I normally try to keep my posts to a national scale, but permit me if you will to talk about a local issue. I live in Michigan, a state with the highest unemployment rate in the nation (by a massive margin of 3% over the 2nd worst.) Our state’s economy has traditionally been supported by the auto industry, but with the economic down-turn, car manufacture has slowed to a crawl, at least the car manufacturing that hadn’t already been shipped out of state or to Mexico. 15% of our population is unemployed including, yes, me. The ISP I had worked for for the past six years eliminated my job due to financial reasons. We are hurting as a state and no one seems to be taking any steps to solve the problem. But I have a dream.
With all the talk of green jobs being created, I wonder why can’t Michigan do that? We have massive manufacturing experience, and just as in World War I and II where we moved from making cars to making tanks and aircraft, why can’t we move from manufacturing cars to manufacturing solar panels and wind turbines? I would love to see Michigan become the leading manufacturer of those technologies as well as research into making them more efficient. On the west coast of Michigan, around the Holland area, we have a massive population of dutch people. Why don’t we tap into that heritage and build a wind-farm in Lake Michigan? Put it off shore within sight of the beaches and it would be a tourist draw. Especially if you arranged them artistically. If Lansing passed a law mandating that any turbines installed in Michigan be manufactured in Michigan and gave tax breaks to companies who moved their manufacturing base to Michigan we can get there. (The income tax on the newly employed would bring in way more money to the state than will be lost from the tax breaks you give to the companies, especially the new ones we bring to the state. It would certainly be better than the nothing we are getting from companies who are not creating jobs here currently.)
As well as wind power, we should also become a leader in Solar energy. Michigan is not known for it’s year-round sunshine (Michigan winters give rival Seattle a run for it’s money on the title of “The place where the sun don’t shine.”) but if we make them affordable enough via large-scale manufacturing (more jobs), we could see a majority of houses have them installed on their roofs. If we can make enough houses self-sufficient we could transform our energy companies from energy producers to energy brokers. If a house generates more electricity than they need, the rest goes back to the grid and that home owner gets a check at the end of the month. The energy company can turn around and sell that energy to businesses and homes with higher energy needs.
These are two simple ideas that could help get Michigan back on track. It would be a massive undertaking, and I’m not sure even where to start, but I’d like to see this become a reality. Feel free to leave a comment if you have any suggestions on how to make this a reality or if you have any other ideas on how to get Michigan back on track.
The raging health-care debate going on in our nation’s capital is bringing to the fore another debate that has been simmering beneath the surface of our culture for years: Capitalism vs Socialism. Thanks to intrepid capitalists, socialism is considered a dirty word in American politics despite places like Sweden and France whose socialist health-care systems function quite well (at least when compared to the broad spectrum of American health-care for both insured and uninsured) A socialist health-care system in America might well work better for more people than the current system, but we will never have a socialist health-care system in America. What we will end up with, what congress will push through and the president will sign into law, is a compromised system that may succeed in lowering costs a bit, but will certainly not be universal and will no doubt be underfunded. And that is the unfortunate downfall of any attempt at socialism in America, in order for socialism to work, everyone must commit to it and agree to pay for it and that is just not possible in America today. Once again, California leads the way with their push for ever-increasing social programs while rejecting any attempt to raise taxes to pay for them.
But really, if the goal is to improve the affordability of health-care and increase the level of care patients receive, there are other options. Unfortunately, the majority of those options (the ones that don’t simply give the middle-finger to poor people) upset the sacred cows of capitalism: profits. But really, if the goal of a health-care system is anything other than making sick people well, it has lost it’s way. Our health-care system has the added goal of making money. This should scare you.
Ostensibly, an insurance company would take good care of clients so as to not get sued and to attract more clients. But what if your health became a liability to their bottom line? Suddenly, you have a preexisting condition and your insurance has gone bye-bye. In the war of priorities, your health has lost out to mega-insurance-corps’ profit margin. The problem with health care right now, as well as energy, prisons, and countless other institutions that we rely on is that we have allowed them to be run for profit.
Anyone remember RoboCop? In that movie, the city of Detroit has outsourced its police force to a huge corporation. It seems like a ridiculous idea except we’ve already done that with many of our prisons. And now we have the companies running said prisons lobbying for stiffer penalties, which is of course meant to keep us safe and has nothing to do with getting more money for having more clients (IE: prisoners.)
