February 17th, 2013
01:24 AM ET

What will we look back upon with pride?

One hundred years ago, the United States completed what was then the most expensive, complex but ultimately successful government program in human history. It was a project where everything went wrong.

The French had tried to build the Panama canal a few years earlier, but despite putting the builder of the Suez Canal, Ferdinand de Lesseps, on the job, they left in total failure. The American project’s first chief engineer quit after the first year. His replacement left as well. Only with the third did the project start moving. Yellow fever killed thousands of workers and caused others to flee in fright. The engineering challenges were immense and they often seemed insurmountable. Media reports about the project were largely negative.

But through sheer perseverance, the age-old fantasy of connecting the world’s two great oceans became a reality. The practical result was to cut travel time for goods and cargo between the east and the west by an order of magnitude, igniting an explosion of trade.

Watch the video for the full Take.

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soundoff (31 Responses)
  1. rightospeak

    A very good idea, jobs need to be created and infrastructure is a very good investment. Part of the money can come from stopping endless wars and bringing our troops home as Ron Paul has suggested. The Marsians are not going to attack us , I am sure.
    Panama Canal may not be a good example now because the Communist Chinese have a big influence there . Our loss , China's gain.

    February 17, 2013 at 9:51 am | Reply
    • badteachers

      All policians are liars, Ron Paul whoever that is, as long as he is polician no good for all

      February 19, 2013 at 10:43 am | Reply
  2. Richard Meyer

    Fareed, will the proposed assault gun ban include our alphabet police agencies? If not,why not? What are your thoughts?

    February 17, 2013 at 11:20 am | Reply
  3. Bill F

    Well, we had a great program to create jobs, build infra-structure, and keep the U.S. as the leader in space technology. Unfortunately your buddy, President Obaba, has cut this program, while the federal budget has ballooned to 3.5 trillion. Instead we spend the money on croney capitalism companies like Solyndra. You don't have to look very deep to understand why we don't have a grand infra-structure program like the Panama Canal. And now, with a 1.2 Trillion $ deficit, you're asking to borrow more for what's sure to further lline the pockets of the politicians.

    February 17, 2013 at 1:15 pm | Reply
    • Enzo

      So what exactly are you proposing? I hear a lot of whining and displaced anger here. Understand who drove us to our current condition. And It certainly wasn't Obama. He's the cleaner. Do you really need a hint at this late date?

      February 18, 2013 at 10:59 pm | Reply
  4. John DeYulia

    How about a Panama Canal-sized program to replace our antiquated rail system with a 21st century integrated rail transportation system consisting of high-speed rail for long distance travel integrated with commuter-distance light rail in the heavily trafficked corridors, integrated with urban rail systems, integrated with neighborhood super light "people mover" rail systems.
    Think of the vast employment opportunities across all skill levels, the reduction of dependence on fossil fuels, the improvement in air quality, as well as a more reliable and efficient transportation system.
    This would be a REAL investment in infrastructure.

    February 17, 2013 at 2:14 pm | Reply
  5. Vinnie from Tewksbury

    Fareed, your soliloquy blaming the Republicans for not supporting Barack Obama's recent request to support his call for new spending to repair the infrastructure is sheer nonsense. Have you forgotten the purpose of the first stimulus bill submitted by Barack Obama in his first term? The money was supposed to go to "shovel ready projects" to repair the infrastructure. The Congress passed the bill with the intentions that the money would go those "shovel ready projects" Instead this Administration along with the states allowed the money to be used as a jobs program to prop up the municipal and state jobs. So the federal debt increased to protect public sector jobs.
    The Republicans and many others including myself have not forgotten this. Fareed, your introduction to this week’s program was very biased and misleading. You can do better than this.

    February 17, 2013 at 2:24 pm | Reply
    • John DeYulia

      That is not true. In the past few years since the stimulus I observed a vast increase in highway construction and maintenance. A new on/off ramp was added to the Hwy 101 freeway near my home. The funding went from the federal to the state government which then awarded contracts to private construction companies. Those highway workers I saw were NOT public service employees.
      Infrastructure maintenance should be an ongoing activity, not a special jobs program. The problem is that too many politicians do not recognize this and treat it as "just another example of runaway government spending".

      February 17, 2013 at 2:53 pm | Reply
      • Richard

        I can't refute with any degree of absolute conviction on my part that infrastructure spending will positively affect our unemployment other than to remind you that FRD's Great Depression attempt at it failed miserably. It made us all feel better, but, alas, it failed. In my entire life I have only known one person whose occupation was road work construction. My guess is it is a very narrow, small number, totally unionized profession. That's not to say we shouldn't proceed. I just don't see it as any sort of panacea.

        February 20, 2013 at 8:45 pm |
    • Mac Qurashi

      The Republican governors after taking offices in 2010 rejected all Federal projects that would have created good paying jobs. Instead they laid off 600,000 teachers, police officers and firefighters. They were following the goal set by the leaders of the GOP – Make Obama a one term President. With all that organized obstructionist police, the unemployment fell from 10% to 7.9% and Obama won second term by recieving 51% of the votes, a record.

