StanCollender'sCapitalGainsandGames Washington, Wall Street and Everything in Between

So if We Win the Future, Who Loses?

26 Jan 2011
Posted by Andrew Samwick

The trouble with the State of the Union address is that it is a good 20-minute speech that drags on for about an hour.  Whatever is useful about it is drowned out by the rest, which is typically a poor combination for cheerleading and inconsistent policy suggestions.  What did I like about the speech?

  1. I would rather spend money on green energy than oil.  But green to me does not include clean coal (which doesn't really exist), biofuels (which are presently a terrible waste of fertile soil), natural gas (hello?), or nuclear (until we dispose of all the waste).  Let's harness the sun, water, and wind.
  2. I would rather have the federal government involved in education through a Race to the Top than No Child Left Behind. 
  3. I have been a consistent voice for more and more intentional infrastructure spending, regarding it as one of the few things worth funding through debt.  There was some of this in the speech, but it is still too little.
  4. I think ROTC should be welcomed on college campuses, particularly now that the ostensible reason for its exclusion (Don't Ask, Don't Tell) has been eliminated.

But these are not the big ticket items.  The budget is the big ticket item -- we have both a short- and a long-term budget problem.  The short-term budget problem is that our population and capital are underemployed, generating a large budget deficit.  The long-term budget problem is that we will spend enormous sums on Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid in addition to defense/security.  Freezing everything else doesn't come close to addressing the problem.  The proposed reductions in the defense budget are a useful start, but only a start.  At some point, the leadership in Washington is going to have to propose some serious changes to the Big 3 or be honest about the need to raise taxes beyond just having the highest tax rate reductions eventually expire.

Stepping back from the policy, I couldn't help but feel that this was an Ugly American speech.  The President repeatedly said that we must do X or Y in order to "win the future."  When he said it, he framed the challenge as a zero-sum game -- if we win, someone else must lose.  He referred to a Sputnik moment.  Are we likening the consequences of China or South Korea coming up with the next big innovation in solar energy to the consequences of allowing the Soviet Union to eclipse us in space technology a half century ago?  I should hope not.  We were engaged in an arms race with the Soviet Union.  We are trading partners and allies with China and South Korea.  We should be almost as happy if they make the innovation as if we make the innovation -- either way, a new technology is available to dramatically improve the standard of living around the world.  We get to enjoy its benefits as consumers, even if we don't reap the profits as producers.  (And it is by no means clear that the producers will earn enough to outweigh the resources that were poured into its development.)  I would have hoped for a more collaborative tone and global outlook from the President.

I'm one of the rare pinkos

I'm one of the rare pinkos for nukes. I acknowledge that the waste disposal problem has not been solved. But it is a relatively mature technology, can be implemented quickly, and has very little in greenhouse gas emissions. It is at best a temporary solution (both waste disposal and finite thorium), and should ultimately be superseded by sun, water, and wind. But water is already pretty much exploited in full, and sun and wind aren't ready for base use yet.

I also think that energy and infrastructure rank pretty close to the budget in significance. I agree that ROTC and education are a notch behind.

Everybody can win. Who lost

Everybody can win. Who lost when Civil Rights and Womens Rights happened?

Who Lost

Not to put too fine a point on it, white men lost.

Exhibit A


I suggest if Andrew is really interested in understanding why honest solutions to real problems are hard to get through our political system it is amply illustrated byt he preceding comment. It is because 1 of our two major political party is entirely happy to sit back and stoke white resentment in order to coalesce its power. How on earth can you have an honest discussion about the need to raise taxes when a very large part of the republican party is campaigning on the idea that raising taxes is just the way the government steals your (white people's) money to give to lazy black and brown people?

No we didn't.

No we didn't.

The solution to nuclear waste

The solution to nuclear waste is to burn much of it in nuclear reactors. That is not science fiction: this was the goal from near the beginning of the nuclear age, sidetracked by apparently long-term stagnating energy needs and competition from coal, and Chernobyl.

At any rate, people sweat nuclear waste too much. Its small relative amount is presently being taken care of, quite impeccably. Huge, gargantuan coal waste? Impeccably maintained? Not so much.

It would be wonderful if renewables always had the laws of nature on their side. But they often do not.

Recent comments


Order from Amazon


Creative Commons LicenseThe content of is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License. Need permissions beyond the scope of this license? Please submit a request here.