Building and Maintaining Infrastructure is an Expression of Our Social Nature

We are social animals, goes the premise of this blog, and social animals build. You might think of the social insects as builders: ants and termites, bees and wasps. Social mammals also build for the community. For instance, tunneling mammals like prairie dogs, voles and meerkats build communal networks of tubes and chambers.

Obviously, humans are the planet-shaping kings of building infrastructure. But our current infrastructure is increasingly crumbling and inadequate. A 2013 report by McKinsey estimates that, globally, we need to invest more than $50 trillion in infrastructure in the next 15 years just to maintain what we currently have. Yes, trillions.

Because infrastructure carries a big price tag, some politicians see it as a sign of wasteful big government. It’s fact that big social projects can experience incompetence, inefficiency and corruption, but the same can be said for private-sector projects, too.

When we don’t continually invest in building infrastructure and maintaining it, we experience communal problems such as

  • $100 billion wasted just in the U.S., in time and excess fuel costs, from transportation congestion
  • 1 billion people around the world currently without access to energy
  • Up to 50 year delay in Africa for universal access to water and sanitation
  • 10-70 percent of usable water lost to leakage after leaving treatment plants

We’re Not That Different From Other Social Animals

It’s not much different than what happens when other social animals don’t invest in building and maintaining their colonies. Weather damage goes neglected, vulnerability to disease and predators increases, and the health and growth of the colony is jeopardized.

Marketing contributes to infrastructure by helping answer fundamental questions such as:

  • What do we build, when and where and for whom?
  • How do we design infrastructure?
  • How do we pay for infrastructure?
  • How do we distribute the availability and benefit of infrastructure?
  • How do we govern the commons created or threatened by infrastructure?

The stakes are high in improving how we design, pay for, build and distribute infrastructure. The McKinsey report states that “by scaling up best practice in selecting and delivering new infrastructure projects, and getting more use out of existing infrastructure,” the savings could reach $1 trillion per year worldwide.

Infrastructure is tangible proof of how our living together as social animals makes us better. We cannot benefit as a group if we don’t design, finance, build and share as a group. After all, we are social animals.

(Image by Samir Cabbarov via Wikimedia Commons)

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