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Shovel Ready. And Good for Your Health.

Ezra Klein, Paul Krugman, and others have been writing about physical infrastructure investments I've been enjoying these columns, which I agree with.

I do have a pet peeve on the matter of shovel-readiness. In late 2008 and early 2009, I and others were trying to sell public health investments, many of which were quite cost-effective investments that were well-supported by the policy literature. Many of the same projects were either (a) shovel-ready, (b) essential to support state and local employees who have since been laid off, or (c) would have quickly provided goods and services to needy people.

By and large, the Recovery Act's public health investments are overlooked successes, but we could have done much more. I remember arguing with a hill staffer that money allocated to community health centers, substance abuse treatment, or reproductive health services were much less likely than (say) high-speed trains to end up as expensive holes in the ground or unfinished projects mired in political acrimony. It is incredibly frustrating to see the current criticisms coming down the pike given what the United States Senate did to the beautiful provisions in the House bill.

Harold Pollack is the Helen Ross Professor of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago.