Spend, Obama, spend! And save jobs

The first thing Obama should do is use federal funds to keep public employees from joining the swelling ranks of the unemployed.

Topics: California, U.S. Economy, Barack Obama, Unemployment, Arnold Schwarzenegger,

Spend, Obama, spend! And save jobs

With Americans losing their jobs at a rate not seen for more than three decades, Barack Obama must determine very quickly how his administration will direct hundreds of billions of dollars to achieve the most powerful economic effect. In his weekly address on Saturday morning, he cited the catastrophic loss of more than half a million jobs in November alone as the reason for launching the biggest public works program since the Eisenhower administration — everything from improving schools and hospitals to rebuilding roads and bridges. “We will create millions of jobs,” said Obama, “by making the single largest new investment in our national infrastructure since the creation of the federal highway system in the 1950s.”

But many of the new infrastructure enterprises that he has promised would still require lengthy planning — and even repair projects that have awaited funding will need months to get going. How can Obama stop the cascade of unemployment from driving us into a depression?

His first priority should be immediate, substantial financial aid to the states and cities that are now laying off thousands of public employees and preparing to fire thousands more. Rapid, generous assistance to localities would not only keep hundreds of thousands of workers employed, but would simultaneously advance national priorities in health, education, infrastructure, and energy efficiency.

Fortunately Obama and his advisers understand the importance of what used to be called “revenue-sharing” or “counter-cyclical assistance.” Peter Orszag, his nominee to direct the Office of Management and Budget, co-authored an important paper in 2001 urging increased government expenditure as the most effective means to stimulate a lagging economy. So when the president-elect spoke at the National Governors Association meeting last week, he pledged swift action to help the states but offered no specific response to the governors’ plea for at least $160 billion in aid for the coming fiscal year.



Together with Congress, he should provide that much and more –- because it would be the best single investment that the federal government could make right away –- and because the states and cities can do so little in this climate to help themselves.

At the most basic level, the president can use a tool that is forbidden to governors, namely deficit spending. The constitution of almost every state requires a balanced budget every year, and such provisions have been rigorously enforced ever since the last widespread fiscal crisis of the Seventies.

When their revenues decline during a recession, state and local officials cannot borrow operating funds to boost economic demand. In fact, they are forced to reduce spending, cut jobs, and perhaps increase taxes, all of which only make a bad situation worse. As state and local budgets fall into deficit, moreover, the borrowing capacity of those governments also declines –- which forces them to postpone or cancel capital projects. That too, reduces employment, revenues, and demand. At the same time, as more and more families lose income and fall below poverty, the demand for state services such as Medicaid rise.

That vicious spiral is gaining speed now across the country, with budget shortfalls in almost 40 states, and deficits exceeding a billion dollars in more than a dozen. In Ohio, whose economic downturn preceded the rest of the nation, the state predicts the most dramatic shortfall in revenues in more than four decades. In New York, where the turmoil on Wall Street has profound local impact, the state and city expect to impose ten billion in cuts over the next two years. In California, Arnold Schwarzenegger is facing an economic calamity reminiscent of “The Terminator”‘s blasted future, with deficits soaring past $30 billion.

All of those numbers far exceed the usual problems confronted by the states when the economic cycle heads downward. The housing bust places especially heavy stresses on state and local governments because when home values decline, so do property tax revenues –- and when people stop buying new homes, sales taxes, mortgage taxes, and all of the other typical revenue sources plummet as well. What would ordinarily be a bad time for the states has turned devastating.

Choices made by politicians in these circumstances inevitably inflict damage that outlasts the period of recession. When college tuition is increased or class sizes expand, the effects on student achievement and dropout rates last for years. When mass transit fares rise and new routes are cancelled, the transition to greener transportation systems is postponed. When hospitals reduce staff and close clinics, the goal of universal access to health care recedes still further. The federal government must do everything in its power to minimize the harm to important national objectives and to the most vulnerable people in society.

For Obama, however, the more immediate consequence of ruinous state budgets would be to frustrate the effects of any new stimulus program. Even if federal spending vastly increases next year, the economic impact will be greatly diminished if states are raising taxes, dumping employees, and curtailing procurement from local businesses.

Conservatives will say, as they always do, that the states should get their own houses in order without help from Washington. And they will add, as they always do, that the best solution is to cut taxes. But tax cuts coming at a time when banks are refusing to lend and investors are afraid to invest will accomplish little or nothing.

The best way –- and perhaps the only way – to forestall disastrous unemployment is to stop the budgetary bleeding in the states. That is why Congress should be prepare a bill providing immediate emergency relief to the states, ready for signature on January 20, 2009 — and why Obama’s first act as president should be to sign it, and start sending checks.

Joe Conason is the editor in chief of NationalMemo.com. To find out more about Joe Conason, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>