      February 18, 2013 at 7:03 pm | Reply
  6. Matt A.

    It's not as though states and municipalities couldn't increase taxes to fund new infrastructure, or repair existing bridges, tunnels, etc. How to fund programs with phantom dollars?

    Bring on the sequester–warts and all.

    February 17, 2013 at 2:31 pm | Reply
    • Gary Dee

      State and local governments rely on the Congressional Reps and Senators sent to DC to get money for infrastructure while local taxes go for stuff like corporate welfare to support pro sports teams.

      February 17, 2013 at 5:21 pm | Reply
  7. Quigley

    The one thing we could look back upon with pride would be the complete withdrawal from Afghanistan and Iraq and the proposal to both Iraq and Turkey to let the Kurds set up their own home state just like the Israelis did back in 1948. Unfortunately, such a thing wouldn't even occur to the right-wing fanatics in Washington who care only about their own self interests!

    February 17, 2013 at 2:55 pm | Reply
  8. JAL

    Easy. Arab Spring.

    February 17, 2013 at 4:29 pm | Reply
  9. please transelate and pass to the FBI, CIA AND those who care

    وردنا خبرا مؤكدا مفاده ما يلي :
    المجرم واثق البطاط يتواجد حاليا في مدينة الشعله – في بيت يقع في نهاية شارع (60) بداية منطقة الدوانم مع مجموعه من المجرمين من المليشيات التابعه لفيلق القدس الايراني وينطلق من مدينة الشعله لتنفيذ عمليات الاغتيال في مناطق الغزاليه والسيديه والعامريه وبدعم لوجستي من مكتب القائد العام للقوات المسلحه

    تعليقنا //
    اين مذكرة القاء القبض بحق هذا الارهابي يا مالكي وهو لايبعد عن مقرك في المنطقه الخضراء اكثر من 15 كيلومتر ومليشياتك وجيشك الاجرامي يحاصر احياء الاعظميه والعامريه والسيديه لكي يتحرك هذا المجرم وعصابات فيلق القدس لقتل الابرياء وتصفية المطالبين بحقوقهم المشروعه

    February 18, 2013 at 12:12 am | Reply
  10. j. von hettlingen

    Is Obama under pressure to leave behind a legacy? It doesn't have to be prestigious infrastructural projects. Perhaps being pioneer in environmental issues could earn him a name as well.

    February 18, 2013 at 6:52 am | Reply
  11. David Lucier

    We need to dream BIG! America has so many examples of "bigness" and so many leaders from BOTH political parties in the last century: Panama Canal, Hoover Dam, Interstate Highway System and Man on the Moon. We need to repair our highways, bridges and tunnels across America. We need to have a national energy policy that includes everything from nuclear, natural gas conversions of power plants, wind and solar as a mix of power generation. It seems only two things motivate Americans to get BIG things done: Nationalism (or perhaps patriotism and national pride) and Fear. How about never again involvement in Middle Eastern wars by America
    becoming energy independent?

    February 18, 2013 at 7:12 am | Reply
  12. Claudia

    What we will look back with SHAME?! The biggest failure USA did, was open US markets to Asian countries, without ensuring that they open markets for US businesses and US corporations. This non-equality created the biggest lost for USA in history and was the biggest jobs loser. Not acting now, to create US jobs and implement corrective actions is not immaginable. We need stop Asian countries, also because they do not belong to any Western Alliance (NATO, EU, USA, CEFTA, NAFTA, ...).

    February 18, 2013 at 11:22 am | Reply
  13. l-

    im not a fan of obama, or big government spending. frankly i think that in most cases when the federal government does something it's better left undone or done by someone else. having said that i agree here completely. the free market functions best when it is supported by a good infrastructure.

    February 18, 2013 at 1:20 pm | Reply
  14. GOPisGreedOverPeople

    If the plan doesn't include "TAX CUTS FOR THE RICH!!!!" (the only plan the GOP have), nothing will get done.

    February 18, 2013 at 4:33 pm | Reply
  15. Grooveman

    Fareed also failed to mention that the Panama Canal ran at a profit for the entire time that the U.S ran it. 1914-2000. Engineers in the U.S. have issued a report that the U.S. infrastructure is in such back shape that it would actually take $1 Trillion in yearly spending over ten years to get back to an "A" rated national infrastructure.

    Obama's stimulus also did not enact a direct jobs program or have funds hire those with U.S. citizenship and keep the money in the country. In other words, Obama's stimulus was spending money, but was not true Keynesian economics, not by a long shot.

    It is high time for a direct jobs program. We have a real unemployment rate of 17% with almost 28 million people needing a good job. This is the crisis! It is not GDP, banks, finance, regulation, Obamacare and any other faux pas issue. Unemployment is crisis of our time. Nobody is bothering to model Keynesian economic stimulus as the conditions of the theory require. In order to really stimulate a domestic economy, the money must be kept within that domestic economy and go directly into the pockets of workers. Yup, the additional spending by the government must go to the citizens that live in the nation. That's not Wall Street, investors, the banks, not the corporations, not the foreign interests, the special interests, but to us, the Populace. Direct employment programs work, just ask anyone who was involved with the WPA or CCC during the Great Depression.

