Dick Meister: Six ways to heal the economy

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By Dick Meister

 Dick Meister, former labor editor of the SF Chronicle and KQED-TV Newsroom, has covered labor and politics for more than a half-century. Contact him through his website, www.dickmeister.com, which includes more than 350 of his columns.

The AFL-CIO has come up with an ambitious six-point plan for healing our very sick economy – one of the best plans that have yet been suggested by anyone.

Point one calls for rebuilding the school, transportation and energy systems by spending at least $2.2 trillion to restore crumbling 20th century infrastructure. As the AFL-CIO says, it would be an investment that would put millions of people to work while laying the foundation for the nation's long-term growth and competitiveness with other nations.

Point two is as direct: "Revive U.S. manufacturing and stop exporting good jobs overseas."  That would involve, among many other steps, reforming and enforcing tax policies that are currently encouraging U.S. companies to have manufacturing done in other countries. And enhance Buy America standards, increase investment in job training and oppose free trade deals.

Point three: Provide federal help for hiring people to do at least part of the work that needs to be done nationwide. That could create millions of jobs in distressed communities, especially communities of color, where much of the work is badly needed. In doing so, pay competitive wages and do not replace existing jobs.

Point four: Help federal, state and local governments avoid more of the layoffs and cutbacks of public services that have been a major drag on the economy. Congress should make a commitment to not lay off any more federal employees. It should prevent more state and local layoffs by providing increased federal funding of Medicaid when unemployment is high and providing additional federal funds directly to communities "to save and create jobs and protect and restore public services."

Point five: Extend unemployment benefits for at least a year to those whose benefit payout time has expired. "Our economy continues to suffer from a massive shortfall of consumer demand . . . the primary reason why businesses are not hiring."

The AFL-CIO calls for combining the extension of benefits with providing relief to homeowners facing foreclosure. If banks lowered the principal balance on mortgages to current market value, the AFL-CIO calculates that "over $70 billion a year would be pumped back into the economy, millions of families would be able to stay in their homes and over one million jobs would be created."

Point six: "Reform Wall Street so that it helps Main Street create jobs." That would mean channeling capital into productive sectors of the economy – more lending to small businesses, for instance – and enacting a federal financial speculation tax to discourage harmful speculation and "make Wall Street pay to rebuild the economy it helped destroy." The government should "enforce tough safeguards to stop the kind of cheating and massive fraud on Wall Street that precipitated the crisis of 2008."

Many of those who did indeed cause the crisis are still in control, many still doing just what brought on the economic ailments that so deeply affect the country. It will take a lot to loosen their tight grip on the economy. But it can be done if we are wise enough to adopt reforms such as the AFL-CIO advocates.

Dick Meister, former labor editor of the SF Chronicle and KQED-TV Newsroom, has covered labor and politics for more than a half-century. Contact him through his website, www.dickmeister.com, which includes more than 350 of his columns.

Comments

That' what High Speed Universities is all about, to further the education of students. They need more than a high school degree today, they need at least 2 years of college, preferrably 4, and then we're going to work with communities so they can grow economically and create more jobs for our young people

Posted by celestepowell on Dec. 03, 2011 @ 8:15 pm

I'm a little surprised that there's nothing here that suggests alternative energy and/or measures to create real green jobs or to clean up the environment.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 03, 2011 @ 10:37 pm

Agreed guest.

A Green New Deal is our only decent way out of the current capitalist progress trap.

Here a little manifesto I recently wrote on the subject. Consider this open source, free for unlimited redistribution. Any and all, share widely if you like it.

~~

The Green Bubble Manifesto

While it would fundamentally solve a lot of problems to phase out capitalism (a task we should have begun at least a couple of decades ago), at this particular point in history, we have little choice but to use the deeply flawed mechanisms of capitalism to get a new green economy off the ground, because it will be the only way to do so quickly enough to deal with the looming climate crisis.

At this stage, capitalism is hopelessly stuck in having to generate a series of larger and larger economic debt bubbles just to keep itself from collapsing. Because such bubbles have to be paid back with interest, this cycle will never stop and will never cease dangerously escalating in size (and impact on the physical world).

However, because we have to completely revolutionize our entire energy and transportation infrastructure in the next two decades on this planet in order to come even close to keeping the atmosphere from spiraling into an utterly disastrous series of climate warming tipping points that will destroy humanity (and most life) it is pretty clear that we should use another, even larger capitalist bubble expansion, to leverage that badly needed rapid retooling of our energy economy into being.

