Loosen the Belt, Here Comes the Cash
There has always been a certain joy experienced when I happen to catch stock market news filled with unhappy premonitions and arrows pointing towards hell. While I understand that the implications of our current dire straights reach far and wide, possibly even affecting someone as disconnected from money as myself, I must admit that the idea of a complete economic collapse is exciting. Not necessarily because I revel in the idea of a Mad Max-esque world with roving gangs of bandits and bizarre outposts of civilization operating on jerry-rigged technology but because I feel that the utter depths of foolishness which propel the world forward cannot be stopped without the bottom of the bucket falling out.
In a recent op-ed piece, New York Times columnist Nicholas D. Kristof examines the issue of Guantanamo, the US’s military foothold on Cuba which houses the nameless accused in America’s war on the world. Barak Obama has asserted his intentions are to close the prison down as a gesture of transparency and responsibility and Kristof argues that the military should leave as well. Ideally, his plan would have the base handed back to Cuba but realizes the political difficulty in doing this so he proposes a secondary plan borrowed from the Public Library of Science: convert Guantanamo into a research center to combat tropical disease.
Today the Senate narrowly passed a slimmed down version of the Obama administration’s Economic Stimulus Package. The bill was passed in the House with some provisions that have since been stripped so there will be some further debates on what of the two versions will ultimately be included but it seems clear that the government is going to be spending over $800 billion dollars to jumpstart the economy through a combination of spending packages and tax cuts. Major chunks of cash will be given to energy development and, most heartening, alternative energy projects, but spending on schools and some medical programs were hacked out of the bill as compromises to the Republican minority.
It’s not all good news. There’s still some possibility that there will be money set aside to help people buy cars and homes. The former item is reprehensible and sounds like a concession to Michigan; with the automaker’s whining that developing alternative energy cars costs too much money and that consumers won’t want them why not instead dedicate that cash into subsidizing the development of cheap and efficient alternative energy mobiles? Better yet, scrap the industry kickback and put that money towards transportation projects. Helping people buy homes is a more noble cause but shouldn’t that money put put into bailing out bad mortgages?
From my understanding of reading about what has ended up on this bill money will be sent to states for specific projects and it’s up to the states to delegate and ensure the money is well spent. Transportation is the big boom ticket because it traditionally employs the most people for longer periods of time but with this waterfall of cash flowing into State coffers we seem to have a unique opportunity to revitalize a troubled economy and simultaneously promote changes which benefit everyone. If billions of dollars are going to be spent on transportation with the idea that giving people jobs will bolster consumer spending we may as well be working on transportation projects which are developed to combat problems created (or at least contributing to problems) by the inefficient and car-centric transportation model which has turned this country into a vast grid of waste.
If we’re infusing the alternative energy sector what could provide more jobs and ultimately do more good than having a civic works program that examines infrastructure and begins to offset power generation needs by introducing solar paneling to homes and businesses? Can some of this money be spent of installing windmills on highrises or even creating cross-breeze air-shafts in the buildings for electricity producing turbines? Can we employ thousands to start working on rebuilding a national network of highspeed trains, city networks of light rail, programs to remodel houses to make them more efficient? If my dreams of a collapsed western society will be thwarted by economic stimulus I would at least like to see some of my concerns addressed in the restructuring, not just a sea of happy workers building more highways for more cars for people to drive on to rack up more credit card debt.
By the way, I’m adding Nicholas D. Kristof‘s blog to my page and would encourage anyone interested in the world to check him out. He’s a two-time Pulitzer winner who travels the world sticking his nose into some unpleasant shit and sharing stories most people would rather not hear. His opinions are pragmatic but humanistic, a tricky balance to perfect.