Friday, February 27, 2009

Isn't Pork Stimulating Too?


Republicans are grousing about pork in the stimulus package. Normally, I would grouse too, but this time, I wonder if we should. Isn't pork stimulating?

The WSJ listed its gripes in this article which, being a month old now, might not be addressing the current version of the stimulus bill. But this is one of the few articles in a mainstream newspaper that lists pork in the package, so I'll use its examples.

We've looked it over, and even we can't quite believe it. There's $1 billion for Amtrak, the federal railroad that hasn't turned a profit in 40 years; $2 billion for child-care subsidies; $50 million for that great engine of job creation, the National Endowment for the Arts; $400 million for global-warming research and another $2.4 billion for carbon-capture demonstration projects. There's even $650 million on top of the billions already doled out to pay for digital TV conversion coupons.


Maybe this is pork. But won't all these projects create jobs? Some opponents will say that they don't create ongoing jobs, just temporary ones. But my layperson's understanding is that we need to get people working and spending again, and this will provide further stimulus to the economy which, ideally, will bring back to health business, which is where more sustained employment can be found. Sure, it's a trickle effect, but what Republican doesn't like a trickle effect?

And the WSJ implies that these projects are the means for liberals to have their way with taxpayers' money. Rahm Emmanuel is quoted saying, "Never let a serious crisis go to waste. What I mean by that is it's an opportunity to do things you couldn't do before."

Good point, WSJ. We don't want ideologues taking advantage of public fear or anxiety to further their own schemes. Let's keep a sharp eye out for that. At least these are investments in our own country; not donations that end up feathering the nests of tribal leaders and corrupt politicians and military officers.

And while we don't know exactly how these projects will be implemented, at first glance I see them more as good investments than pork anyway. If Amtrak can be made to provide better service, surely that will improve energy efficiency and facilitate commerce in the areas it serves; money for childcare helps create or sustain jobs, and facilitates parents going to work; global warming and carbon capture research would create or sustain good jobs in the science and technology sectors and would also help us deal with an ongoing crisis.

The WSJ makes its snide remark about the NEA too. But as Svetx says, arts are a crucial part of a healthy economy. Consider what she and I did last night. We went to a concert by the North Carolina Jazz Repertory Orchestra (NCJRO or N.C.J-Ro!) in a nearby town. They are amazing, by the way. Before the concert, we had dinner at a restaurant, and while at dinner our waiter informed us about a an awesome Paperhand Puppet Theater show coming to town. Svetx had seen the show in another town and she said it was awesome, so we will be going to that too. Then, after seeing NC J-Ro, we had dessert at another place that tries so hard to have fancy desserts they don't have basic milkshakes or chocolate syrup.

The point is, we participated in the economy because of the NC J-Ro. Consider that art is one of the few reasons people come to a city center after business hours and on weekends. Sure, bars and clubs are another reason; but the bars and clubs, and the city overall, benefit from having folks interested in art come downtown to spend money.

The NC J-Ro receives support from the NC Arts Council which is in partnership with the NEA.

I come from a pretty much neoconservative family that supports preemptive war and is deeply concerned about government waste. And yet, my stepmom enrolls in art classes from time to time in Richmond, VA which is a 1.5 hour drive away from her and my Dad's home. They drive to Richmond to see shows that she participates in, and to see other concert and theater events. I bet a lot of performers and artists they appreciate receive some support, at least indirectly, from the NEA. Republicans might want to consider what would be left if there were no government support for the arts.

I could list the rest of the examples of pork cited by the WSJ, but I have similar responses to them too.

Nonetheless, Republicans will complain. This is all just a New Deal redux, they say. Government spending didn't end the Great Depression; World War II did! (Apparently they don't think the government paid for WWII. After all, for all of the Bush administration, the government didn't pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan either.)

On the other hand, liberals say it's time to revisit the theories of Keynes, who is reputed to have said that in times of recession, the government should pay people to dig holes and fill them back up again (I can't find the original source of that quote though). The natural response to this is to suggest that the government pay people to do jobs that would be more beneficial, and this brings us back to the stimulus package and its elements that conservatives consider to be pork.

Fine. So conservatives don't want pork but do favor war spending, and liberals want Keynes. Here's my compromise: have the government pay people to build war machinery and then destroy it. We could stage demolition derbies with tanks. Because, that's basically what happens to tanks and jeeps and everything. They go to desert environments and get blown up all at once, or sand-blasted over time. But we don't want to start a new war, because our current wars indicate that we won't find in modern wars that definitive ending that makes WWII such a subject of nostalgia.

Tanks for the conservatives, Keynes for the liberals. That's our answer.

1 comment:

Jessica T. said...

I just love your thoughts on pork.Oh yeaszz. Especially the idea for a military industrial demolition derby!