Today I ran across We need jobs, not deficit cuts by University of Texas professor James K. Galbraith, the son of the late, great John Kenneth Galbraith. The son's light does not burn so brightly as the father's did.
... In America, President Obama has recently sent a jobs programme and a call for investments in transportation, clean energy, and education to a Congress in stalemate. No country has a credible plan for effective homeowner debt relief. Central European countries appear to respond with folded arms to the plight of their near neighbours.
The right goal is not to shape "post-recession growth". Growth is not assured; it cannot be assumed; and it is not even the highest priority. The right task is to find a fair, effective, and sustainable path out of crisis.
People need work. We face the challenge of climate change. The broad outline of a programme is therefore plain. There is no mystery about it. In 1929, [John Maynard] Keynes wrote, "there is work to do; there are men to do it. Why not bring them together?" Today as then, it is that simple.
I certainly wish it were that simple. This blog wouldn't exist if it were that simple. By the way, "program" is spelled "programme" and "neighbors" is spelled "neighbours" in this quote because it appears in the Guardian, which is a newspaper in the United Kingdom, not a newspaper in America. Why is that?
The transportation initiative referred to is Transportation For America (T4America). I'm not going to be some irresponsible naysayer here—I'm for the program. After all, a major overhaul of our transportation infrastructure is only about 30 years overdue. But as usual, the devil is in the details, so I looked at the T4America analysis by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI).
$1 billion for intercity bus? $1.5 billion for livability/bike/pedestrian? $2.99 billion for mass transit expansion? What sane person could possibly object to that? I'm not even going to quibble over the fact that half ($17 billion) of the T4America initiative goes to road & bridge rehab, and mass transit operating costs. There is work to do and men to do it. EPI estimates that this initiative will create 480,000 jobs over an unspecified time period—479,220 jobs to be precise.
OK, how do we pay for it? Should we just spend the money willy-nilly as Professor Galbraith seems to suggest? I think that's a poor strategy. Let's think. What programs could we cut to make room for T4America? Ummm...
WASHINGTON - Reuters, December 1, 2009
Asked if there will be an emergency spending bill, known as a "supplemental," for Obama's planned increase of 30,000 troops over the next six months, [Senate Armed Services Committee Carl] Levin told reporters, "I think there will have to be"...
An administration official said Obama's Afghan strategy would incur military costs of $25 billion to $30 billion in fiscal year 2010, and that there may be additional diplomatic and civilian costs...
Spending on the war in Afghanistan has more than doubled over the last year, reaching $6.7 billion in June alone...
Supplemental financing would come on top of $130 billion that Congress has authorized for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq for the fiscal year that started on October 1...
Let's see: that's 130 + 25 (low estimate) = $155 billion for Iraq and the Afghanistan escalation in fiscal year 2009-2010 alone, as opposed to $34.3 billion to revamp America's transportation infrastructure over some number of years, an update which is three decades overdue.
Professor Galbraith comes to the point—
The question facing world leaders today is not what to do. It is whether to do it. There are two goals to meet: full employment and sustainable energy. That's technically complex. But the complexities are complexities of engineering, organization and politics. They are not complexities of economics or finance.
I am not going to argue today with Dr. Galbraith about the accumulated debt, deficits and long-term interest payments on that debt. But he is absolutely right about one thing—the question facing world leaders today is not what to do, it is whether to do it.
And on that question, I believe our Imperial Priorities are crystal clear.