This is the obvious solution in the short term. We need national, state, and local governments to together pump an infusion of trillions of dollars into a global WW2 scale Green New Deal, which will rebuild our entire civil infrastructure to run on renewable energy and mass transit by somewhere between 2030 and 2040.

This will create another, even larger, interest driven capitalist bubble. However it will be far more benign than our previous bubbles, and will actually be relatively stable, because after that renewable infrastructure is built (and its installation costs are paid off) it will flood our economy with essentially free energy from the sun and wind for upwards of a century; the selling of which energy can be used to pay off the interest payments on the funding of the bubble. (The savings from much more efficient, lower cost transportation and shipping will also help pay off that interest debt.)

And once that universal, nearly free energy is flowing, its economically decentralizing influence will indeed help us phase out capitalism, a task that we absolutely must begin as soon as we can before capitalism destroys everything.

Because capitalism depends on endless growth to fund endless ever expanding finance interest bubbles (as referred to above) it is literally eating this planet alive at an extremely rapid and exponentially expanding pace.

If we don't immediately shift to a clean decentralized energy economy and then immediately gear down capitalism itself such that we quickly transition to a sustainable, rather than 'growth' economy within the next few decades, we and the planet are doomed. And I would think that the most educated capitalists are beginning to figure that out now.

After that energy shift, the next step toward this transition to sustainability would be phasing in what I would describe as 'nonprofit capitalism' in which income and property ownership are gradually lowered until no person can make more than a couple hundred thousand dollars a year, and each is also limited to a sane amount of personal physical ownership of cubic feet of living space and 'stuff'; with any excesses from sales and service prices going to either R&D or to national, state and local governments to further retool the economy into becoming one which will not destroy the Earth.

This is our 21st Century manifesto, if we have the courage to take it up.

Eric Brooks
San Francisco, CA
6, September, 2011

Posted by Eric Brooks on Dec. 03, 2011 @ 11:39 pm

the sun doesn't always blow, tides are often just sitting there a few times a day, it takes fantastic amounts of energy to grow switch grass or other bio fuels,

And last but not least, your fellow man may not be into your post capitalist world view. Just as you are not probably interested in born again Christianity.

Posted by matlock on Dec. 04, 2011 @ 7:41 pm

As usual, the responder's smart aleck rhetoric is based on an utter lack of real knowledge.

To see how diverse combined power plants operate and solve the downtime problems of clean electricity generation go to:

http://www.unendlich-viel-energie.de/en/electricity/combined-power-plant...

Posted by Eric Brooks on Dec. 04, 2011 @ 9:08 pm

The world is going to have to resort to various energy schemes, a mixture of a lot of generating sources. As the price goes up more will become viable.

Your time line is way off. There may be a break through in photo cells, such as the work done with coatings, but right now they are not all that viable. Maybe in a few decades. Huge mirror and photo cell arrays and turbines are just going to have the environuts out rioting for coal power.

On the other end there is some awesome work with LEDs which should drive down usage, I have bought for work probably two thousand dollars in LEDs.

etc...

The green technology dream, not in our lifetimes likely.

Posted by Matlock on Dec. 04, 2011 @ 10:40 pm

What you have just written bears absolutely no relation to reality whatsoever.

Wind is already on par with coal and gas and is already being built out more rapidly than all other electricity generation strategies, no matter what the fuel source, and regardless of NIMBY opposition.

Solar, including traditional PV is rapidly becoming directly competitive with fossil fuel electricity and is on pace to be fully competitive on price by the end of the decade.

Posted by Eric Brooks on Dec. 05, 2011 @ 12:01 am

This looks about right

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cost_of_electricity_by_source

table 1 and 2

From reading they all take into account subsidies, so even with subsidies, which are often greater than that given to old time fuels, the cost is still high for wind. Wind per KWH is close in some of the studies but of course the wind, its not always blowing. So it's not all that cost effective as you are putting in a lot of time and energy to build and keep up something that is sporadic.

If you build wind power that runs outside of your control between 0 - 100% of peak production, while you have no real cost effective way to store that power, coal is still going to be relied on.

Since the wind isn't always blowing, building wind turbines is done spread out feeding the grid here and there. So it is part of some area's power structure, but will never be more than a percentage.

A few years ago I was at some relatives house in the Midwest baking in the heat as I watched the windmill out side of town turn about once or twice in the afternoon. How do they keep all that shitty beer cold?

Solar power isn't even close in cost and probably will not be unless there is some sort of breakthrough.

If the green revolution is going to happen, its in China, as our local environmentalists are too litigious to let it happen here.

hjatk

Posted by Matlock on Dec. 05, 2011 @ 1:44 am