Socialized health-care would solve the profit problem but would create a large set of other problems (for instance, how to pay for it.) There is a solution closer to the center, however: The Non-Profit. It may be difficult, but imagine a non-profit insurance company. What would that look like? By buying in to a non-profit insurance plan, the insurance company pools the resources and insulates you from the cost of health-care should you need it. It’s what an insurance company is supposed to do, but because for-profit insurance companies must also look at the bottom-line they may refuse to allow you a needed procedure (or at least refuse to pay for it which is, for most people, the same thing.) The non-profit insurance company would be free of that secondary (or in many cases primary) obligation to make money for their investors, and would be free to offer the best level of care possible.
The majority of hospitals in America are non-profit. Any profits they make go straight back into the hospital to purchase the best equipment and to allow them to hire the best people available. Non-Profit organizations like the Mayo Clinic are world-renowned for their care. Why not have a non-profit insurance company working towards that same goal? The goal of making sick people well and keeping healthy people from getting sick?
The same principle can be applied to many other areas of our country. If profits are not the goal, companies can focus on treating their employees better which in turn leads to better service of customers. Better service of customers leads to more customers and higher profits. Ironically, the best way to make profits is to not worry about profits. We in America have completely lost this. Our corporations’ obsession with profit margins have lead them to take unnecessary risks, cut costs any way they can (usually from customer service and/or by lowering the quality of their products. See: GM and planned obsolescence for the later, AT&T and Comcast for the former), and to treat the customer like the enemy. Let’s face it, if you’re an insurance company with the goal of making money and someone makes a claim, they are directly interfering with your goal. Even if responding to that claim is the stated purpose of your company, you’re going to fight it as best you can and make the customer jump through as many hoops as possible to get anywhere.
We need our companies to stop looking at the bottom-line and start serving their customers. If profits get immediately put to use growing the company, most companies would benefit and investors would get more money in the long term. It’s a smaller slice of a much bigger pie. Would you rather have 2% of a million dollars or 50% of $30,000? Looking at the landscape of our economy the last couple years, it’s clear that companies have done far more harm to themselves and their reputations and their profit margins by seeking more and more profits than they would have even by taking a slight loss to better serve their customers, clients, and employees. Their stock prices over the last year certainly show it.
I was going to write a nice long post on the Republican response to the stimulus packaged, but I’ll let Rachel handle it:
Seriously? Tax cuts? How does that help people who are out of work and therefor have no money and therefor pay no taxes. And if we’re worried about inflation due to government conjuring money into existance, how is this any different than what banks do whenever they give someone a loan? (In case you weren’t aware, banks are only required to have $1 for every $9 they loan out, which means that when you get a loan, the bank is creating money out of the ether for you. If everyone paid off their debts, the American economy would shrink down to 1/9th it’s current size.)
Who knows if the stimulus package will work or not, but at least lets get some decent roads and bridges out of it. If the stimulus package fails at least we’ll have something to show for our money instead of the smoking craters in Iraq and Afghanistan that are all president Bush has to show for the trillion dollars we spent on those wars.
Now that the Democrats are in power, I really want to back the Republicans. Please Republicans, give me something, anything, to defend you with. Give me a decent alternative to the democrats plan! Give me a reason to support you.
I read an interview on CNN yesterday where they were talking to what they had decided was the “Republican Barack Obama,” and was struck by something he said.He said that the Democratic party wanted to give a man a fish, while the Republican party was the party that wanted to teach a man to fish.An obvious reference to the adage: “Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day, teach a man to fish and he will eat for the rest of his life.”(Trout starvation notwithstanding, I’ve always preferred the parody adage: “Give a man a fire he’ll be warm for a day, set a man on fire and he’ll be warm for the rest of his life.”)While I don’t doubt that the Republicans favor individuality and self-reliance, I have to admit that the analogy brought two similar thoughts to mind:
1) A man stands on the beach, starving.He hasn’t eaten in days.A Republican happens by and tells the man, “I have this fish I could give you, but instead I’m going to give you some instruction that will be more helpful to you.In order to fish, put a hook on your fishing pole, put a worm on the hook, and lower it into the water.When the fish bites, pull sharply to set the hook and then slowly reel it in.”The Republican walks away feeling very satisfied that good has been done here.The starving man looks at the frozen ground devoid of worms and notes his lack of a hook or fishing pole.He glares at the retreating Republican because he already knew how to fish; he merely lacks the means to do so.
