same time. How the West deals with this challenge -- or, perhaps, opportunity -- will do much to shape the geoeconomics and geopolitics of the 21st century....

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