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May Day Post

It's May 1! An important day! Because it's Beltane? No, I'm an atheist.
Because it's Law Day? No, I'm not a lawyer.
Because it's Loyalty Day? No. Just... no.
(Though Obama's proclamation of both days has some neat elements, even if the best is simply quoting Lincoln: "The legitimate object of government is to do for a community of people whatever they need to have done, but cannot do at all, or cannot do so well for themselves, in their separate and individual capacities.")

No, it's Labour Day! Or International Worker's Day, at least in most of the industrialized world. Not in the US -- which is rather odd, because it's the commemoration of the Haymarket Massacre, when workers were shot and killed by Chicago police while the workers striked for an 8-hour workday. Our struggle, recognized everywhere but at home. And in Canada, which apparently has the same "first Monday in September" diversion as the US.

So, in honor of the blood spilled for the rights of the proletariat -- aka anyone who has to work for someone else for a living, aka almost all of you, my readers -- Billy Bragg's version of the Internationale:

And, for progress in the past year, we can look back on the US finally stepping toward universal health care, and also on the credit card reform bill of last year; with luck, perhaps we can look forward to financial re-regulation.

But for agitation, some reminders:

* Our low rank in income inequality

* Then there's the rise in inequality, or more to the point the general stagnation in household income. It's worse than it looks: much of what rise there is comes from an increase in hours worked. All this despite productivity rising by 50% over the period.

What is to be done? It's hard to imagine real progress, when the "party of Lincoln" has turned to Reaganite anti-government nihilism, and turned from human rights to torture and detentions. But we've just made some progress, as noted above, and it's not hard for me to imagine a better world, if only by looking over the border (or overseas.)

* Free education: simple scholarships might just let prices float up. More effective, without going down hard nationalization, could be to offer colleges $20,000 per student, or perhaps $5000 per potential student and $15,000 per attendee, in exchange for having 0 tuition or fees. Nice boost for state schools there, and even expensive schools might find the deal worthwhile. Radical? Not to Europeans on RPG.net, who find $5000/year a shocking and inhumane price for the education needed to get ahead in life. Cost? I estimate about 4 million Americans per age-year, 16 million in the 4-year college age bracket, so $320 billion/year. And that's high end: lots of people still never go to college. Plus, socially, we're already spending much of that money anyway, just as individual student loans.
* Better earlier education: I don't have a simple solution here; I suspect lots of school districts need heavy auditing from on high, to see where the money's going. Still, better pay should help get better teachers. There's about 1.6 million teachers; every extra $10,000 in compensation would be $16 billion a year. And estimates for the value of a year of schooling seem to be about $2000/year of future salary, so one teacher with 30 students is helping produce $2.4 million of future income. What's a good price for that?
* Health care: we've made progress, if it manages to not get sabotaged by the malicious and ignorant. But it could have been better: Medicare buy-in, let alone Medicare for all. (And see Medicare's legacy). It's good enough for our sickest people, why not the rest of us? Taiwan liked it.
* Transportation: Our trains are slower than they were in the 1920s, and fixing that would be slow and hard, even with fair subsidies of Amtrak. Greyhound and its affiliate bus companies were our de facto substitute, taking advantage of the interstate highways -- but Greyhound cancelled service to lots of small towns five years ago (including 100,000 person Bloomington) leaving those who can't drive (for reasons economic, psychological, medical, age, legal, or other) stuck or dependent on those they know. At a minimum, subsidies could be offered for resuming service; more aggressively, since it's a de facto monopoly, Greyhound could be regulated or outright nationalized (at full compensation, of course, no reason not to). It wouldn't be the first time: deregulation in the 1980s allowed Greyhound to drop many lines. And cost? Revenue in 1998 was $846 million, a drop in the federal bucket. $1.2 billion in 2006 after dropping 1000 cities. Amtrak's revenue seems to be about a billion too.
* Employment. Employment's around 10%, and it's starting to seem like that'll be acceptable to our leaders as the "new normal". One in ten Americans who want to work being unable to, forever... but it doesn't have to be that way. Full employment policies might be harder now than in the New Deal, when unskilled labor jobs were easier to round up, but the government could still easily be doing more to keep up aggregate demand. Unemployment is high and interest rates are low? Perfect time to revamp our infrastructure: our third-world power grid, our rails, our Superfund pollution sites that still need to be cleaned up, building new power plants whether nuclear or renewable, desalination plants or other water projects since our aquifers are drying up and glaciers are melting. Plus there's New Orleans and Detroit to rebuild... lots of projects. Cost? Can we afford to have 10% of the workforce idled and unproductive due to no good reason whatsoever?
* Budget: despite Republican rhetoric, we're among the least taxed rich countries, only 28% of GDP, including federal, state and local spending. 20% is Federal, a majority of which is pension plan shuffling of Social Security and Medicare. Actual income tax is 8% of GDP. We're not particularly taxed compared to our own historical standard. And, pace Lincoln, the point of government is do things not otherwise doable: higher taxes for more health and education, more economic security, is an excellent deal.
* Environment: a simple gas (or fossil fuel) tax would do a lot to fix energy economics. It's not starry-eyed leftism, but simple economic sense: externalities should be internalized. Revenue from the tax can be distributed per capita, buffering the rise in prices while still increasing the incentives to be thrifty.

