Simple Solutions and Complex Problems

[Orignally Posted on Campaign Blog on April 25]

The financial problems of the Commonwealth, and of the nation, are serious and significant. They arise from a complex set of issues, from tax policy and the changing nature of manufacturing, to competition from China and globalization. Yet some people see the solution is simplistic terms.          

Representative Stan Lee said “You can’t spend your way out of a recession. You can’t tax yourself to prosperity. You can’t borrow your way out of debt.”

With one simple sentence, Lee rejects one hundred years of evidence that Keynesian economics works. This nation only recovered from the Great Depression because of World War Two. The Great Depression ended because of government spending. Since the Second World War there have been recessions around the world, and nations have tried many possible solutions. Japan and Argentina tried cuts to government to end their major recessions, and those nations are still weekend. In Japan the 1990’s are known as the lost decade. Sweden spent its way out of a financial collapse in the late 1990’s, and the recession lasted less than a year. History teaches that done right, a nation can spend its way out of a recession.

With another simple sentence, Lee shows that he has never even contemplated the world beyond this nation’s borders. Why, for example, do Scandinavian countries have high standards of living (read a rich population) when they have high taxes, while South American countries have low standards of living when they have low tax rates? Until the 1960’s, the standard of living in Argentina, Venezuela, Chile, and Brazil was comparable to the standard of living of most of Europe.     

I know that many conservatives will say that they don’t want to be like Europe. That’s fine. But I don’t want to be like Brazil. And when I hear them talk about their ideal tax and regulatory schemes I think of Brazil: vastly rich and lightly taxed small upper class and teaming slums of the poor.

Finally, Mr. Lee says you can’t borrow your way out of debt. That is probably news to many businesses that routinely borrow money to invest in new technology or facilities all in an attempt to increase their revenue. I often hear conservatives say we should operate government more like a business, but then I hear things like Mr. Lee’s statement, and I wonder if they have any concept of what business really does.

We are faced with many complex problems. We will have a hard time solving these problems if we are so constrained by clichés and sound bites that we can’t think.      

Nasty is as Nasty does

A banner at a coal industry sponsored golf outing in Prestonburg Kentucky took a nasty swipe at actress and Kentucky native Ashley Judd. The banner had a picture of Ms. Judd without a top, but with her hands over her breasts, and said “Ashley makes a living removing her top. Why can’t coal miners?” It was, apparently, directed at Judd’s criticism of mountaintop removal in eastern Kentucky.

 

The story was in the Lexington Herald Leader, and is available at:

Banner mocks topless Judd for Coal Comments

It was a particularly personal, nasty attack. Nearly 2500 years ago the Greek philosopher Aristotle said that when you have no other argument, attack the man: or in this case the woman. Aristotle knew if for what it was, a punk move, a cheap shot.

The issue of mountaintop removal is complex, and certainly many of the opponents engage in simplistic logic and reasoning. But that doesn’t justify an ugly, nasty, personal attack.

 

There is really no other way to say it. People (and organizations) that engage in nasty attacks are nasty people.   

Kick ’em While They’re Down

Among the reasons that some Republicans give for opposing the extension of unemployment benefits is that it actually encourages people not to look for work. In other words if people are getting unemployment benefits they will not look for work, and so if their benefits end they will be forced to get a job.

There are two problems with that outlook. First it implies that most people are lazy. I think that is an ugly view of humanity, but I will save that topic for another day.

The other problem is that it ignores economic reality. The unfortunate reality in the current recession is that there are simply not as many jobs as there are people looking for and needing jobs. According to a recent article in the New York Times:

 

For young adults, the prospects in the workplace, even for the college-educated, have rarely been so bleak. Apart from the 14 percent who are unemployed and seeking work … 23 percent are not even seeking a job, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The total, 37 percent, is the highest in more than three decades and a rate reminiscent of the 1930s. [According to the story a large chunk of that 23 percent are in the “too discouraged to look” category.] 

The college-educated among these young adults are better off. But nearly 17 percent are either unemployed or not seeking work, a record level (although some are in graduate school). The unemployment rate for college-educated young adults, 5.5 percent, is nearly double what it was on the eve of the Great Recession, in 2007, and the highest level — by almost two percentage points — since the bureau started to keep records in 1994 for those with at least four years of college.

The full story can be found at: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/07/business/economy/07generation.html?pagewanted=1&ref=homepage&src=me

This is a serious problem for this nation. Regardless of where you may stand on the issue of extending unemployment benefits, it is imperative that we begin to look at the major problems facing our economy, and start to come up with ways to fix them. The constant political fight in Washington, which is supposedly about “ideology”, is not even remotely addressing the real issues. And rather than address the real problems facing the economy, some Republicans are willing to kick the unemployed while they are down. Kind of sad.