Thursday, May 3, 2012

The GSA Boondoggle

Recently my brother was complaining about the wasteful expenses run up by the GSA at its Las Vegas conference, and I was agreeing that it was shameful, until my brother said, "And this is at a time when there's over 8% unemployment."

Today's high unemployment is completely the wrong thing by which to judge the GSA expenditure.  The money spent on shrimp and commemorative coins and other fripperies was helping people who supply such stuff keep their jobs, and so (albeit in a small way) helping the employment situation.  Of course it would have been better had the money been spent on something useful for the future of the country - fixing a bridge or a road, keeping a teacher from being laid off, added to the pot of investment in renewable energy, and so on - but in the context of today's unemployment rate, if it's a choice between spending the money foolishly and not spending it at all - then foolish spending is better than none.

It's indicative of the poor job our news media does in informing the public of the relationship between government spending and employment that my brother would fail to see the inappropriateness of the context by which he chose to judge the GSA's wasteful spending - and this is a person who deals with figures for his living: he's an accountant.

Messaging, ctd

There are two simple ways the Democrats could go on the offensive against stated Republican economic policies, rather than continually being put on the defensive.

1. Republicans: "We'll cut regulations."  Well, regulations are not an end in themselves: they are the mechanism for enforcing government protections of the public.  Protections against dirty air and water, against unsafe working conditions, against fraud in the marketplace, against toxins in our food, against airplanes crashing into each other - you could extend the list as long as you wanted.  All the Democrats have to do is change a single word: don't defend regulations per se, but go on the attack by pointing out that Republicans want to do away with protections.

2. Republicans: "We'll cut spending."   Cutting government spending means putting people out of work, either directly (laying off government employees) or indirectly (buying fewer goods and services from the private sector, so businesses lose income, and lay off employees).  It's the worst policy at a time of high unemployment, so every time a Republican talks of cutting spending, a Democrat should be responding that Republicans want to put more people out of work in a time of already high unemployment.  (Coupled with an observation that cutting spending may be appropriate when unemployment is back to normal, so laid off people have a good chance of finding another job - which right now they don't.)

It's dispiriting to see how hapless the Democrats are at simple messaging.  Sometimes I think they deserve to lose - but the country doesn't deserve another neocon administration that might actually put Paul Ryan's budget plans into practice.