The Crumbling of America

Crumbling America

Directed by Henry Schipper (2009)

Film Review

This is a compelling, though somewhat melodramatic, documentary about crumbling US infrastructure – especially its bridges, roads, levees, dams, water delivery systems, sewage systems, and power grid. The US presently spends less on infrastructure (2% of GDP) than the developing countries China (9%) and India (8%). The percentage of GDP Americans spend on infrastructure has declined from 12% in 1960.

Most bridges, superhighways and water and sewage pipes are designed to last 50 years, and many are approaching or have exceeded their expected lifespan. There are no programs to repair vital levees along the Mississippi River and in California. A 6.9 earthquake would totally destroy San Francisco’s earthwork levees, contaminating all southern California’s drinking water, as well as destroying acres of prime agricultural land.

Shoddy maintenance of urban water and sewage systems leads to hundreds of thousands of leaks per year, especially in eastern rust belt cities. While parts of the national electrical grid are subject to ever more frequent and lengthy power failures due to poor maintenance and obsolete switches, sensors, data systems and transformers and rotting utility poles.

Reaching the Wrong Conclusion

Despite the wealth of data they present, I strongly disagree with the filmmakers’ conclusion: that taxpayers need to front up with trillions of dollars to repair America’s crumbling infrastructure. I strongly believe this massive decay presents a unique opportunity to replace 100-year-old technologies with cheaper, more efficient, people-friendly 21st century technology.

For example, I totally disagree with their assertion that the electrical grid was “the greatest infrastructure achievement of the 20th century.”  Besides being one of the most inefficient infrastructure projects ever invented (according to the EPA the US power system loses approximately 67% of the power it creates), the grid was never intended to serve the public – it was intended to increase the sale of electricity and electrical products, as well as consolidating the control of production and distribution in the hands of Wall Street corporations (see Reclain the Commons: Take Back the Grid). The renewable energy revolution, which enables households and neighborhood to produce their own solar energy, also allows ordinary people to control its destruction.

Likewise our totally gridlocked super highways don’t need to be rebuilt – they need to be replaced with cheaper and more efficient and climate-friendly high speed and computer trains and buses.

While inefficient and unhealthy (adding chlorine to our water creates a variety of dangerous chlorinated organic compounds) water delivery and sewage systems need to be replaced with more modern technologies that allow us to recycle our water instead of pouring it down the drain.

8 thoughts on “The Crumbling of America

  1. Why is the infrastructure in such bad state?
    If that is not a warning sign, I don’t know what is.
    Why do they think it is more important to increase the war budget?
    Do people have no say in it how money is spent?


    • Hi Aunty, based on the information they present in the film, the big drop in the US infrastructure budget seems to be the primary reason it’s not maintained. It appears that most infrastructure was only designed to last 50 years and much of it is past the 50 year mark. You have put your finger on it when you suggest that money that used to go to infrastructure is going to war now. The Wall Street oligarchs who control the US government prefer spending money on war because it’s much more profitable. And no the American people have no say whatsoever in how their money is spent.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. “We just love our crumbling infrastructure and besides just pissing and moaning about a few potholes, what’s the big deal? So, our shit is shot to shit. Who cares? They’re putting up those cell towers left and right and so long as the power grid holds up 89% of the time, why complain? Hold on while I whip out my new smartphone that’s telling me that I forgot to lock my front door. Okay! Done! Wow! Ain’t technology wonderful? It is a very effective tool used to hypnotize me so that I usually don’t see the crumbling infrastructure around me because I’ve got tunnel vision when I’m gazing avidly at who ‘friended’ me on Facebook. And now, I am perusing Instagram and I’ll check my Twitter feed next for the latest updates on what ‘The Donald’ had to say. This is paradise. What’s to complain about?”

    The above paragraph just about sums up the way the stupid Americans view the state of America. No one should try to attempt to understand why we care so little over anything and everything. Whatever is done to US is fine with US.

    “And that lady with the protest sign about our ‘crumbling infrastructure’ better get out of my way because I’m headed to the store because I just heard that a brand new smartphone just came down the pike. Gotta go!”

    That’s Americans! Too stupid for words!


  3. It’s all very sad, Shelby, isn’t it? I’m reading another book about the Russian revolution and in 1917 Russian workers were hungry to learn more about how society worked. They loved the Bolsheviks because the Bolsheviks taught them to read, as well as teaching them history and the roots of their own oppression. The Russian soldiers were starving in the trenches and when Bolshevik envoys came to visit them, the first thing they asked was, “Have you brought us anything to read?”

    What a contrast with current American mentality. It’s almost like they’re hypnotised.

    Thanks for your comment.


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