Saturday, January 10, 2009

Fresh Kills

Barack Obama estimates his economic stimulus plan will create or save as many as four million jobs over the next two years. Obama's economic advisors say 678,000 of those jobs will be in the construction industry and 408,000 of the jobs will be in manufacturing, two sectors that have been hit hard by the recession and financial system meltdown.

Critics of Mr. Obama's plan have pointed to its lack of details and questioned whether it will provide enough government spending to turn the economy around. A recent New York Times article, for example, questioned the size of the proposed stimulus package, and took note of the fact that no one knows whether fiscal policy works or not. The article noticed that Christina Romer, Obama's chief economic advisor, had previously argued that monetary policy is the most powerful force in economic recoveries and that "fiscal stimulus generally acts too slowly to be of much help in pulling the economy out of recessions."

The view that monetary policy can halt a recession has been discredited by a number of prominent economists, including Paul Krugman, and, apparently, as Mr. Obama's chief economic advisor, Ms. Romer has lost her faith in monetary policy. So we, Keynesians all, will soon stumble through the darkness like a long line of blindfolded clowns, chanting: I believe in fiscal policy, and in the multiplier, and in the accelerator, world without end, amen.

And, Lo, money will be spent. On mining and construction. On manufacturing. On all of the things in Table 4 on page 8 of the 14-page economic analysis, provided by Mr. Obama's economic advisors: Job Creation Of Recovery Package By Industry.

The Congress, together with the executive branch and state and local governments, will decide over the next two years exactly how the money will be spent, but it doesn't matter how the money is spent, as long as it provides enough income to enough people to stimulate aggregate demand and raise the expectations of enough consumers and businesses to create positive feedback, i.e., economic growth. As Mr. Krugman has pointed out correctly, Keynes himself thought it might be better if government spent money on useful things, but it would work just as well if government buried sacks of money at the bottom of mines, filled the mines with municipal garbage, then paid the private sector to dig the money up.

Rising expectations is what we want. Sustainable rising expectations. Expectations of employment, income and profits. We need to know that a lot of money is going to be spent, and we need to know it will be spent long enough to get the American economy growing again.

I have a proposal. Since it doesn't matter what we spend the taxpayer's money on, let's spend some of it on things that will never get done otherwise. Let's take a big chunk of that stimulus money and do some things that need to be done that nobody wants to do. The kinds of things it's impossible to do in ordinary times. The kinds of things we know we should do, but know we never will.

Fresh Kills dump on Staten Island is the largest landfill in the world. It is so full of toxic waste and chemicals that just the liability inherent in trying to remove and relocate that poison waste makes cleaning up Fresh Kills an impossible project for anyone except the Federal Government.

So, let's put Fresh Kills on the list. Let's take some of that stimulus cash and clean up Fresh Kills and other landfills across America. Then, even if fiscal policy doesn't work as quickly or as completely as we hope it will, we'll have gotten something real and lasting out of this tragic time.


Cypher Blueman said...

What would it cost to build a number of hospitals in areas without them? And to fund them for a number of years? A billion per hospital? Let's make it two billion. A hundred billion could go along way for those hospitals, and leave money for that toxic dump too. If it doesn't matter anyway, why not get moving on some kind of healthcare projects as capital investments?

quinn the eskimo said...

Try Figure 3 from page 6 of this.

Compare to Figure 1 on page 4 of the doc you linked. That's a whole lot more hurt than Obama's report shows. They're praying in there. That's it, that's all. Imagine 14% OFFICIALLY measured unemployment in the US?? And that's the MID-range estimate.

Plus Obama's people aren't (yet) factoring in the commercial real estate collapse which is unfolding... nor are even brains like Krugman able to account for the international balancing act that we're gonna have to do. As PK said recently,

"That suggests that a return to normalcy would involve getting savings up, housing spending down & a combination of more exports & less imports. That's where things get complicated: a lower US trade deficit means lower surpluses and/or higher deficits elsewhere. Who's the counterpart to our adjustment? OK, the Middle East, which no longer has its oil windfall. But China is having its own slowdown, as is Japan. In other words, trying to figure out where we go from here is a sort of global jigsaw puzzle -- and I haven't managed to solve it yet."

