You get what you pay for…

While visiting Geneva last week, I was reminded of how well many aspects of public infrastructure work in Europe. Geneva is beautiful, clean, and the transport system seemed to be a model of efficiency and convenience. I took a public bus to the airport, which entailed walking one block from my hotel to the bus ...

Walt-Steve-foreign-policy-columnist20
Walt-Steve-foreign-policy-columnist20
Stephen M. Walt
By , a columnist at Foreign Policy and the Robert and Renée Belfer professor of international relations at Harvard University.
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584794_090617_walt332.jpg

While visiting Geneva last week, I was reminded of how well many aspects of public infrastructure work in Europe. Geneva is beautiful, clean, and the transport system seemed to be a model of efficiency and convenience. I took a public bus to the airport, which entailed walking one block from my hotel to the bus stop and then riding a clean and inexpensive bus for about 20 minutes, ending up right at the terminal. The Geneva and Zurich airports are gleaming, uncrowded, and comfortable. To get from my home to the airport via public transit in Boston, I'd have to walk 12 minutes to a T stop, ride a slow, crowded, and erratic trolley line (the dreaded "Green Line") into downtown, change twice, and then take an airport shuttle bus to reach the terminal. And Boston's Logan Airport, though better than it used to be, isn’t going to win any prizes. Let's not even talk about rail service or health care.

Maybe the differences in public infrastructure between Western Europe and the United States have something to do with the amount of money we spend constructing a different sort of "public infrastructure" in Iraq, Afghanistan, and lots of other places around the world. 

While visiting Geneva last week, I was reminded of how well many aspects of public infrastructure work in Europe. Geneva is beautiful, clean, and the transport system seemed to be a model of efficiency and convenience. I took a public bus to the airport, which entailed walking one block from my hotel to the bus stop and then riding a clean and inexpensive bus for about 20 minutes, ending up right at the terminal. The Geneva and Zurich airports are gleaming, uncrowded, and comfortable. To get from my home to the airport via public transit in Boston, I’d have to walk 12 minutes to a T stop, ride a slow, crowded, and erratic trolley line (the dreaded “Green Line”) into downtown, change twice, and then take an airport shuttle bus to reach the terminal. And Boston’s Logan Airport, though better than it used to be, isn’t going to win any prizes. Let’s not even talk about rail service or health care.

Maybe the differences in public infrastructure between Western Europe and the United States have something to do with the amount of money we spend constructing a different sort of “public infrastructure” in Iraq, Afghanistan, and lots of other places around the world. 

FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images

Stephen M. Walt is a columnist at Foreign Policy and the Robert and Renée Belfer professor of international relations at Harvard University. Twitter: @stephenwalt

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