Putting up a highway system actually says more about culture than pretty much anything else. Seriously, you can make a big deal about its monetary system.
You can argue until you're blue in the face regarding its form of government, but at the end of the day, you need some sort of practical examples of how systems involving culture, economics, politics all work together to impact people's lives.
I personally cannot find any better example of this than the US Highway System. Planning a highway system is no joke. It is also politically dangerous. How is it dangerous? Well, think of it this way. If you're putting up a highway and it passes through many towns, there has to be a judgment call as to where the off-ramp will go.
Now, you may be thinking that this is a fairly technical issue because highways have to have off-ramps and it would make a lot of sense to just give an off-ramp to every town. Well, here's the problem. You cannot design the highway so that it runs through every town in its route. Often times, towns are located several miles to either side of the highway, maybe, it's to the West or to the East doesn't matter. The highway doesn't run straight through these towns.
At that point, you're going to have to make a judgment call as to whether it's economically feasible to build an off-ramp to what would otherwise be far from town. It is no surprise that a lot of towns that did not have an off-ramp built for them, simply died. Seriously, they either got absorbed by the larger towns that were part of the route or they simply disbanded.
That's how important the highway system is. I raise this example to highlight the fact that the highway system says a lot about America. First of all, it says that Americans think big.
If you are a small thinker or if your capacity to plan only involves the day immediately following today, you're not going to think of a huge highway system that span thousands of miles. That's not even going to register with you. Instead, you're just going to focus on patching holes, putting together a road that may be too narrow as the city or the surrounding area develops. You may be thinking of putting together a road that will eventually need to be repaved sooner rather than later.
Americans don't think that way. They think big. They think in terms of systems. It is no surprise that when highway goes up, two budgets are set up. The first budget, of course, goes into putting up designing and putting up the highway itself. The second budget is the maintenance of the highway.
Now, it's very easy to define this as primarily paving potholes, taking care of the actual concrete but it goes beyond that. The budget also pays attention to lighting, water disposal, security, fencing, land rates just in case the highway needs to be widened.
That's the kind of forward, broad, bold, confident thinking that really made America because if Americans were small thinkers, they won't develop such a vibrant economy. Also, highway speaks volumes about American financing.
One of the biggest hallmarks of the American system is the reliance on credit. This is not the case with many parts of the world. In fact, there is a strong correlation between a country's poverty level and the amount of easy credit it has a available. Interestingly enough, these countries that have very tight credit tend also to be to be very poor.
This also reflects trust. The reason why the federal government can borrow so much money to create such massive systems, that it will take decades to pay off is the huge amount of trust people have in the system.
You have to understand that it takes trust for you to buy US treasury with the understanding that the US government will be around to pay it off. That's trust. Unfortunately, that kind of trust is not always available in the third world.
In the developing world, trust is often defined in terms of your relatives, the part of the country you come from, your dialect and other indicators that really distract from a national identity and a national unity.
So the next time you look at an American highway, think of these things because, the fact that the highway exists doesn't just speak to American engineering ingenuity. It also speaks to the American system and the complicated philosophy behind it. It really is an amazing thing.