Sunday, April 3, 2011

The elevator speeches

While it is always good to be able to explain one's intellectual positions in detail, there comes a time when there are sound reasons to distill those positions down to bullet points.

When it comes to discussions of the economy in the early 21st century, the need for distilled debating points is especially critical because the understanding of economic issues has been so muddled by various neoliberal right-wing ideologies.  Being overwhelmed by rightwing bullshit would be bad enough if it actually had produced anything other than economic catastrophe, but now it has seriously impaired our abilities to function as a society.

A few days ago, I got into a debate with a guy who lives in Northwest Washington DC.  A veteran of Reagan's Office of Management and Budget, among other accomplishments as a senior public employee, he is Washington conventional wisdom personified and these days, he simply cannot understand why folks cannot come up with a working austerity budget.

While his economics are historically extremely right wing, he isn't a teabagger.  For example, he understands the thinking behind Peak Oil.  The fact that every oil well ever put into production has a similar production curve appeals to his statistical side--which occasionally trumps his George Mason-approved ideology.  I had sent him my link to the Kunstler videos on Peak Oil and he had watched them.  Trying to inject a few notes of realism and urgency into the very probable idea that we have in fact already reached global Peak Oil, I wrote:
If we have really reached peak oil, it means that we have at most twenty years to replace the technostructure powered with oil.  This is at minimum a 50-year job!  And thanks to the sociopathic greedheads on Wall Street and their water-carriers in Washington, we have destroyed our ability to even respond.  God, I am glad I don't have kids.  This will be a catastrophe.
But since he had brought up the "dire" need for an austerity budget, I decided to give a quick thumbnail of what I consider necessary for a return to social and fiscal sanity.
Here is the minimum necessary for survival.
1.  Immediately place a 2% tax on financial transactions.  Not only will this raise a ton of cash--it will slow down the hot money.  Absolutely essential!
2.  Stop trying to be an empire.  We are TERRIBLE at it!  Cut Defense spending by 90%.  Cut intelligence budgets by 99%--we can replace the whole apparatus with interns watching Al Jazeera and quintuple the effectiveness of actual intelligence gathering.
3.  Send the war criminals who lied us into Iraq to jail and ban any journalist who was caught cheerleading this effort from ever writing for a national media outlet.  (If Thomas Friedman wants to bestow on us his ignorance, he can blog like the rest of us.)  We need leaders who understand the value of facing up to facts--NOT figuring out the most graceful lies to hide them.
4.  We simply must stop listening to neoliberals.  They have produced this economic catastrophe--they should be forever discredited.  Ever publish a neoliberal paper?--you can flip burgers from now on.
5.  Someone must stand up to the Hatfields and McCoys in education who spend their bizarre lives trying to figure out better strategies for making our children stupid--from prayer in schools to post-modernism.  We need a workforce that can quickly execute difficult strategies for rebuilding a nation--not make more absurd arguments over whether presidential blowjobs rise to the level of high crimes.
6.  Finance MUST serve the needs of the real economy.  If folks want to turn finance into a casino, fine.  Just do it on your own and away from the taxpayer's dime.  The fact that speculators even have the ability to crash the real economy is beyond criminal and enters the world of pure madness.  If the denizens of Wall Street cannot come up with ways to provide the real economy with $2-3 TRILLION per year for infrastructure upgrades, we cannot build what needs to be built.  This makes them useless (at best) and so should be regulated like prostitution and other vices.  You know, banking is by far the easiest way to make money wearing a tie--we can certainly replace those plunderers on Wall Street with public servants with civil service pay grades.
I have some more, but you get the point.  NONE of these things has a prayer of happening--at least not in the time frame necessary. Our very survival is threatened because the folks doing the long term planning for USA are monsters like the Koch brothers.

As you can see, beyond being overly theatrical, this quick list is incomplete.  So this exchange has spurred my resolve to finish a little project I have been working on for some months.  Over the next few weeks, I intend to distill the economics necessary to implement a strategy to deal with the implications of calamities like Peak Oil.

It will be the ideas contained in Elegant Technology reduced to elevator speeches (or when I am feeling lofty and pretentious, First Principles.)  I should have done this long ago.  I hope I can do it even now.


  1. You should check out this proposal for electrifying and expanding rail:

  2. I love this emerging is the project going?