About Me

A blog wherein a literary agent will sometimes discuss his business, sometimes discuss the movies he sees, the tennis he watches, or the world around him. In which he will often wish he could say more, but will be obliged by business necessity and basic politeness and simple civility to hold his tongue. Rankings are done on a scale of one to five Slithy Toads, where a 0 is a complete waste of time, a 2 is a completely innocuous way to spend your time, and a 4 is intended as a geas compelling you to make the time.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

In - Out In - Out

So there's this great debate right now over whether the federal government should be spending more money or should be focusing overtime on deficit reduction.

I find myself surprisingly ambivalent about how that question gets answered.

I am liberal by nature and tend to think the government can spend lots of money toward very good ends. I get embarrassed walking around the streets of New York City, which is a very rich city, and seeing how many potholed awful streets we have, as if we can't afford to take good care of them. I see way more panhandlers and homeless people in New York than I do in London, which embarrases me. We need to invest more in infrastructure, start pouring some dollars into high speed rail and better mass transit and better highways as well. Update that electric grid. SIngle payer health care. I can think of all kinds of things I'd like the government to spend money on.

And certainly, not extending unemployment benefits in the current situation strikes me as cruel beyond belief.

Yet, I don't find myself near as passionate that we need the federal government to spend spend spend right now. My hatred day-in day-out of our security state bothers me far more than the people who are saying we need to work on the deficit.

Because, ya know, most politicians love to spend money. They also love to collect campaign dollars and phone banks from public employee unions. It's very difficult to get them to stop giving away the store. There's this balance between taking good care of the people who work for the public good and taking too good care of them that too often works better for the employee than the taxpayer. And it's not like the public employee unions are the biggest problem, because big corporations have the money to invest in campaign contributions to protect their giveaways. And they get a very good return on their investment, which is why they keep spending the money.

So there's this part of me that gets upset with the tax-cutter rational that we need to cut taxes when we're running deficits because we need to grow the economy and then cut taxes when we're running surplus because it's The Public's Money and doesn't like the idea that there's no season that isn't the right season for cutting taxes. And then I think the flip side is that there can't only be the right season for raising government spending.

Case in point: the federal government supports mass transit with capitol funds but not with operating funds. Transit workers want that to be temporarily changed so that there's money to run transit systems. Conveniently, this means that there is then more money for them to show to the arbitrator to get raises at a time like this. So the major big city transit systems are pleading with the feds not to let the capitol money go to operations, but at the same time there are so many transit systems that are facing huge cutbacks because they don't have operating money, and some smaller systems where personnel costs aren't as big as for NYC's MTA are pleading to have more flexibility to keep the day-to-day function intact.

But then I still find myself wanting the government to throw money at the economy right now. Because at the end of the day, when the government cuts it probably cuts money and services from people who can really use it while the moneyed interests still get their special subsidies and tax breaks and what-not. And of course, so many of the politicians who are now crying Deficit weren't crying deficit when we gave away our surpluses to the Bush tax cuts, which were hidden behind silly fig leaves like the 10-year sunset provisions or the estate tax that went away and then comes back, which were a necessary fig leaf to hide the true cost of the tax cuts to get them to go through. And because I have fairly good historical reason to believe that the tax and spend Democrats will just give way to the borrow and spend Republicans, I kind of think that it's no good having a Democratic administration that won't make the argument for spending, and spend lots of money, wisely and well and let people see the government can do some good for people. But then again, it's always tax and spend or borrow and spend and the emphasic in both cases is always on the spend, and you can't go through life when you always spend and spend and spend.

So I feel muddled and conflicted. If I could get all those blue dog democrats to swear blood oaths and they'd all die instantly if they violated them that they'd still be such deficit hawks when they're feeling the borrow and spend pressure that helped to put through the Bush tax cuts then I'd say "OK, we'll cut the deficit now when we should be stimulating the economy in a good Keynesian way." But if they're going to sign up for the next round of tax cuts we can't afford, then I'm kind of wishing they'd just shut up and let the other Democrats spend money like crazy today.

1 comment:

green_knight said...

I live in the UK. Our new Tory overlords are already cutting everything. And I mean, everything. Hospitals. Schools. Police. Army.
Transport, including the much-needed fast rail network. Benefits, because far too many people live the high life on $80 a week total income.

They're making drastic cuts to public spending, which will not only see a lot of civil servents out of work, but without contracts, many private sector jobs will go as well.

At the end of this, we will have a slightly smaller deficit (tax revenue will sink as well) and a lot of misery. You cannot run a country, you cannot run a _company_ without investment, and if you continue to take out when the times are good, you'll find yourself bancrupt when they are not.

For countries, that is not an option.

From where I am sitting, a programme to boost innovation, provide public services, and pour the money back into the local economy sounds pretty darn good.