Friday, September 10, 2010

Rambling rant for today. There are 51 days left until the mid-terms on 11/2.

The bankruptcy of supply side, aka "trickle down" economics bears repeating now more than ever as we approach the expiration of the Bush tax cuts. Obama wants to extend the cuts for the middle class but allow the cuts on the top rate to expire, and it looks like the strategy is to provide two votes: the first to extend the cuts for everyone else, and a second to extend the cuts to the millionaires and billionaires. It's a wise approach - because we all know what will happen in a fair vote: The first would pass, and the second would fail. but we'll see what sort of GOP silly season tactics will come forward to try and block this approach.

Where is the evidence that supply-side economics has been good for the long term health of our economy? I understand short term gains for the wealthy. Supply side has certainly been a boon for the wealthy, and maybe for some of the rest of us during the dot-com and resulting echo subprime mortgage fueled bubble economies...and lets not forget deregulation of the energy industry and what it did for Enron for a time. What ended up happening? Regular people got screwed but a few rich folks made a lot of money, both on the way up, and on the way down. As the BP spill investigation begins to bear fruit, we'll begin to see kernels of the truth (in some news outlets), as it relates to privatization and deregulation aka watering down public oversight.

And then there is last night's PG&E gas main explosion in San Bruno. It's hard to withhold judgment of PG&E when you look at their track record of obstruction of public accountability...PG&E should be a public utility, not a private, for-profit enterprise if for no other reason than short term profit providing incentive to cut corners on what should be routine maintenance.

The blast, as experts have already pointed out, was probably caused by one of two things: Construction in the area where someone broke the pipe or...more likely based on stories we're hearing so far: corrosion. Reports are coming out already that indicate people complained of gas smells to PG&E at least three weeks ago, but were given the runaround.

Look, this is just common sense. Contrary to the belief that "government is the problem" in all cases, in an enterprise such as a utility company which provides a public service...that enterprise should have public (aka Democratic) oversight, not by a group of shareholders whose interest is how big the bottom line is only.

Sure, it can be argued that, in a vacuum, if an accident such as the one last night occurs, PG&E loses its value and therefore have an incentive to maintain their pipes and infrastructure. But common sense dictates that complacency will eventually set in, corners will be cut, and also points out what should be obvious:

When lives can be lost in such a tragedy as we've seen last night, what is the value of privatization of a public utility? What is the value of no accountability to the people the private utility serves, especially if that utility is a monopoly and the people have no energy alternative...and even if they did, what would it matter since this blast wiped out an entire neighborhood?!

In the coming months I'll be bringing out excerpts of an old book I'll be dusting off from a former Professor called "Pragmatic Liberalism." Then, as now, I am drawn to the idea of practical political reason which dictates that certain enterprises need to have a different system or economic model.

What I'm getting at boils down to this:

Supply side economics is not an appropriate model for a public enterprise where lives could potentially be at stake. The last part of that sentence is somewhat open to interpretation, but I can think of three enterprises where privatization/profit motive/corporate structure is vastly inappropriate at best.

1. Health Care
2. Public Utilities (Spec. Gas/Electricity/Water)
3. Education (Public availability should not be gutted in favor of private/optional education)

In each of these instances, pure profit motive and bottom-line driven enterprises eventually develop an incentive to cut corners on the quality of the service they are supposed to provide and, unlike regular commerce (pick your widget here) people can't just "take their business elsewhere" to solve the problem.

1. Health Care: May have pre-existing condition
2. Utility: Monopoly, if there is competition, what does it matter it the pipe for the negligent company that runs through the same neighborhood is the one that blows up
3. Education: not everyone can afford private tuition for their 7th grader and vouchers would be underfunded by the Repubs who support it since their aversion to any kind of tax would provide disincentive.

I'll have more concrete thoughts on this and other subjects soon but I will tell you what the alternative to the supply-side (aka Hobbesian version of Capitalism) is not: Marxism. I rather suspect it will be a lot closer to Adam Smith's original vision, but I reserve the right to change my mind as I re-explore Pragmatic Liberalism.

I'll end with one final thought, which is really a modern day example of the Hobbesian State of Nature that lead to the (seemingly novel, to some) concept of a Social Contract in the first place:

The Modoc County Story. I'll start with this link.

Tell me this shouldn't be front page news instead of the Hale/Bopp freak down in Florida?!

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