Thursday, January 29, 2009

Venkatesh, Galbraith, et. al Debate Obama Stimulus

Full text of the debate/panel here.

Excluding the conservative idiots who are whining about spending increases, there are some interesting points in this exchange.

For Galbraith, the stimulus is not bold enough (or commensurate with the gravity of the crisis at hand). Stiglitz said virtually the same thing when he told the BBC today that the Obama Stimulus package is "totally inadequate". He recommends the following ideas (which sound marvelous to me):

– All the resources being released from residential and commercial construction should be taken up in public building. At the federal level, strategic investments in mass transit and other long-term improvements — largely omitted from the current package — should be authorized via a permanent National Infrastructure Fund.

– Comprehensive foreclosure relief, through a 90-day moratorium followed by restructuring except in cases of demonstrable borrower fraud.

– Increase Social Security benefits, say by 30 percent, and a lower the eligibility age of Medicare to (say) 55 years of age. This would offset the deep drop in equity wealth of the elderly population, while favoring the poor. Expanding Medicare eligibility would permit more workers to retire, freeing firms from carrying health care costs for older workers.

– A payroll tax holiday to restore the purchasing power of working families. By setting the payroll tax rate at zero (and letting the government write a check to the Social Security Trust Fund for the uncollected sums), tax relief can be delivered at large scale and with immediate effect. Later, if growth resumes rapidly, this measure could be scaled back.

– A Reconstruction Finance Corporation, to meet industrial needs for credit and to help with restructuring and modernization.

– Jobs programs, in the spirit of the New Deal, to hire people to do what they do best, including art, letters, drama, dance, music, scientific research, university teaching and the work of the non-profit sector — including for community organizations.

– An energy program with a framework adequate to meet the climate crisis and sufficient to reduce demand for oil and quell speculation as the economy recovers.
Michael Oppenheimer argues, correctly in my view, that infrastructure spending must be spent with the future in mind (which is to say, the environment and climate change). In concrete terms (no pun intended) this means eschewing highway construction/expansion in favor of mass transit and greener forms of transportation. He writes:
The trade-off between building new highways and expanding or even just maintaining mass transit capacity is an obvious example. Both are “shovel-ready” but one supports the emergence of a green economy while the other just ossifies the existing patterns, which are a big part of our economic and international problems in the first place.
Steven Goldsmith, presumably in an attempt to sound unique or creative, argues that what America needs more of right now is a boost in volunteerism. Thus, he recommends an increase in funding for Americorps. I say fuck that. People need jobs not charity, and getting well-off people to volunteer is, at best, an idea that is peripheral to the main thrust of any serious effort to stave off disaster for ordinary Americans.

Venkatesh argues that the stimulus needs to be more 'locally oriented'. Yet, the examples he gives:
For example, two cities (or counties) can independently spend millions to shore up new transit systems. Yet, a regional focus might more efficiently and effectively serve a population whose movements cut across their borders. Giving unemployed workers subsidies to retain their health benefits is progressive, but in some metropolitan areas, workers are facing eviction and would much prefer rental subsidies. Averting homelessness might take priority over a doctor’s visit.
beg the following question. Why not do both (avert homelessness and guarantee health subsidies)?

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