A more discouraging word in American English than “infrastructure” would be hard to find. And yet it’s one not seldom but often heard; to be home on the range, we have to get from the range to home, and using “infrastructure” of some sort, whether steel rails or asphalt road, is how we do that. But calling it “infrastructure” doesn’t make it sound the way we want it to sound. The word, of military origin, is meant to encompass all the conveyances that enable us to go and do our work, yet it somehow reduces projects of great audacity and scale—the Erie Canal, the transcontinental railroad, the great tunnels that run beneath the Hudson—to matters of thrifty, dull foresight. Although we’ve coined wonderful words in politics (“spin doctor,” “boycott,” and “politically correct” are by now universals, offered as readily in Danish or in French as in English), we have a surprisingly pallid vocabulary for…

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