But I think my uneasiness comes from something deeper. Both parties are living in some kind of La-La Land seeing only what they want to see and trapped by what I think are very fuzzy visions of where we came from, where we are, and where we might be going.
I'll start off with the Democrats. It is nice that the President mentioned the need to invest in refurbishing our infrastructure but where is he going to start? I have read stories for the last 3 decades about crumbling roads and disintegrating bridges. The estimates from engineering experts on what the bill would be to fix the country's roads and bridges alone just about equal the yearly deficit. Where is the money to come from when the cumulative deficit just about equals our GDP now? That is just fix the roads and bridges we have now not extend the system. To use much of the 'green' technology for electric generation we have to upgrade the electric grid also which some experts say is worthy of a third world nation. For some humorous takes on the problem look at these political cartoons on MSNBC. And, much as I hate to agree with the Republicans on anything, simply 'cutting' the budget in some areas to create 'new investments' in others doesn't really change the economics of the situation. It is rather like a consumer paying one credit card with another.
Then there is the issue of 'clean energy.' As this piece from MSNBC makes clear much depends on how you define 'clean.' Also many of the technologies depend on large energy inputs to create the 'clean' energy in the first place which means that the final energy resulting from the process is quite expensive. Let's also ask about the financial inputs here. Where is the money going to come from and can consumers afford the energy produced? And which consumers are we talking about? A recurring story in our local news concerns the problems low income people have paying their utility bills during the winter and the increasing demand for low income energy credits to help the process along. Last summer, during our heat wave, a similar story cropped up when the air-conditioning bills came due. It is nice that the President focused part of the SOTU on energy but we are already tripping over the technical and financial details.
What about education? Well, the basic question I want answered simply aren't asked. Education for what? The President mentioned that so many jobs that once required a high school diploma now require at least some college. Why? I have said before that we have become a nation of clerks selling goods made overseas to other people who sell goods made overseas to...ad infinitum. You don't need a college education to punch a damned point of sale computer. (I almost wrote 'cash register' here. I guess I am showing my age.) Also who pays since college educations are becoming even more expensive?
And then there was the issue of competitiveness. This had the feel of football boosterism about it. The problem is the metric by which we measure competitiveness. Is it the proportion of college graduates in the population? Why? Let's be clear here--no matter how many college graduates we churn out we can't match the number a society like China can produce. Think about it--our 300 million versus their 1.3 billion. Even if we educated 100% of our people to the bachelor's degree level they could exceed our numbers by merely educating one-third of their people to that same level. We are number one in the world in two other metrics which are of dubious value. We spend more than anyone else on health care and we spend more that the rest of the world put together on defense and we have gotten very little bang for those massive bucks.
So much for the Democrats. Let's go on to the Republicans. They have been singing the praises of 'small' government that simply gets out of the way and lets individuals and businesses get on with the important work of making 'us' prosperous. I have to ask: what you mean 'us,' white man? The problem is they are still enthralled by the tired old notions of 'trickle down' and 'a rising tide lifts all boats.' Most of us have been trickled upon by bodily excreta, not prosperity and our boats, which have been leaking for a long time, have now capsized. I don't see any rescue for us anywhere in sight. How far back do these 'small' government apologists want to go? How about the Articles of Confederation? That was small government--no executive, no judiciary, legislation by committee. The British had a very good chance of reabsorbing the so recently independent states into their empire because of the ineffectiveness of the government established by the Articles. But, by God, it was small.
Oh, you want to go back to the Constitution as the Founders originally created it? That is nice except for the simple fact that the country has grown spectacularly since 1789. At that time we had a bit less that 3 million people (not counting Native Americans, I am sure), controlled none of the territories west of the Mississippi or North of the St. Laurence or any of Florida. We didn't have utilities whose pollution plumes followed the wind across the entire continent or concentrated animal feeding operations whose wastes polluted entire rivers and local groundwater. As various problems have risen over the last 200+ years that have transcended the state boundaries or the capacities of the individual states to handle, the Federal Government has grown. We can argue whether the Federal Government should be funding traffic lights at the corner of Local and Main, or 'bridges to nowhere,' or whatever other inane project you can name. But we cannot run a country with 100x the population and three times the territory with the government that existed in 1790.
Ok, Republicans want to cut spending. Lets talk about some of the spending priorities they have supported over the last decade. Start with Iraq and Afghanistan. Much of this was funded completely off the books during President Bush's tenure in office. And most of it has been a total waste in money, materiel and lives. Has anyone else noticed the increase in suicide bombings in Iraq lately? There have been numerous stories about reconstruction projects in Iraq which are so shoddy and so out of line with what the area needs that the are a boondoggle of the worst kind. Billions put into this with nothing to show. How about TARP? Started to buy up toxic assets so beleaguered banks wouldn't be sunk by the weight of their own stupidity and then changed to a program which loaned (?) money to those banks with almost no strings attached. Yes, much of it is being paid back but we are in almost the same situation with respect to the 'too-big-to-fail' financial institutions as we were before the crisis. And where have the Republicans been with regard to moral hazard for stupidity at the top of the financial food chain? Largely, missing in action. They really don't want to offend their major donors.
I think I will leave this discussion here. As you can tell--I am not terribly happy or satisfied with any of our politicians right now.
HuffingtonPost put up this article this morning. What sets off the warning bells in my little brain isn't anything said in the article; rather it is what isn't said. How many of the President's past and present economic advisors have very close ties to Goldman? I sometimes wonder if his appointment of William Daley, a long time executive with JP Morgan, was simply a nod to 'financial diversity.' A number of people have noted that the economic advice the President is getting is coming from people who have close ties to the companies at the center of the 'Great Recession.'
I think I will get off this rant now. It has gone on quite long enough. Pox on both their houses.