Saturday, September 8, 2007

How money downed the Minneapolis bridge

(Jeff Wheeler/Star Tribune)

The Associated Press reported this week that in 1989, bridge inspectors had warned that pigeon droppings were accumulating on the steel beams of the I-35W bridge connecting Minneapolis and St. Paul. Apparently, the ammonia and acids in the droppings, the inspectors said nearly a decade ago, could corrode the beams.

This span collapsed August 1st of this year, killing 13 people and injuring more than 100. It is not yet clear if the bird droppings had been the cause of the terrible accident last month, but this story illustrates how terribly accident-prone is the capitalist system. Such a system simply does not have the money available to perform the necessary checks, cleanings, and repairs of the thousands of similar bridges in the United States to the advisable extent (as advised by professional bridge inspectors).

In fact, existing technology that could aid in averting such accidents are almost never employed on a consistent basis because of economic cost. For example, according to a report on Southern California Public Radio 89.3 on August 6th, Orange County, UC Irvine researcher Maria Feng has already developed a real-time sensor technology that could detect at any moment the effect of traffic upon a bridge. If a heavy truck somehow damaged a bridge, the data could be beamed back to a lab, where researchers could alert authorities. The structure could then be shut down if the damage proved too potentially dangerous. Ms. Feng said that as it is now, engineers only have to inspect bridges every two years. That's required under federal law. Ms. Feng was quoted in the show as stating: "The problem is sometimes things can happen between, in those two years, right? So if you have sensors on the bridge continuously monitor the bridge, we can find the problem in real time, so we can fix the problem immediately, before a catastrophe occurs."

When the growth of new inventions is no longer hampered by the needs to market them, and the oftentimes failure to find them finance capital is replaced by the free exchange of new ideas around the entire globe, human safety and need will replace profit-making as the modus operandi.

It is true that accidents are accidents, liable to occur in any society, however an economic system that has transcended the idiocies of state budgets and indeed of financial cost itself, will have to find a way to prioritize social investment of resources and labor in terms of the overall quality of life, nothing else. In a moneyless society of common ownership and democratic control of the means of production, it would only require a rotating pool of, say, a hundred local citizens at a time, trained by able engineers, to regularly monitor, clean and repair our bridges. It is possible that all that was required to prevent this terrible accident was a few hundred pair of arms and very simple tools, equipment and chemicals.

At any moment, there stand simultaneous millions of buildings, bridges, levees, roads, and so on, and millions of unemployed souls eager to provide useful functions in society. Even many of us who do work are employed in socially useless occupations, those that do not contribute to real wealth, but to the administration of capital, as in such fields as banking, marketing or selling - which also robs society as a whole from vital attention to its infrastructure - for example, to maintaining safety, to improving quality of structures or services, or simply to beautifying.

By understanding social problems in terms of the way wealth is produced (today, for sale to realize a profit) society may be able to evolve to a mode of wealth production in which our increasingly sophisticated modern techniques are inherited and democratically administered by society as a whole for one sole purpose - to meet our needs.

Thus, whatever the reason for the terrible bridge accident in Minnesota last month, the possibility that the capitalist mode of production is not somehow to blame is likely pigeon shit.

-Dr. Who

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