The Talking Dog

December 30, 2008, All sado-monetarism is local?

In the staid op-ed section of the Grey Lady, Krugman laments the counter-stimulative tendencies coming from what he terms "50 Herbert Hoovers," to wit, state governors (more specifically, state governments) that, amidst collapsing revenues in the current financial crisis, will respond at the precise moment that more state and local spending is needed by instead cutting such spending, thereby exacerbating downward pressure on the economy.

He's right, of course, but the issue becomes two-fold: what immediate steps can be taken to ease the current financial crisis, and what reforms can be imposed to ensure a better system. For the latter, also from the Grey Lady, this Matt Miller piece suggesting that, in education, [our last liberal President] Nixon is the President with the answer. Specifically, Nixon's commission on school finance suggested increasing the federal outlay on American education to around 1/3 [currently, such spending is a paltry 9%] with incentives for state and local school funders to reduce dependence on property tax for school funding that perpetuate the wild disparities in education between rich and well-funded, usually suburban school districts, and their poorer urban and rural counterparts, and thereby ensure that we truly are an "opportunity society".

Part of the right-wing mythology that has taken hold for the last three decades or so is that "government is bad" (except, of course, for the ultimate government programs, the military and the police [as in "police state"]), but somehow, state and local governments are better than the federal government, and therefore, more burdens, particularly unfunded ones imposed from on high, are better left to them, while the big klunky federal government, despite its vast ability to raise money (if necessary, by printing it) should have its responsibilities curbed.

And everyone has to believe in the tax cut fairy: that somehow, government services will be put under our pillows in our sleep, but heavens... we can't be forced to pay for them.

I was just thinking about my daughter lamenting the fact that her public school will, thanks to such inevitable budget cuts, probably have to forego its annual fifth grade drama production next year... for which she had been dutifully waiting to audition since kindergarten. Such is the nature of tying essential public funding decisions to the vagaries of our boom and bust economic cycle; call such things a luxury if you wish, but why do some public school children fortunate enough to hit the right year get these luxuries, and others do not? Does this really make any sense at all? And forget just "extras" like drama, or school sports... throw in class size, text books, early childhood prgorams... you get the picture. And as Krugman notes, throw in other infrastructure programs, housing and health care assistance, even food assistance... and you see where we're going. [I was picturing a t.v. commercial of children discussing the virtues of taxes and government spending: taxes paying for schooling, for health care, for food and housing relief, for roads and bridges, to fight crime, to ensure a fair outcome to disputes, to protect the purity of our food, water and medicine, even to send people into outer space... I'm sure in a relatively short time, if such a campaign were launched, an angry mob might head for Grover Norquist's house... a dog can dream...]

We've spent the last few relatively prosperous years doing nothing to reform some pretty basic structural flaws... indeed, under Bush, we have spent a good many of them exacerbating some of these flaws, but to be fair to the Bush Administration (for a change!), most of these problems were in place long before he took office and made them worse.

Anyway, solving these issues-- such as education funding, or hell, much of the funding and other disparities in program delivery caused by our dumping so many obligations on state and local governments-- can best be reformed in the coming months-- not years, but months-- in the name of fiscal stimulus, if long-term reforms are put in place as part of the package. Here's hoping [my college classmate] President-elect Obama is up for the job. And Barack, you can ask me any specific questions on this in comments, or by e-mailing Thanks Man, and Peace, Bro.