If you don’t know how to build a house, how can you build a country?

Updated Jul 7, 2014

home builderLast week the New York Times ran a story lamenting the loss of quality and craftsmanship in houses built today. The author also linked that questionable observation (with cringe-worthy logic) to the declining quality of our infrastructure.

It’s not a new complaint. But the ignorance of the writer and the editors on what constitutes a well-built house speaks volumes about the failure of urban elites to understand the fundamentals of how society, including infrastructure, jobs and the middle class, work.

For the record, homes built in the good old days were covered with lead paint, insulated with asbestos and wired with bare, ungrounded electrical wires. The balloon framing the author speaks of so fondly is a serious fire hazard. After World War II residential building codes gradually upgraded and standardized practices and materials. As a result, today’s homes are safer, stronger, less toxic, and more energy efficient than ever.

Granted, nobody reads the New York Times for remodeling expertise. But the fact that such a flawed article made it into the pages of one of the world’s most important newspapers is disappointing, even if it is not surprising.

Of today’s political leaders and opinion makers, few, if any, have worked even so much as a summer job in construction or in a factory. Nobody in our governing class knows a construction worker. Obama once met a guy called Joe the Plumber. His aides made sure that never happened again. Few even know any middle class Americans, or small business owners except as statistics. And this is not just Democrats and liberals. The Republicans’ last presidential candidate was a billionaire with offshore tax havens who utterly lacked the common touch.

One of the big themes being pushed by government and the media elites today is income inequality. The Democrats say we should tax the snot out of the rich and the Republicans think if we shrink the government and have everybody become a banker we’d all be rich.

This almost too ironic. The government has been cutting the legs out from under American manufacturing and penny pinching infrastructure for decades—the two industries that brought good wages to the middle class in the past.

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I suspect many politicians know this but don’t have the courage to do anything about it. It’s the opinion leaders, like the New York Times, that have no excuse, other than the ignorance common to people who live in a bubble.