    This is the fundamental problem, the blind spot. U.S. labor is the economy. The economy is not Wall Street, hedge funds, the financial sector and even politicians. The economy is for the people and when you don't share the wealth, put U.S. labor first and foremost, not only in consideration, but also labor's effect in macroeconomic models, this is the kind of crap we get. Round about astronomical spending which might help hire some people as an afterthought. Come on Economists, here's the variable you are missing, it's called L forlabor. We're not an expense, we are the economic creation engine.

    February 18, 2013 at 5:43 pm | Reply
  16. Andrey

    Well, what about using old good war to support economy? It seems Iraq and Afghanistan did not work that well: so what about having three bigger wars at the same time instead of two? I do not think some huge infrastructure project would be looked upon favourably by Military-Industrial complex. So why even waste your breath on discussing that option!

    February 18, 2013 at 7:47 pm | Reply
    • evilroyslade

      No more wars PLEASE!!!
      Try FREE birth control?
      Incentives/Penalties based on your consumption and carbon footprint.
      Grow Vertical crops.
      Eat less meat.
      Build solar power.

      February 22, 2013 at 7:25 pm | Reply
  17. mkierans

    Mr Zakaria:
    You suggest that a Panama Canal style mega project would jump start the ailing American economy and you are right! However there, exists a impending threat to America much more dangerous that the ailing economy and it can be described with one word: WATER! Look the declining Great Lakes/St Lawrence Seaway water levels. Look at the Mississippi River last fall! Look at the drying Ogallala Aquifer: within 30 years the South-west, America's largest food producing region, will not have water to irrigate crops. Yet there is not one word about water in Obama's speech.
    There exists a proposal for a mega-project that would provide a huge kick start to the economy and go a long way towards solving the impending water crises. This proposal will add 2.5 times the flow of water over Niagara Falls to the Canada/US fresh water resouces. The proposal involves recyling fresh water that is now lost to Hudson Bay and the Arctic Ocean. This plan is based on proven technology and has been round for 54 years. It has not been studied because of historical and political differences between Canada and the US that date back to the War of 1812. This plan was devised by a Canadian Engineer/Visionary called Thomas Kierans ( who turned 100 years old last week) and it is call the GRAND Canal. You can read about it by clicking the links below. Canada and the US must work together ( as they have with NORAD and the St. Lawrence Seaway) to solve the water problems and kick start the economy.

    February 18, 2013 at 8:17 pm | Reply
    • Andrey

      US has refused Canada the Keystone pipeline: mostly on ecological considerations – as they said. So it would be utter madness for Canadians to even consider that kind of ecological risks for the sake of helping Obama with some stupid legacy! That could have worked 50 years ago but not these days!

      February 18, 2013 at 9:55 pm | Reply
      • mkierans

        Dear Audrey:
        This is not about the Obama legacy. This about the survival of the North American civilization. North America is one geo-economical unit that has been artificially divided by two borders. Please note that when these borders (which were drawn by Europeans for European purposes) were established the population was less than ten percent of what it is today. In fifty years it will be more important to our grand children whether or not they have water and food than whether they are citizens of Canada or the United States. Please also note the boom of the Chinese civilization that is about a thousand years ahead of North America in continental water management.

        February 19, 2013 at 7:49 am |
    • John DeYulia

      This is a very interesting concept and proposal.Of course, the cost estimates are probably outdated, but at the same time construction technology has improved considerably.

      The problem is that we are no longer a nation of big achievements. We used to be, but big achievements like the Panama canal, the interstate highway system and the Space program all require the involvement, leadership and funding by the federal government. The GRAND canal plan is a LONG TERM investment, and as such has no interest to private corporations. And Congress is controlled by private corporations, and will only respond to projects that produce short-term gains to the private corporations.

      Furthermore, we have frittered away our national resources on wars to protect the interests of American oil magnates and on satisfying the greed of powerful individuals and businesses.

      February 19, 2013 at 12:36 pm | Reply
      • mkierans

        Dear Mr. Deyulia:
        Your observations about Big Government and Big Business are precisely on point.
        With what was spent in Iraq and Afghanistan ( approaching 1.5 trillion since 2001) we could have built 10 GRAND Canals.
        But what about "ordinary guys" like you and me. What it we organize and stand up and say: "We have had enough of this crap and we are not going to take it any more!" If you would like to join a group of concerned North Americans who would like to see a joint Canada/US study of the GRAND Canal go to:

        February 20, 2013 at 5:09 pm |
  18. mkierans

    Reblogged this on mkierans and commented:

    February 18, 2013 at 8:39 pm | Reply
  19. aurelius

    Having elected President Obama back in office.

    February 22, 2013 at 9:11 am | Reply
  20. evilroyslade

    Get the 18 wheeler truck traffic off the highways. How about building a dedicated high speed cargo hauling system? Make it connect the seaports, airports, manufacturing hubs, distribution centers and major cities. Design from scratch a new cargo transport system, off the roads and out of our cities.

    February 22, 2013 at 7:05 pm | Reply

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