Bob Herbert and I often differ in our views but I really like what he said about economic stimulus as is being discussed in D.C.
There is no question that some kind of stimulus package geared to the needs of ordinary Americans is in order. But that won’t begin to solve the fundamental problem.
Good jobs at good wages — lots of them, growing like spring flowers in an endlessly fertile field — is the absolutely essential basis for a thriving American economy and a broad-based rise in standards of living.
Forget all the CNBC chatter about Fed policy and bargain stocks. For ordinary Americans, jobs are the be-all and end-all. And an America awash in new jobs will require a political environment that respects and rewards work and aggressively pursues creative policies designed to radically expand employment.
I’d start with a broad program to rebuild the American infrastructure. This would have the dual benefit of putting large numbers of people to work and answering a crying need. The infrastructure is in sorry shape. New Orleans comes to mind, and the tragic bridge collapse in Minneapolis. (emphasis added)
What is a political environment that respects and rewards work? The answer is – one where we don’t perpetually give money to people who don’t work (I’m talking welfare here, not pensions or social security as those are supposed to be earned benefits). What we currently have is a policy that discourages people from taking work that is “beneath them.” If I am receiving unemployment I lose the benefits if I take work that pays me less than I’m worth and thus it is in my interest to turn down temporary or lower paying work so long as I can receive those benefits.
Even unemployment could be considered an earned benefit. People on government welfare can stay there as long as they are willing to live at that level of poverty – their health care is free to them even if it’s somewhat limited, and they never have to worry about going hungry even if Food Stamps don’t provide any luxuries. For those who lack the skills to get a job that pays noticeably more than welfare hands them, there is no incentive to go work when staying home gives them the same economic standard of living.
Herbert is right, economic stimulus should come in the form of work programs not unlike the WPA which would provide income and training for those in need of new or improved skills. As the economy grew the program could be terminated (again) but until then people would have work and the nation would be improved in whatever ways were deemed necessary at the time. This would be much better than a one time tax rebate or extension of unemployment benefits. It would be more valuable than manipulating bankruptcy laws to save a few people from foreclosure. On-the-job training would even be more effective than paying people to seek new or improved skills in an academic setting.