Trying to Get Well from the Pandemic Offers a Golden Opportunity to Advance
This country is going to spend a lot of money trying to restart our economy. That is a given, a necessary action. Whether we do so intelligently or not is another question.
Infrastructure Investments, Wherefore Art Thou?
This feeds into our so far, fruitless national discussion about infrastructure. We are about $13 TRILLION behind in our infrastructure investments. That includes not doing new work or maintaining what we have. Remember collapsing bridge stories? We still have thousands of unsafe bridges all over this country.
There is little disagreement about the need to get on with this, and most would agree on the projects list. But not much is likely to happen with this administration, even though the needs are now urgent.
Trump has talked big about infrastructure. But he has yet to develop anything like an actual plan. Nor has he coordinated anything with the Congress. There is no there, there. Like so much else about Donald Trump, neither the substance nor the discipline exists.
Still, hope springs eternal. The next round of stimulus (or the next one – this will be recurring) could address three important areas. Addressing these could help restart the economy at an important level. But they also could address other long-standing shortfalls in our county. All this will be, to say the least, horribly expensive. How nice it would have been if we had not preceded all this with a trillion-dollar tax cut. A tax cut that went mostly to stock buybacks and increasing executive compensations. But I digress.
Let’s consider three priorities for recovery spending that pay big dividends.
A New Civilian Conservation Corps/Public Works Administration – with a Twist
The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and Public Works Administration () were part of the many “Alphabet Agencies” Roosevelt launched in his first 100 days. They changed America in so many important ways. We still benefit from these programs today. We need a similar approach today, for several reasons.
First, we have a ton of infrastructure work that needs to be done. The list seems endless. It applies all over the country and includes almost every type of construction. Embedded here are great investments in public arts and education facilities as well.
Second, much of the staggering joblessness we see now may dissolve over time. But much of it will not. This is because a significant number of employers will not survive the downturn. Small business generates most of the new jobs in this country in any given year. Yet these are the companies with the smallest reserves.
They have the least staying power when times are hard. A heart-breaking number of them will not be here when we restart things. So, a lot of people will need to find new employment. A serious infrastructure program offers those jobs. This is not as a handout, but as honest work America needs done.
Third, the slight twist. Anyone who completes a service contract in such a program (2 years?) has any student debt assigned to them forgiven. Several candidates for president, Pete Buttigieg foremost among them, spoke of this idea. It made sense then. It makes even more sense now.
Give something of yourself to the country when it needs you; in return we erase your student debt. And two more components here. This option includes a choice for military service. And secondly, there could be a training component. If we lack people with particular skills, we provide the training.
This is a win-win opportunity for everyone. And we could start tomorrow, given a competent government.
Unemployment Insurance – Not
Others have mentioned this idea before. I read that Mark Cuban was among those supporting this concept. In normal times, people lose their jobs for lots of reasons. Businesses close for lots of reason. Unemployment insurance exists to help mitigate such circumstances.
But a sudden and near universal recession like this one is a different construct. Thousands of businesses are closed, and millions of jobs are lost. All through no malfeasance of the individuals concerned. Well beyond the normal risks one takes in the economy. In this case, what is called for is employment insurance, not unemployment insurance.
Money goes to businesses for the express purpose of maintaining paid employees. Keep them employed and maintain and their benefits. Businesses may need loans for other purposes, but that is separate from funds to keep people employed.
This is a very costly option to be sure. And one that requires monitoring. But it is surely cheaper than letting jobs go away permanently. It is cheaper than extended unemployment or of retraining to change careers. In the end, we get more stability and lower long-term costs to keep people connected to their employers. Doing this through the primary social isolation period makes economic sense. It’s also a more humane approach.
Broadband Addressed like Electricity and Telephones
About 100 years ago, it was decided that everyone in America should have electricity. This was not a given early in the century. The changes wrought by wide-spread electrification were life-changing for millions. It transformed our country. Similarly, at a given point it was decided that everyone who wanted telephone service would have it. Again, it changed the country in important ways.
Both of these decisions required government vision and commitment. They required government-private sector partnerships. We need a similar commitment now. This time to deliver broadband capacity to every corner of this country. Some areas effectively have no internet connection at all. Many homes have no connection, and very many more lack broadband.
Well into the second decade of the 21st century, this is short sighted and unacceptable. We see today how this shortfall affects education and the ability to work remotely. Such impacts need not continue.
Treating universal broadband as a national mandate would be revolutionary. It would produce thousands of good private sector and government jobs. The country would be changed on a scale equal to the arrival of electricity. . It is difficult to imagine a better long-term investment than this. We need a combination of the Manhattan Project, the Interstate Highway project, and creation of the TVA to deliver broadband.
May We Start Now?
Much more needs to be done to restart our economy. But at least including these three pillars would harvest rich benefits and spin offs. The sooner we start, the better. It will not come from this White House.
But others can start the ball rolling and hope for a better set of prospects going forward. Going forward from, say, November 4, when election results will be in hand.
If you find this blog worthy of your time and curiosity, I invite you to do two things:
(1) Join the conversation. Your voice counts here. If you wish to share COMMENTS anonymously, make the last word in your comment “PRIVATE.” I will assure your privacy via anonymity.
(2) Share the word about this post with friends and colleagues. Share a link in your emails and social media posts (https://agentsofreason.com). Let’s grow our circle.