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Saturday, December 6, 2008

He's Going For It

Obama FDR

Happy days are here again. Right?

I was pulling for this.* All of the economic gurus I respect made it clear that, regardless of the success of a New Deal-ish initiative, not doing one would be intentional "econocide." Also, I consider the human element of this venture infinitely more significant than any balance-sheet point of view, so the ruminations that follow shouldn't be interpreted as per se cautionary, but rather thoughts to give sense to possible further challenges we may face.

I am concerned that the new hustle and bustle of public works might mitigate, if not obliterate, the demand reduction for oil which has occurred of late. Will the new "WPA" drive the price of oil back to more realistic levels (north of what was seen this past summer)? How will this affect the economic pressure on the middle class - the very constituency for whom President-Elect Obama has pledged relief? How will it affect the costs of the works projects themselves?

I am also curious about whether, this time around, the value of our infrastructure investment will underwrite the debt we are valiantly pledging to incur. (This is less of a concern to me personally - as I've said the human-element trumps.) We are poised at a different point in the arc-of-history than we were the last time we did this. Perhaps some of this is hindsight, but it is pretty clear why the investments of that time produced such thunderous returns. It wasn't the prescient wisdom of the particular investments themselves, it is that they were introduced into such a nutritious culture of yet-to-be-exploited natural resources, in an environment that offered literal geographical room for growth.

I am not so sure we've got such a rich culture now. We can't just explode into space again this time. We have to figure out how we can have a sustainable economy - that is, one that does not depend on growth to remain viable, to me the most intellectually insulting aspect of accepted economic practice (which in fact, come to think of it, might be in itself partially responsible for the instinctive disdain most laypeople have for economics. Anyway...) This is qualitatively and quantitatively very different from that old sugar rush. I think that some (gasp!) real thought might need be applied here.

These are truly, and blushingly, interesting times.

*In my small, influence-those-around-me way (mostly in the pub). I was certainly much too busy absorbing the arcana of this tragic, but beautiful (in a crystalline sense) economic reckoning, to post any opinion on it.

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