A number of people have contacted me recently, seeking ideas for new markets. If I knew where the work was hiding, I would go get some of it for myself. Unfortunately, this slump in oil prices comes at a time when other traditional gear markets are also suffering.
Basic mineral extraction slumped over a year ago, partially in response to environmental and climate concerns, and partially due to overcapacity. Steel production is down due to lighter cars and trucks, along with longer product life. The average American car is now eleven years old; forty years ago, before the advent of galvanized sheet metal and stainless exhaust systems, an eleven-year-old car was in a museum or being recycled.
The market I have the most hope for is construction equipment. Our roads and bridges are in great need of rebuilding. The money is in the highway trust fund, collected as a tax on every gallon of gasoline and diesel fuel purchased by motorists and truckers. This was the deal made many years ago: tax us for fuel, but give us safe roads and bridges. Instead we get political theater pretending to be principled frugality.
As you drive around the country you will find some fabulous stretches of interstate, federal, and state highways in out-of-the-way places. Many of those projects were the result of the dreaded “earmarks” that we were told drove up the deficit. The earmarks are gone — but the deficit remains.
We cannot do anything about oil prices. We refuse to talk about the environment or climate change. No one wants to discuss the looming crisis with water and sewer systems because the preliminary estimates are so scary. That task will have to wait for a braver group of political leaders.
Can we please unlock those highway funds and get the country working again? I would hate to think we cannot act on infrastructure until another overpass fails.