Which is bad news.

The good news being what you point out. Orthodox infrastructure projects will face bottlenecks past a certain point. Tax cuts aren't much bang for buck. So why not come up with creative projects, now, all across America, that will do stuff that will lift us for 100 years?

Months ago I suggested hiring thousands of students to go on archaeological digs. And at the end of the year, we'd host some Super TV Special that could show all the incredible stuff we'd learned. Anybody who's seen make work jobs for students knows this'd be a better use of 75% of that money. And cooler.

Or for construction, do the well-drilling & lay the community loops that'll deliver heat & cooling to every low income apartment block in the country. Forever. No more utility bill hassles.

Or even a completely insane idea like Cypher's. You know... health care.

Where's Hunter S. when we need him?

Billy Glad said...

A couple of years ago, an archeologist from the Univ of Wisconsin let my daughter spend a half-hour helping her team sieve dirt at some Indian effigy mounds near Horican Marsh.

We went home, built a sieve, worked some in my garden, some along the Pigeon River. Never found anything.

We'd find more interesting stuff in Fresh Kills, but the Indian effigy mounds are safer.

Thinking about native Americans and Fresh Kills at the same time is sort of heartbreaking for me.

If we're ever going to change our relationship with the world for the better, this might be a good time to do it.

We've got nothing to lose.

quinn the eskimo said...

I've done dozens of "waste composition" studies, sorting (uncompacted) waste down to the rice grain. The key technical finding is how high the "organic" % is - from kitchens & lawns - about 40% of our trash. (Betcha didn't know I was a trash wonk, eh?!) Bloody journalists then went & stole the method. There's people that do landfill archaeology too, digging down through the decades of what we out.

I'd prefer to move into the more formal "archaeology" sector though please. The more we find on the Native peoples, the better I like it. Yup, it makes me sad. But the more we know, the better chance we have of some day catching a clue.

Sadly, much of what they had was also... organic. And thus, gone. However. Crawford Lake, in Ontario, has little turnover, core samples showed the changes in pollen types. In '68 they found lots of corn pollen spikes, from pre-white times, and so went looking for the village nearby. Found it in '73 & reconstructed it.

Imagine being a student, and working on digging that village back up - the postholes and all. I could handle that.

Where's Cypher & Hil99?? They'd know this stuff 1,000 times better.

Cypher Blueman said...

Which one of you guys is going to say it. All this stuff means we are heading into a real disaster, not some uncomfortable period, but some kind of severe upheaval. Could make 9/11 seem tame, right? Tell the truth Billy and Quinn. Who's going to say it?

quinn the eskimo said...

We're in it. And nothing in our lives, for these past 60 years, compares. I find myself almost staggered when I think about it, and I've thought about its possibility for decades.

What people truly don't get is that a drop of even 10% in GDP would cause social destruction on a huge scale. Our societies, are brittle. That was the risk we took, playing for short-term cash.

I'm seeing articles now, about landlords going broke, throwing out tenants, in small towns where there aren't enough other PHYSICAL houses. In Winter. Those people are already living post-Katrina, on the road.

And articles where towns or neighborhoods depend on one local grocery. As they close, people actually have to move. Hit the road folks. No food here.

Our infrastructure's wide open to enraged individuals. Our development patterns are utterly dependent on key facilities like these. Our debt levels are gonna take away cars, without which, people lose everything. We just don't see that just an AVERAGE 10% fall means a 100% INCIDENCE on some people. And when some particular links break in a chain, you get huge knock-on effects.

All our fucking smart educated people got so caught up in the Rise of the Reich & the rhetoric of FDR & "sexy" academic shit like that, that they didn't pay much attention to how the god-damn world fell apart. House by house.