2) A fisherman pulls into shore after a long night of fruitless fishing.Despite his many years as a fisherman, he has not managed to catch any fish.He comes ashore pondering how he will be able to feed his family since the fish have simply not been biting. A Republican happens by and tells the man, “I have this fish I could give you, but instead I’m going to give you some instruction that will be more helpful to you.In order to fish, put a hook on your fishing pole, put a worm on the hook, and lower it into the water.When the fish bites, pull sharply to set the hook and then slowly reel it in.”The Republican walks away feeling very satisfied that good has been done here.The hungry fisherman glares after the retreating Republican because, while he has much more experience and skill at fishing than the advice-giver, he has simply been having a string of bad luck.The Republican’s advice was of no help whatsoever.
A democrat gives each man a fish.The starving man on the beach eats for a day and needs a fish again tomorrow.The unlucky fisherman eats for a day and is able to catch a few fish the next day to feed his family.He limps by.
A libertarian believes it is each man’s right to starve and does nothing to help.
A communist takes all the fish that were caught in the area and gives each person a fish.The rest they keep “for emergencies,” but the fish rot.
A fascist gives fishing rights only to corporations and declares that if you want to be a fisherman, you have to work for the corporation.
Follow up 1) One day a survivalist happens by the starving man, teaches him to make fish-hooks out of twigs and use vines as fishing line.The man is able to work his way up little by little till he can afford an actual fishing rod and hook and make a meager living as a fisherman, being able to eat most of the time unless the fish aren’t biting.
Follow up 2) One day a scientist develops a fish-sonar.The unlucky fisherman takes a chance and buys one. He’s better able to find fish, and his fortune improves.The sonar quickly pays for itself and the fisherman is better able to provide for his family.
Conclusion: The moral of this story is that if you give a man a fish, he’ll eat for a day, you can teach a man to fish and he may still starve, but if you give him the MEANS to fish, he’ll have a much better chance of survival.
The question is, “how can the government possibly know what means people need?”They really can’t.So they’re stuck giving either useless advice to “Be self-sufficient!” or hand outs.While handouts do nothing to help in the long term, they may help some limp by until the fish are biting again.It’s better than nothing, but does absolutely nothing to help those without the means of self-reliance to gain self-sufficiency.They will be eternally stuck begging for hand-outs.A handout to a man who has the means but has run into a string of bad luck may get them through their tough time, but they will be eternally at the mercy of the whims of fate.Ultimately, it would be nice if we could see beyond the immediate need to give a person what they truly need to thrive, but that is not likely to ever come from the government. So if our options are to tell people to be self-reliant without aiding them in attaining self-reliance or just give them hand-outs and make them reliant on the government, which is the better option?
In a good economy, there are greater possibilities. The fisherman could get a loan to buy the fish-sonar. The starving man may be able to get a job, even if it’s minimum wage. It is easier to say to people “Be self-sufficient” because there are means available for those willing to work at it to be self-sufficient. When the economy goes in the tank, there is an overall loss of opportunity and maybe that loan or that job just isn’t available. Telling people to be self-sufficient in that environment just does not work. (See election, 2008.) The question now becomes, “In this era of less do we click back to the opposite extreme of government hand-outs or do we go to the center and work to meet people’s needs by giving them the means to be self-reliant?”
A few weeks ago, now former McCain top economic adviser Phil Gramm got into all sorts of trouble, ultimately having to step down from his position, for saying that America is in a mental recession and that we are a nation of whiners. Oddly enough, I agree. I think the fact that we are in a mental recession is a huge reason why John McCain should not be elected president. Let me explain:
For those who do not know, our economy is not based on the gold standard, the silver standard, or any other standard. Our money is backed by the “Good faith of the American Government.” Which means that when people lose faith in the American Government (President with a 25% approval rating, congress lingering in the low teens) the economy tanks. (Borrowing $600 billion dollars from China doesn’t help either.)
Our economy is also based (quite a lot) on debt. When Americans borrow money from a bank, the bank isn’t loaning money that they have, they’re conjuring money into existence because our government allows banks to give bank credits in American currency. Thus every time a loan is granted, the American economy grows. If people are afraid that they will not be able to pay back their debts, or are afraid for their jobs, they don’t take out loans, or worse yet start defaulting on their loans. When people are unable to pay back their debts, the Economy shrinks dramatically. So in order for our economy to remain strong, people need to feel confident enough in their future to take out loans. So who would be better able to restore trust in the government and restore the people’s faith? The only cure for a mental recession is something that McCain openly scoffs at: Hope.