Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Spend more!

There are something like 25 million Americans unemployed or under-employed, with the attendant misery.  Our national priority should be getting back to full employment as soon as possible, not reducing the deficit right now.  It is disconcerting to hear our president siding with those calling for "belt tightening" and spending cuts.

(Update 4/9/11:  and now we have Obama celebrating the cuts in the budget that will only slow down recovery, and put or keep more people out of work.)

What President Obama would have been saying if he asked me (although his rhetorical skills are better than mine, and the following would be phrased more eloquently):

"There are millions of people already out of work, and every month more people, particularly young people, are beginning the search for their first jobs - and not finding any.  So from now on my first priority is to create as many jobs as I can.  Business is not creating jobs right now - business is investing in new machinery, but is not hiring in sufficient numbers to make enough of a dent in the unemployment rate.  So we have to make a choice:  allow millions to continue a life of unemployment, with the loss of self worth that implies, or else as a people we step up to the plate, and act through our government to do what business will not: provide the millions of Americans now unemployed or under employed the feeling of self worth that comes with useful and gainful employment.  Let us follow the example set by Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the 1930s, when the jobs programs he started lifted millions out of poverty and despair.

It's not that there is no work for millions of Americans to be doing.  The work is there to be done.  Our roads and bridges are falling into disrepair.  We are falling  behind other countries in our development of new energy technologies and new transport technologies. The threat of climate change means we urgently need new non-polluting energy technologies. Our states and cities are laying off workers who provide the services our citizens want and need.  I repeat, there is work to be done, and we need to get to work now getting it done.  So I am today proposing a new works program.  Not a giant increase in federal government employees, but a program of grants to the states to allow them to retain their valued workers, and new contracts for our nation's businesses to repair and upgrade our infrastructure, and develop the 21st century technology that will keep out country competitive, and our economy growing with challenging and well paying jobs.

I hear my opponents say that we should be cutting our massive deficits.  And so we should - once we are back to full employment.  But right now is  not the time - now is the time to put people to work, not be putting more people out of work.  Because that is what "cutting spending" means - putting people out of work, both people who work for your government, and the people who work for businesses that depend on your government buying their needed goods and services.  And as we put people out of work, so their decreased purchasing power ripples through the economy, putting even  more people out of work.  So  no - I will not heed the calls of my opponents to put more people out of work.

I recognize that this new jobs program will add to our deficit and our national debt.  We would be in a much better position now if our debt had not been run up so irresponsibly in the Reagan and Bush years, an irresponsibility I might add that those who call for deficit reduction now enthusiastically supported at the the time the debt was being run up.

So yes, we will now for a period need to responsibly add to our debt.  It is a choice of that or prolonging the sad spectre of unemployment that haunts too many of our fellow citizens.  We also need to look forward to the day when employment is back to normal, when all who want a job, particularly our young people, can find one.  When that day arrives, we need to get serious about stopping the borrowing, and paying down our debt. Yes, that does mean raising taxes to the rates they were before the irresponsible tax cuts of the Reagan and Bush years, their foolish running up of the national credit card, which led to our present sad state of public finance.  And we also need to control the greatest driver of rising deficits, the cost of health care.  The Affordable Care Act has made a start on controlling costs, but we must do more.

But let me repeat: deficit reduction will come later, and yes it will be painful after these binge years of running up the national credit card, but right now, we must get Americans back to the dignity and self worth of valuable employment."

(Update 4/3/11.  The small rise in new jobs in March is being touted as good news.  A useful correction from Dean Baker here.)
(Update 4/10/11:  And the small rise is more than offset by the projected job losses resulting from the budget cuts just agreed to by Obama.)

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Government regulations

A common Republican trope is that business is being stifled by government regulations, and that regulations should be done away with. (e.g. John McCain: "I am fundamentally a deregulator.")

The rhetoric is that of an intrusive government managing (or mismanaging) our lives.  And who among us doesn't dislike the feeling that we are being regulated by outside forces?  There is also the claim that regulation hampers the growth of the economy, and contributes to our current unemployment woes.  So the Republican rhetoric strikes a sympathetic chord with the public.

But consider: government regulations are not an end in themselves - they are a means to an end.  And that end is our protection: protection from dirty air, polluted water, unsafe working conditions, unsafe living conditions, dangerous gambles by reckless bankers, and so on and so on. Yes, there is a legitimate discussion to be had on how much protection the public needs government to be affording us (the nanny state and all that), but let's at least have that discussion in terms of the issue, not just the mechanism.

So the proper counter to the anti-regulatory rhetoric is to reframe the discourse by using the term protection.  When Republicans call for removal of regulations, the Democrats' reply should be that the Republicans want to remove protections, and give examples of protections that are enforced by regulation, like those I mentioned above.  Instead, the Democrats in their customary wussy way are replying on the Republicans' terms - trying to defend regulation, instead of pointing out that regulations are just the mechanism and insisting on using the term protection every time a Republican talks about regulation.  Indeed, the Democrats should be setting the agenda themselves, accusing Republicans of wanting to remove protections, and reminding the public of the protections we now enjoy as a result of those denigrated "regulations."

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Recording conversations

I see that police across the country have taken to arresting people for recording police activities in public, using the states' laws against recording conversations unless all parties agree.

Usually these laws are applied to telephone conversations, but they also apply to any conversation.

I've always been opposed to these laws against recording conversations.  It seems to me that if there's a later dispute as to what was said in a conversation, particularly in the course of a lawsuit, then a recording would remove the "he said. she said" difficulty of resolving the truth.  In effect, the laws against recording conversations are a license to lie.

(The cynic in me suspects that legislators passed these laws with a view to protecting themselves from being held accountable for what they may have said on one occasion, and then wanted to deny later.)

I don't understand the "invasion of privacy" argument.  The communication is being made - the person being recorded knows s/he's talking to the other person, even if ignorant of the recording.  How is his/her privacy being invaded?  Perhaps people think that publishing or broadcasting the recording would be an invasion of privacy;  it may well be, but how would that be different from a person publicly recounting a private conversation that hadn't been recorded?  If there is harm to the person whose words are being broadcast, the harm is the same whether a recording or a transcript is being made public, and the same remedies would apply.

So repeal the "license to lie" laws!

No fly zone over Libya

I see that the Arab League is backing a no-fly zone over Libya, but are expecting NATO to enforce it.

Arab countries like Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia are quite well armed with modern air forces.

There seems to be no reason that the Arab countries could not themselves (in concert through the Arab League) enforce any UN authorized no-fly zome.

If only they'd asked me.....