American Elephants

Milton Friedman on the Power of the Free Market! by The Elephant's Child

Obama’s Campaign Speech to a Joint Session of Congress. by The Elephant's Child

Rancor and discord predominate now that President Obama no longer has a completely Democratic Congress. Whose rancor and whose discord depend on who is talking.

The consensus seems to be that the president’s strategy,  in his Joint Session speech to Congress, is to propose spending that the Republicans will oppose, criticize them for opposing it, and then blame them when it either doesn’t pass or passes and doesn’t work. And to be sure that the public sees him slam the nasty Republicans, and the media has their talking points, he will give the speech on national television to a Joint Session of a somewhat unwilling Congress.

To avoid disagreeable Republican disapproval, Mr. Obama and his staff are working on ways to enact policies that don’t require congressional approval. He doesn’t really expect  to pass anything in Congress, he just wants to attack Republicans when the public is watching. But will the public be watching? The magic, if there ever was some, is gone. We’ve heard it all before, way too many times, and we don’t believe any more.

Obama wants an Infrastructure Bank, something like Fannie Mae, which should send shudders down the back of every thinking adult. (Of course, Obama wants to put Fannie Mae back in the mortgage business, but that’s another story). I don’t know what picture he has in his mind, but he seems confused about infrastructure.  Ask anyone, this time of year, who is traveling the country about highway construction and delays. They are busy working on infrastructure — the “crumbling” highways and bridges. (Why are they always “crumbling”?)

The president refers to all the workers laid off because of the housing collapse, and assumes that they can be put to work fixing bridges.  He seems not to understand the nature of construction projects. There are a lot of studies, ‘experts’ are consulted, costs are estimated, all the legal hurdles— buying land, condemning land, environmental studies — before they even mention it to the public. It can take years.

There are hearings, presentations, appropriations, public approval for bonds, getting federal money, more studies to cut the costs down, and repeat.  That’s just the observation of a citizen who has no particular knowledge of the process, except to note that it takes a very long time from initial idea to actual working project.

All the jobs generated by such a project are union jobs.  Unions don’t allow carpenters to lay concrete, nor plumbers to build walls. Workers who build houses will not be employed on building a bridge nor repairing a crumbling freeway.

I live in an ordinary suburban house on a hillside lot. To create a usable landscape, we once wanted to move two yards of dirt from the uphill side to the downhill side of the house.  We had to file an environmental impact statement several pages long to determine if we were displacing any natural growth and any wildlife — including gophers, moles, snails and newts — and of course we had to have governmental permission to move the dirt. It was a real hassle.

Obama’s continues to believe in green jobs, specifically in government training for workers to retrofit homes for greater energy efficiency. The people who most need their houses insulated, are not the same people who are ready to pay for insulation if they just get a refund or tax credit to make insulating cheaper.

This can be compared to the “cash for clunkers” debacle. People who were going to buy a new vehicle anyway, got a cash bonus to do it a little sooner. It was simply a big spending event that was of no net benefit to anyone, and a disaster for the people who depended on a vibrant used car market to be able to afford a car. The “clunkers,” many of which were recent models, were crushed depriving the used-car market of vehicles to sell, and the used parts businesses of parts to sell.

Good intentions to be sure, but surely you know where proverbial good intentions lead.


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