Think of how many nice families you know, doing alright, that if a family member showed up, with kids, and was SOL - they couldn't turn them away. And yet, taking them on would push THEM over the edge. Or when the strain takes out not the old or the very young, but the unemployed head of the family.

I'm tired of arguing with the dorks Cypher. Trying to gentle them past denial. They're getting there, but what a cost in lost time for this society. Or trying to get them to realize that 10% can mean 100% for some people, creating a whirlpool of collapse. Or people who want to believe Obama's plan is magic, because it's his... or that because fucking Krugman won a Nobel that maybe He has an answer.

Their faith in celebutards & the power of the individual is touching.

I donno. Maybe I'm wrong. It's happened. Maybe Obama creates confidence and we get a bounce. Then maybe something happens that builds on that, and we get lucky. That stuff can happen.

And maybe right now we're holding a pair of 4's.

And we're all in.

No wonder I like archaeology. They're past the suffering part.

Cypher Blueman said...

You've given me the blues now, quinn. I asked for it, and now I'm more blue than normal. As my old friend Chinn from Mississippi who sang the blues would sing:

I'm going up
I'm going down
I'm going up, down, up, down
Any way you want me pretty baby,
Yeah, (good God!) yeah, yeah

I'd take Chinn and his family in any day. With two social security checks we might make it. But Chinn won't leave Mississippi. He can always get food from farmers at the church.

Hilarym99 said...

Thanks Debbie Downer. I thought we were talking fun archaeology and you go all reality-based on us.

I think the reason that people keep looking to Obama and Krugman, and calling on the Great Depression, is to look for answers. Okay, some want blind hope. But life keeps on keepin' on. I still get up in the morning, Jack still eats his Cheerios, I still take him to school and speech. People still keep getting sick. School keeps going. Textbooks still cost $500 a semester, or if you're creative in acquiring them, $350. Cars keep running, lights keep lighting...and so on.

So it's simply unimaginable where this is going. I have a vivid imagination and I'm not entirely stupid, and I have no picture of the future here. At all. What should we be doing? I have no idea. I joke that I'm taking up canning foods, but sometimes I wonder if I should be serious. So people look back to the Great Depression - soup lines, money in the mattresses, and so on. Something familiar, even if it's bad.

The idea of something wholly new that's bad, well, it's too much for some. I read Krugman. I read a lot of the publishing economists these days. I get the feeling that none of them know what the hell they're talking about, or if they do, they're not telling us.

The banks seem to have stopped collapsing, and we keep getting the trickle of "numbers," but has this really hit home yet? For everyone? I don't think so. Almost feels like the calm before the storm. Or that part of the tsunami where the water pulls back to reveal the ocean floor, and then... And if history is any guide, the majority of Americans won't recognize it till it hits them square in the jaw.

I don't know where it's going, but if it's something simpler, hell, I don't know. It's got to be better than what we've been doing. That debate over doctor pay over at TPM got me thinking the other day. What happened to the idea of "noble" professions? Going into a field for the intrinsic value of it, not just how much green paper you got at the end of the day. Those jobs that kids want. When I grow up...I want to be a firefighter, policeman, doctor, writer, nurse, teacher, scientist, archaeologist. What kid thinks, when I grow up, I want to be a hedge fund manager?

How do we get from three year olds who want to change the world to 25 year olds who just want to rob it?

My least favorite phrase used by all politicians, including Obama: The idea that we have to reform education to "stay competitive in a global economy."

The economy should be a byproduct of life, not the other way around.

I took my kid to the Science Center in Pittsburgh the other day. We went to see the Omnimax movie on the Grand Canyon. The destruction of the Colorado. Damn dams. We've channeled everything on this planet to suit our fancy and screwed it up beyond repair.

Landfills and Indians. Makes me sad too. Makes me feel the same way I feel when I watch those polar bears out on the floes. How could we lose that most important connection?