Saturday, February 21, 2009

Agenda: Economy

Continuing my series on The Agenda posted on, we come to Economy.

This section, frankly, is lacking. We get a couple of bullet points, followed by a copy of a speech from January 8th, 2009. Given the issues facing the nation, I expected more. Of course, specific economic policy is hard to define until you understand how much cooperation you will receive from the opposition, as well as how effective your own staff will be. I'll hit some points on the speech, but I'm not going to quote and tear apart the whole thing.

On to the bullet points:

  • Doubling the production of alternative energy in the next three years.
This is a good move, if vague. Alternative-energy infrastructure is lacking, and really needs government support to get off the ground. Doubling the practically nonexistent, even in this time frame, won't be hard. At the moment, alternative energy is not a profitable part of the private sector. It doesn't yet have the economies of scale that other energy generation technologies currently enjoy. It's going to take long-term subsidy to get a foothold. Most European nations figured this out some time ago, and legislated multi-decade tax breaks and subsidies to establish an alternative-energy economy. Part of where the US has gone wrong is that the government has ben offering subsidies -- for a couple of years. You can't build a whole new infrastructure-dependent sector in less than a decade or two, and we have to start thinking long term.

  • Modernizing more than 75% of federal buildings and improve the energy efficiency of two million American homes, saving consumers and taxpayers billions on our energy bills.
Construction jobs + energy savings = good, but why is this under economy?

  • Making the immediate investments necessary to ensure that within five years, all of America’s medical records are computerized.
This is a good investment. Streamlining medicine will reduce errors and costs, putting more money in people's pockets. It's also a huge project, which will take a lot of people, time, and money. That's a lot of spending. I guess that also answers my question about the previous item.

  • Equipping tens of thousands of schools, community colleges, and public universities with 21st century classrooms, labs, and libraries.
If you have to spend money, spending it on education is rarely bad; bringing schools up-to-date is a good thing. However, materials and facilities don't address the core problems that exist in education.

  • Expanding broadband across America, so that a small business in a rural town can connect and compete with their counterparts anywhere in the world.
This really brings up two points. First, this is really an infrastructure issue. Broadband access isn't really going to turn Bob's Spatula Hut into a world retail power. Laying the cable to help modernize systems across the board, now that's a great thing. What this also indicates is support for Net Neutrality (which I've seen elsewhere in various policy statements and certain appointments). That neutrality is of more benefit to commerce and competition than broadband itself. I still despise my House Representative for answering the lone letter I ever wrote him (concerning Net Neutrality) by essentially saying I didn't know what I was talking about. I know more about the 'Net and its infrastructure than that dinosaur ever will (I'm not sure if he's up to the "series of tubes" level of understanding, because Jeezus hasn't endorsed it).

  • Investing in the science, research, and technology that will lead to new medical breakthroughs, new discoveries, and entire new industries.
Basic research = money in the long run. It's an easy cut when it comes to budgets, because it can be hard to justify without direct applications or quick results. No funding is more important, however.

As for the speech, once you get past the first few layers of Inspiring Rhetoric™ you get some more salient statements:

To build an economy that can lead this future, we will begin to rebuild America. Yes, we’ll put people to work repairing crumbling roads, bridges, and schools by eliminating the backlog of well-planned, worthy and needed infrastructure projects. But we’ll also do more to retrofit America for a global economy. That means updating the way we get our electricity by starting to build a new smart grid that will save us money, protect our power sources from blackout or attack, and deliver clean, alternative forms of energy to every corner of our nation. It means expanding broadband lines across America, so that a small business in a rural town can connect and compete with their counterparts anywhere in the world. And it means investing in the science, research, and technology that will lead to new medical breakthroughs, new discoveries, and entire new industries.

In other words, Infrastructure, Infrastructure, Infrastructure. Now, where could I have seen that before? And some of that text looks sort of familiar, as well.

Finally, this recovery and reinvestment plan will provide immediate relief to states, workers, and families who are bearing the brunt of this recession. To get people spending again, 95% of working families will receive a $1,000 tax cut – the first stage of a middle-class tax cut that I promised during the campaign and will include in our next budget. To help Americans who have lost their jobs and can’t find new ones, we’ll continue the bipartisan extensions of unemployment insurance and health care coverage to help them through this crisis. Government at every level will have to tighten its belt, but we’ll help struggling states avoid harmful budget cuts, as long as they take responsibility and use the money to maintain essential services like police, fire, education, and health care.
While I generally despise tax cuts as political tool, it really can't hurt anymore at this point. Alongside the benefit extensions, that can get a lot of money into the hands of both those who need it most, and those who are most likely to spend it. I don't expect to see real budget cuts for a while, though. What you're more likely to see is cuts in things like science spending and education; you know, the frivolous stuff.

To summarize the remainder, we're looking at a promise of greater transparency in spending (which they aren't doing badly on so far, Rush Limbaugh's inability to read a .PDF notwithstanding), a fight against earmarks in this process (less successful), and oversight of the banks (I'd give 'em a D-minus on their efforts to this point).

Overall, I like the plan. The execution doesn't look fast enough or really even broad enough for my tastes. People point out that it wasn't Roosevelt's policies and spending that ended the Great Depression, but rather World War two. What you have to take note of there is that he managed to halve unemployment and shore up the economy in just a couple of years; the problem is, when you start out at 25% employment, that miracle-working doesn't look all that impressive from a distance. Our hole isn't that deep yet, but if we can employ similar tactics to prevent it from getting as bad as the '30s, I'm all for it.


Other posts in this series can be found at the Agenda Index.


Coralius said...

I curious as to what you think the core problems in education are.

Ranson said...

Tell you what, the answer I typed was sizeable enough for it's own post. I'll move it to one.