Sunday, February 1, 2009

Obama's Economic Recovery Plan

It’s a little hard to criticize Mr. Obama’s economic recovery plan, as it has only been laid out in the most nebulous detail, but some aspects of it trouble me.

First of all, Mr. Obama wants tax cuts. As if the Bush tax cuts, the first in history made in wartime, were not destructive enough to our economy, and even after the so-called stimulus checks failed to stimulate the economy because people immediately applied them to their credit card debts, Mr. Obama thinks that more such checks will stimulate the economy this time. Or so he says. I tend to think that this is a cynical move: a bone thrown to the tax-cut fanatics on the right, and to all Americans who have seen their 401Ks vaporize before their eyes. These cuts will worsen the federal deficit, but they won’t stimulate the economy a whit.

Mr. Obama also seems reluctant to go over the trillion dollar mark in his recovery plan, a plan whose other main tenet is the rebuilding of our crumbling infrastructure. This re-investment in America’s veins and arteries, skeleton and nervous system is indeed the one thing that can pull us out of recession, or, dare I say it, impending depression. However, timidity is not called for here, but bold, unprecedented action. It was initial tight monetary policy that deepened the Great Depression. Only when the federal government loosened the purse strings and put vast numbers of Americans to work in the WPA and other similar federally-subsidized projects, did the economy bootstrap itself.

I have always been a deficit hawk. I’ve never liked them, and have never understood why ‘tax and spend’ was such an epithet while ‘tax-cut and spend’ was not. But there are times when printing money is appropriate, especially when that money is not thrown at fat cat bankers, or at corrupt regimes, but given as jobs, not one-time checks, to the men and women of America, in exchange for labor that will improve the quality of life for all of us.

This is especially true if the reconstruction is predicated upon a policy of using only American-made products whenever possible: American steel, concrete, asphalt, timber, hardware, electronics.

Which brings me to my other qualm with Mr. Obama’s plan. He speaks of improving the energy efficiency of federal buildings, which brings to mind weatherstripping and other worthy-but-incremental steps. Again, what is needed is bold action, a quantum leap, not methodical steps.

After 9/11, my first thought was that America needed to embark on a huge project, a combination of the Manhattan Project, and the Apollo Program, to not only make us more energy independent, but to make us a leader in alternative energy technology.

The first executive order Mr. Obama should sign should be one that mandates that within 10 years, every single federal building, from military depots in Alaska to the White House itself, should have at least 50% of its energy needs generated from its own alternative energy infrastructure. This would mean different things for different structures in different places. In the southwest, all federal buildings would get photovoltaic roofing. In Oklahoma, perhaps windmills. In the northeast, perhaps solar water heaters or geothermal heating. Usually, a mix of these technologies is the most appropriate; After all, when the sun isn’t shining, it’s often windy.

And of course, this executive order would also mandate that all of these devices be American-made.

Imagine the millions of people who would be put to work designing, manufacturing and installing this alternative-energy infrastructure! Imagine the cost of photovoltaics and other technologies plummeting as the economies of scale kicked in.

This would be a bold, sensible, do-able project that would get America working again, help reduce our dependence not only on foreign oil but on all fossil fuels, help reduce America’s obscene carbon footprint, and stimulate innovations that could make us a world-leader in alternative energy technology. This is a win-win-win-win agenda.

And if he really wants to give us a tax cut, he could give every American an enormous tax-incentive to install their own windmills and photovoltaics, American-made, of course.

That’s the kind of tax cut that I’m looking for!

Audio Version Here

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