I have a couple thoughts about the stimulus package.
Lobbying Problem Costs Us Governance Of, By, and For the People
Until we fix the lobbying problem, Washington will be incapable of making any decisions in the interest of the citizenry at large. We will not be able to fix the economy, health care, Wall Street or anything else right until lobbyists can be eliminated from the equation. Every time we try, 50% of what we spend and do will be in the interest of small groups at the expense of the whole rather than in the interest of the nation as one. That said, we can’t just do nothing until that day comes.
A lot of what is in here really will stimulate the economy.
When discussion of a stimulus package of this sort started, we were done a disservice by those who focused on “infrastructure”, namely, roads and bridges. Rebuilding roads and bridges and improving mass transit systems will create jobs, will stimulate the economy, and in many cases will prove to be beneficial in the long run. But when you look at the 3 million people who have lost their jobs in the last few months… you know, how many of Microsoft’s 5,000 layoffs poured concrete for a living? How many of the tens of thousands laid off from companies like Starbucks, Macy’s, Panasonic, General Motors, Sprint, Pfizer, Caterpillar, or United Airlines would know a piece of re-bar if they tripped on it?
Have you ever driven a bulldozer?
The fact is that if we created 4 million new jobs building roads, we would probably have to take that stupid fence back down to do it. The skills that exist in the talent pool being rapidly created in this country is way to diverse to be efficiently sopped up with “shovel ready” concrete-intensive projects.
That’s why the stimulus bill has money going in so many different directions. It is also why it is over 700 pages long and growing by the minute. We live in an extremely complex economy, our government itself is extremely complex, and when we have to line item one by one by one even the large buckets of project types and classifications we need to fund… it takes a lot of pages. At the end of the day, though, this bill is providing stimulus funding of unprecedented scale that will create jobs in the healthcare sector, the information technology sector, the energy sector, construction (of course!), electronics, research, agriculture, security, defense… every major department of government is getting money to use to stimulate those portions of the economy that it interfaces with.
A lot of this stimulus shouldn’t be called stimulus.
For 30 years, since 1981, we have treated the government as a problem rather than a solution. We have starved it, under-funded it, punished it and neglected it, and then complained about how inefficient it is and how poorly it works. For instance, there was scalding hot testimony on the hill today from a whistle-blower who gave the SEC intricately detailed evidence of Madoff’s ponzi scheme… in 2001! The SEC didn’t do anything with it, largely because there apparently wasn’t anyone left there whose job it was to deal with ponzi schemes and outright fraud. Last year when Congress pushed Chairman Cox to increase the SEC budget so it could do a better job, he declined.
We all complain about education, but we routinely vote against tax increases for education. We complain about the DMV, but while the people in there do tend to shuffle more than hustle sometimes… the core problem is that it is understaffed by what, 50%? Our judicial backlogs aren’t just because our courts are inefficient… we simply are not paying for the number of them that we need to handle the work. When a social worker or a public defender has a case load 5 times what they should, the problem isn’t just that there are too many cases or that these folks are working too slowly. We are starving these systems to death… and then complaining about how weak and ineffective they are.
Good government like good cars, good wine, good clothes, good toys and good service costs good money.
From what I see, a lot of the money in this stimulus package is going to funding, or at least partially and temporarily funding, many of the starved, malnourished, desperately impoverished functions of government and many of the beneficial and necessary investments we should have been making for decades, that we have failed to make. This funding will, indeed, have a stimulative effect. But at this level, all spending stimulates the economy… but not all spending should be considered emergency stimulus spending. A lot of what is in this bill on a temporary basis are small, probably tiny, down payments on funding decisions that eventually need to be made permanent.
Americans, we do still have the biggest economy and the biggest military in the world, by far. But we are not the most advanced nation, despite what we are constantly told. All over the world, nations pay less per capita for health care than we do and they get better results! We do not have the safest, best, and most efficient road system in the world. We do not have the most modern telecommunications infrastructure in the world. We do not have the most energy efficient houses. We do not uniformly have the best schools. We certainly don’t have the world’s best legal system. We are not the smartest, we are not the wealthiest, we do not have the richest cultural environment, etc. We can be, but we have chosen not to invest in these things. Where we have failed to invest and it is impossible to earn a return from an investment that hasn’t been made.
This bill does a lot of investing in the name of emergency stimulus that ought to be made in the name of good government. But as I said at the top, until we clean up the lobbying mess, we cannot really make any of these decisions very well. What we have here isn’t as wasteful as it seems, even though there is a lot of spending that is no doubt, wasteful.