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Shovel Ready

There is only one thing worse than having trouble finding shovel-ready projects when a Keynesian mind-set is afoot in the land. That’s having lots of projects that are easy to start. Here is an old (Feb 2009) New York Times article on what happened in Japan:

HAMADA, Japan — The Hamada Marine Bridge soars majestically over this small fishing harbor, so much larger than the squid boats anchored below that it seems out of place.

And it is not just the bridge. Two decades of generous public works spending have showered this city of 61,000 mostly graying residents with a highway, a two-lane bypass, a university, a prison, a children’s art museum, the Sun Village Hamada sports center, a bright red welcome center, a ski resort and an aquarium featuring three ring-blowing Beluga whales.

Nor is this remote port in western Japan unusual. Japan’s rural areas have been paved over and filled in with roads, dams and other big infrastructure projects, the legacy of trillions of dollars spent to lift the economy from a severe downturn caused by the bursting of a real estate bubble in the late 1980s. During those nearly two decades, Japan accumulated the largest public debt in the developed world — totaling 180 percent of its $5.5 trillion economy — while failing to generate a convincing recovery.

So maybe, just maybe, we’re lucky that there weren’t a lot of shovel-ready projects and that the so-called stimulus wasn’t twice as big.