Do The Freakin Math

Liberals and conservatives alike frequently rely on limited evidence, personal experience, religious beliefs or gut emotions to determine solutions for complex problems. From immigration to global warming - taxes to terrorism - or health care to free trade - analytical study is rare. Science based policy making isn’t the way of Washington. And the consequences are catastrophic. Change is urgently needed. Just do the freakin’ math.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

The Recession is here. Unfortuantely, so is hope.

(just a rant -- Americans are more hopeful than Haitians. Maybe we shouldn't be.)


It’s now all but official. The ’08 recession has started. Its going to get bad. And, it will likely last a year or more before the weight of the global economic pendulum corrects itself -- because God only knows --we can’t correct it ourselves -- or won’t. And, the economic pain will spread globally. We used to have the global economic instability handed to us from other careless economies. Now, we’re the ones dishing it out.

It’s an odd thing about our species -- that we have survived so long with this inherent fault -- of failing to do what we know we should do – combined with our ability to believing anything -- except the truth -- in how to make things work.

After a recent trip to Haiti, the poorest nation in our hemisphere, I believe I got to experience a whiff of their culture of hopelessness. A way of believing that keeps their nation’s economy, environment and political system wallowing in filth and disrepair – while most Haitians (unemployed and illiterate) dress in the cleanest and well kept cloths imaginable under such conditions -- everywhere in Haiti is something to fix -- a road, a roof, a power line, a pipe... Nothing but opportunity everywhere…next to trash, disrepair, corruption, intense poverty, hopelessness and a few thousand Blue helmeted UN Peacekeepers. Haitians are incredibly creative and resourceful people…with virtually no financial resources to make important things happen.

I asked an American aid worker and diplomat, each whom had been there for years, what were Haiti’s prospects for the future. Both shrugged …about 50/50? They couldn’t say if it would get worse, before it gets better.

And, that ‘s the difference between there and here. In America we all know it will get worse – a lot worse -- before it gets better. And, given the money we spend on alcohol, tobacco, gambling and sports (not to mention our military) we even have the resources to change that. Yet, most of us simply wait for the pain of recession, so we can wait for the pain to pass, so we can feel optimist about things eventually getting better. We are a hopeful bunch. It’s in our cultural DNA.

In Haiti they aren’t so hopeful. They don’t have their SUV’s, cable TV, iPods, American Idol and extreme sports to keep them in denial of the real world around them. We do. The same world that will increasing come crashing down on our comfortable lives in the forms of pandemics, climate change, illegal immigration, terrorism, tech support calls from India, identity theft, a weakening dollar, increasing debt, and toxic goods from China -- or any other nation that is so evil that it has to sell us their tainted products to overcome their own poverty.

Not a single economist believes our politicians can keep the promises they make regarding the welfare of our children, our Medicare or our social security obligations to the growing number of aging baby boomers.

We don’t have the current funds to pay for our war in Iraq and Afghanistan, the wounded soldiers coming home, or to prepare for our next war with Iran, China or UFO’s. Then there is the increasing demand to keep our borders secure, our infrastructure (roads, sewers, transit systems) safe, our schools functional, or our food and water pure…and affordable.

We’re spend trillions torturing and trying to kill suspected terrorists but cringe at every billion authorized that might convince a Muslim fence sitters that we are better than their extremist brethren.

The best news is that Republicans and Democrats alike – at least now – ‘want’ to find enough funding to wean our nation from its dependence on foreign oil. But the key word there is ‘want’. Where will that come from. A new gasoline tax?

Only a moron would believe that our children don’t face a future of rising taxes, tightened -- and likely falling -- public services, less national security and mountainous debt.

There is a good hearted lot among us however, that are trying to help the poor beyond our shores. The most affordable solutions (vaccines, micronutrients, microcredit, basic education) imaginable. And they are spiritually optimistic that they are sincere enough that they can squeeze enough new aid funding out of our federal budget to meet some moderately inspirational humanitarian objectives for the poorest 5th of humanity better know as the Millennium Development Goals, or MGDs.

I’d say there is a better chance of Dennis Kucinich and Ron Paul joining in holy matrimony and winning the Presidency and vice Presidency as there is of global humanitarian aspirations securing enough funding to actually meet the MDGs.

But, what if? What if there was a way to generate a new source of funding, a significant source of resources, that could meet and even exceed the MDGs with some left over for domestic humanitarian needs (including alternative energy research) without taxing 99.999% of Americans. It’s a proposal that actually won a Nobel Prize in economics over 30 years ago.

And here’s the kicker. It’s original purpose was to stabilize the global economy. The hundreds of billions in revenues generated from a currency exchange micro tax is just an unintended byproduct of this creative economic safety valve.

Am I optimist about the future? Having been inside the workings of liberal non profit organizations lobbying for grand global causes and experiencing first hand their reluctance to do what they know needs to be done…No. I’m not optimistic about the immediate future. I am hopeful about what follows all the pain and suffering.

I think it was Winston Churchill who once said, you can always count on the Americans to do the right thing. But only after they have exhausted every other possibility…(and I will add – “repeatedly”).

Time is way past for such a workable and creative solution as the Tobin tax. (Professor James Tobin was the economist receiving the Nobel Prize for his idea).

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