Monday, March 2, 2009

A Liberal and a Libertarian Debate the Stimulus Plan

Here's the essence of an email debate I had with a liberal colleague regarding the stimulus plan. (He's no piker: B.A, MBA from Harvard, top of his class, senior consultant in a major national consulting firm.)

MN: Obama claims consensus on his stimulus package where none exists--Evidence: the 350 economists, including Nobelists, that took a full-page ad in the New York Times opining that Obama's spending package is a colossal mistake. Also the U.S. stock market has declined at an accelerating rate under Obama; Vanguard Total Stock Market Index Fund is now down 50% since Obama took the lead in the presidential polls. While there are covariates, of course, if there was consensus that Obama's stimulus plan was good, it's extraordinarily unlikely that the stock market would have declined at an almost unprecedented rate. Obama's claim of consensus, both re the stimulus plan and the wisdom of massive spending to try to cool the earth, are disingenuous.

DB: I don’t really care about consensus. There never has been a consensus of economists and there never will be.

MN: Whether you care about consensus or not, Obama's claim of consensus is a major basis on which he's tried to persuade Congress and the public to adopt his unprecedentedly large spending package, more than had been spent in total from American independence to 1980. He's using The Big Lie to push through his radical policies.

DB: It’s not like there’s a consensus on the other side of the case.

MN: No, there is no consensus on the other side but when such strong disagreement exists, it's foolish to bet all of America's future on one extreme side of the debate--whether it be re Big Govt or Massive Green spending. Obama certainly shouldn't be lying and saying there's consensus so he can force-feed us his mammoth package. (with a promise of more spending sprees to come.) He should practice the transparency he preaches.

And it's sickening that the media, which was pit-bull-like in investigating and attacking everything Bush/Cheney-related (except for going into Iraq), is absolutely a lap dog, indeed a spin doctor for Obama's truly extremist, non-consensus-based policies.

DB: Do you believe that money needs to be pumped in, that there’s a risk of systemic failure if we don’t? Yes or no. If no, then we have nothing more to talk about.

MN; The only pumping I favor is returning money to the taxpayer so the collective wisdom of 300,000,000 million Americans will put its money in the places most likely to be stimulative in an enduring sense.

DB: That is a nice cliché but if you really don’t believe there’s systemic risk here then you are out of touch with how the banking system actually works.

MN. There's risk in action as well as inaction. But I believe that "freely flowing credit" is not be the basis on which an economic can sturdily be run. I believe that most things should be bought for cash. If an individual or business can't afford it, it should wait until it can. (with some exceptions--e.g., a house, major business capital investments.) Of course, that would result in a slower economy, but a stable, sturdy one, not one built on a house of cards.

DB: I’m not referring to consumer overuse of credit cards and home equity loans, about which I agree with you. I am talking about business use of credit called “working capital” as well as capital investment, which is essential to functioning of the economy.

MN: From where I sit, you don't start a business until you have saved sufficient working capital to address the cash flow issue. Yes, you may need to borrow to buy the ovens and even pay the workers first month or three's salary until sufficient revenues start coming in, but as you know, that's not what you're talking about--you're talking about far greater sums of money.

DB: The same people who are now so worried about running a big deficit weren’t worried about it all when the issue was the consequences of starting the Iraq war while continuing the Bush tax cuts. I don’t think they are simpletons; I think they are being disingenuous.

MN: I have been very opposed to the Iraq War from the start... Why do Dems never learn? Govt spending is nearly always inefficient spending. The example that comes to me this rainy moment is the water pipeline erected across the Richmond-San Rafael bridge to share water between the East Bay and Marin, which a few years later was dismantled as unnecessary. And now, amid the nonstop California rain (with rainfall above average for the year and reservoirs at more than half of maximum (with predictions of rain continuing every day this week), Schwarzennegar announces a statewide drought emergency, which means more taxpayer spending and forcing all of us to restrict our use of water. Is our government so inept that even when rainfall is as extensive as it's been, the government can't even provide something as basic as our water. Why aren't there sufficient reservoirs and dams? (Somehow, I'm guessing environmentalists have something to do with it.)

DB: I'd like to see how the conservatives would react to the idea of a stimulus that’s 100% tax cut – but focused on the middle class worker – for example, eliminate the worker’s end of the payroll tax for incomes between $20,000 and $60,000 dollars. My guess is it would tear the conservatives apart. What would you say to this proposal?

MN: I'd totally support it. By the way, I am sickened by the slick messaging machine of the Dems. (e.g., the constant and disingenuous use of the word "responsibility.")


Anonymous said...

For this debate, I think DB could have done a better job defending his side.

He starts out by saying that the stimulus plan has a reasonable amount of consensus, and in the very next line, after your statement, he says he doesn't care about consensus, and after that, he says the other side doesn't have consensus. And it ends with, almost predictably, Iraq and Bush.

Also, another increasingly overused word this year: "fairness." There is no way the government should the judge of "fairness."

Anonymous said...

"the government can't provide something as basic as our water?"


Yes, the government can't defy geology and hydrology in the West forever.

In the 1880s, when California was first being surveyed, there were some very interesting notes made on the geology, and recommendations. One of the big ones: do not irrigate. Too much of the state is arid, there is a huge selenium load, irrigation will leach the selenium into the water supply.

When the Kesterson Drain was first proposed in the late '60s and early '70s, a few people understood the problem this huge water impoundment would have: high selenium levels. It took time, but Kesterson wound up with high selenium levels and needing a massive cleanup.

We've got a few weeks of rain coming on years of low water; if we were able to impound more of the water with a larger network of dams, much of the water would ultimately become worthless since one of the things that would happen is that it would accumulate selenium. (separating farm runoff from rainwater turns out to be very difficult when most of your land area is under intense cultivation.)

The real problem is that there are two classes of water consumers in california: government-funded winners and government-funded losers. We would certainly not have a water problem in the state if all consumers paid for their water and the costs of the facilities to store it.

Your house is a government-funded loser, and you pay a huge amount for water. Probably not even a down payment on the actual cost of the facilities used to capture it, but still an immense amount.

The agricultural industry throughout the state has been a government-funded winner, getting vast quantities of water for a price that approaches free.

In comparison to what the vast hydro projects in the West cost - New Deal era economic stimulus projects that we were promised would be repaid at the time, and that Mexico was promised would not abrogate their right to Colorado River water - the water for agriculture in the west is cheaper than free, the costs amount to a tax paid by the householders and renters of the state directly to agribusiness.

We will, of couse, build more immense water projects, probably quite soon (I would guess they will start within a 20 year timeline.)

30 years ago, it seemed that only Lyndon LaRouche and his cranks would consider one of the most ambitious Bureau of Reclamation plans first floated in the '30s: onnect drainages from Canada, through the Columbia watershed, to California.

Massive, expensive, and great for a politically well-heeled business.

I would encourage anyone here to read Cadillac Desert by Marc Reiser, and to ask KQED to show their documentary on the topic again. They once ran a great multipart documentary based on the book. A striking feature was that it was shot while Floyd Dominy was still alive.

Floyd Dominy was one of the last Bureau of Reclamation giants; a man who had wanted to flood the Grand Canyon to impound water and who quite literally had the power to light all of Las Vegas on his say-so. This kind of power of the elements leads to - well, the footage of his interviews is remarkable.


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