Most of this stuff, and more, is *easy* (not to mention taken for granted in many other countries) -- if we have the will.

Amusing tangent: Captain America as a 1930s socialist?


( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 2nd, 2010 03:31 am (UTC)
Wow. Bloomington's up to 100,000 people? It was certainly not nearly that big when I lived there twenty years ago.

Interesting ideas. What I want is clean, cheap, renewable energy that doesn't muck up the food supply to run my car on. AKA unobtainium, apparently.

Oh, trains, too, thanks [g].
May. 2nd, 2010 04:25 am (UTC)
Wikipedia says 72,000 estimate in 2007. But I never know if that's including the 35,000 students or not.

Energy is good but also a less trivial problem. Nuclear? Solar thermal with salt reservoirs? Hot dry rock? Proper pollution fees would help level the playing field, though capital-intensive things like renewables are relatively better done by governments than fuel-based power, since government has lower borrowing costs (http://www.eurotrib.com/story/2010/4/25/62541/6173 ) I think we should do something but it's less obvious what.

Edited at 2010-05-02 04:29 am (UTC)
May. 2nd, 2010 04:32 am (UTC)
When I lived there it was about 35,000 plus the 30,000 students, of whom I was one.

As for your link, I don't know whether to laugh or cry. But yeah, I'm more inclined to think a government-based solution might work better in the long run than a corporate-based one, just because maybe then profit won't be the only concern.

But I've never claimed to be anything but a liberal economically.
May. 2nd, 2010 04:37 am (UTC)
Either way, a fair number of people, especially all those students.

And if revenue is $1 billion after cutting third-half of stops, subsidizing service should be about the same. Trivial. Hell, at a rough estimate, service to every little town every hour would then cost about $40 billion/year. I get a matching estimate from imagining putting a bus an hour apart along all the roads of the US. So, yeah, I see your liberal and raise to social democrat.

Wrong link though, I meant http://www.eurotrib.com/story/2009/5/1/174635/6513 . Long but meaty, especially the analysis that "leave it up to the market" actually has an intrinsic anti-renewable bias, due to the financing difference.
May. 2nd, 2010 06:01 pm (UTC)
Spoken like a true Easterner, though [g].

[tries to imagine busses trundling every hour through eastern Montana, or parts of Utah and New Mexico, and wonders who on earth would be riding them [g]]
May. 2nd, 2010 06:09 pm (UTC)
Not many people.
OTOH if the fares were cheap, or especially free, perhaps a fair bit more. If bus service is once a day, you can cheaply go visit someone in the next town or two over, but you'll need a place to stay. If it's every hour, and bidirectional, you can make day trips. Or commute. What were a string of isolated towns connected only for people with cars become a more integrated community for everyone.
May. 2nd, 2010 08:17 pm (UTC)
Nothing personal, but have you ever actually been to eastern Montana?

A lot of those little towns are pretty much a day's trip apart from each other by car, let alone bus. Without any other little towns in between. And most of those little "towns" are wide spots in the road where the ranchers come in to do their shopping and visit the post office.

There are places in the world where public transportation just isn't practical. Not many, I admit, but eastern Montana is definitely one of them.
May. 2nd, 2010 10:43 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I've been through it on Greyhound more than once.

"Day's trip" seems rather an exaggeration, looking at a map. Montana's only 600 miles wide, and less tall. Roads wind, true, but 60 mph is still going to take you through a lot of the state in 8 hours.

There's also that this scheme is going to have buses running down the main highways every hour anyway, to connect the big population centers; small places on the highway can get service pretty naturally, especially on a "signal for dropoff or call ahead to get picked up" basis.

Off-highway towns... less realistically likely to get supported; I did say "on every road", that's partly to show how relatively cheap it'd be -- if society chose to support a principle that you should be able to get from A to B even if you can't drive. Practicality... yes, there'd be a lot of empty capacity in order to maintain capability, just as a private car lies idle most of the time just to support its owners capability.

There's multiple levels of public transportation; despite my "every road" upper bound (of which there are apparently 2.7 million paved miles and 1.3 million unpaved, compared to 75,000 km -- unit switch -- of highways) this was mostly about interurban transit, being able to get out of town and eventually to any major location in the US, also some amount of medium-distance job commuting. For day to day local public transportation once an hour pretty much sucks -- though better than nothing for those with no other choice. "Every five minute" local service through Montana probably isn't practical. Every hour intertown seems doable.
May. 3rd, 2010 02:30 am (UTC)
Once you get off the main highways, it's not so much a matter of "roads winding" as it is "roads in bad repair."

Politically your scheme would be very unwelcome there, too. Montana is where the Alaskans who think there's too much socialism at home go [g].
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )


Damien Sullivan

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