Friday, September 9, 2011

Fourteen Months

The President has announced his 'Jobs Plan'.  It's essentially a half a trillion dollars in fiscal stimulus, divided about evenly between government spending and tax cuts.  On the spending side, the plan is well targeted, providing infrastructure spending along with aid to state and local governments and an extension of the federal unemployment benefits that will expire in December.  That's all good, although the amount of spending is quite meager in comparison with the output gap it is intended to (at least partially) fill.  As to the tax cuts, out here where real people live, the only tax cuts that have ANY value are those, like payroll tax cuts, that result in larger paychecks.  Everything else simply disappears into the background noise of bills, debts and living expenses.

So, in general, good policy, delivered in deeply insufficient volume.  But there is policy, and there is politics, and it's the politics here where it all goes pear shaped.  In the current composition of the American Congress, with all its veto points, delays and friction, this bill would require a non-trivial amount of Republican support to pass.  And the Republicans are very good at keeping their voting bloc together.  There is some minimal possibility that Obama's plan would pass the Senate, although even that is unlikely, and there is simply no hope whatsoever that it will pass the House.  It's true that Obama, and for that matter the Democratic party, will have the opportunity to exploit the political fallout from the Republican party's ideological intransigence, but that merely serves to point out the sickening reality.

It's not a policy argument.  It's purely a political argument, with every player doing nothing more than positioning for November, 2012.  That's fourteen months from now.  With 26 million people unable to find full time work.  With the economy in recession again, whether or not the economists of record are willing to assign it that official designation.  And it's worse than that.  Because even if you assume the best possible electoral outcome in the upcoming General Election (whatever that best case scenario might look like to you), it will still be another 90 days at least before the new office - holders are sworn in, the new bills are written and passed, and then more time before implementation.  So the BEST we can hope for is something close to TWO YEARS of this - the toxic status quo, helpless in the face of any crisis, unable and even worse, unwilling to even begin to seriously address the overwhelming systemic problems facing the United States.

This is plainly outrageous, and ought to be utterly unacceptable to the American people, no matter what their ideological stripe.  Our highest elected officials are essentially going to take a couple years off from governance, the job we hired them to do, to run a campaign.  We're going to sit here, mired in an economic recession, teetering on the brink of a depression, and watch them do nothing but strut and preen, trying to gain some minimal political advantage in an election well over a year away.  Certainly, there has always been a fairly strong bias to the status quo in American governance - the system was built from the ground up to be resistant to change - but here we're acknowledging a very serious set of problems and agreeing that we'll do absolutely nothing about them for a couple more years.  At least.

Because there's the rest of this problem.  The jockeying is for the only political advantage that can matter in a system so thoroughly broken as ours.  The way our system has been co-opted by the wealthy and powerful, the only way to assure accomplishing your ideological objectives is to occupy the executive while simultaneously holding a veto-proof majority in both houses.  In a very real sense, we have learned over the last few years that it really doesn't matter who wins the Presidency - without a large enough majority in Congress, the President's governing agenda is stillborn.  If, at the end of this long, corrupt campaign cycle we end up with another divided government, toxically focused only on derailing the other party's agenda and concentrated wholly on the next election, it's hard to imagine how this nation as currently conceived can survive...


  1. Well, I think you're clearly wrong - if by 'help the economy' you mean increase GDP and lower unemployment, then it will certainly help the economy. But you raise important policy questions - perhaps a better interpretation might be "this is not at even close to the optimal way to help the economy." Five year money is cheaper than free - a nine year old could see that you fund a fiscal expansion with debt. But we're bent on a self-destructive path.

    But as I say above, it doesn't matter what this "Jobs Bill" does or doesn't do. It's simply not going to pass. NOTHING is going to pass. EVERYTHING is about November, 2012. That's the problem...

  2. I come for the lollipops, I stay for the rainbows.

  3. We appreciate your business, ma'am...

  4. By not help the economy, I meant the ultimate effects of the attack on Social Security and the rest of the safety net that this proposal enables.

    Heck, I was being polite.

  5. OT: mikey, sent an email to the address in your profile. Note that the email isn't the same as what you see in this post but the name is.

  6. What if it is just a plain and simple redistributive tax policy change that makes teh entire system half a trillion dollars moar progressive? He's got it totally funded under PAYGO, primarily by limiting deductions for top tax bracket earners. I mean, I totally agree that it's too small, but that deduction limit is a permanent change, as is teh elimination of hedge fund pass throughs.

    Do I think it's enough to turn teh economy around? Actually, I kinda do. Because it is finally some action against teh growing inequality that's gripped teh US liek a cancer. One of teh reasons there's a double-dip threat is that no one has any money to spend. And they've gotten used to that feeling. It's time for austerity filled belt tightening! So that we can extend tax cuts for teh wealthiest!

    This is teh opposite of that. And given teh current context, it is hard as shit for a congresscritter to vote against notwithstanding teh dozens of tea party people yelling at them.

  7. What if it is just a plain and simple redistributive tax policy change that makes teh entire system half a trillion dollars moar progressive?

    Stop that crazy commie talk right there, mister!

    Next thing, you'll be trying to tell us that the tax cuts in place since 2001 haven't created any jobs so there's no sense making them permanent. That's just the kind of illogic one can expect from you lefties.