Saturday, January 10, 2004

Can We Have An Independent Thought Here?

(part 2 of 3 of my rant against the Democratic candidates. I'd rant against Bush too, but it feels too much like beating up on a retarded kid)

First off, that's a blockbuster of a report, Ryan, thanks for pointing it out. They suggest a permanent 60% tax hike or a 50% benefits reduction? Woof! Now that's moving past platitudes and having a serious conversation.

So the next issue to inspire my wrath has been globalization. Now I can certainly understand the candidates having some mixed feelings and confusion on this issue. I've suffered some of that myself. After all, my software development job got offshored to China. Yet, I still believe that globalization has tremendous potential to improve the state of many impoverished nations. Granted, I wasn't laid off, but I was shifted to a less desirable position, which is what prompted me think some deep thoughts about my career path and make a change of direction. The world will likely come to rue the day that motorola made that decision.

But really, this is probably the key driving force that will shape our economy over the coming decades, and what did the candidates come up with? John Kerry: provide tax breaks to domestic manufacturers and "strongly enforce trade laws". John Edwards: trade agreements with environmental and labor protections and tax incentives for domestic businesses. Dick Gephardt: trade agreements with "livable wage" guarantees. Joe Lieberman: tax incentives for domestic businesses and increased federal R&D spending. Howard Dean: trade agreements with environmental and labor protections.

So what have we got? Protectionism in the form of corporate welfare and revised trade agreements that do nothing to account for the fact that even with safe labor practices and a livable wage many countries have labor forces that can afford to work for a fraction of what US workers cost. Is this the best that our best and brightest can come up with? The only one with a hint of creativity is Lieberman's plan to increase research, and even that is a woefully inadequate proposal to double the National Science Foundation's budget, which he cites as being around 0.7% of federal spending. We are facing a structural problem that stands to gut the US economy, and all we get are some band-aids, if these even qualify as that. To top it, all of the candidates, I think, support sustaining or increasing US agricultural subsidies. The last major round of trade talks broke down due to that very factor. Good luck getting those concessions on your trade deals when you aren't willing to make concessions on the top priority issue of your trading partners.

We need new answers, new ideas. We've got more candidates than we know what to do with and they're giving us nothing. We've lost manufacturing and we're in the process of losing whole sectors of the white collar work force. We need to recognize that this is not happening due to unfair trade agreements or a lack of corporate welfare. It's happening for the incredibly simple fact that shit costs ten times more in the US than it does in any third world country. What are we going to do about that? What can we do about that?

I don't think I know. Increasing research and becoming an information economy is a good start. Let's manufacture patents, copyrights, intellectual property of all sorts and sell it to other countries where it can be used to create products. That's something we can do. We still have the best university system in the world and a powerful R&D infrastructure. These are areas where developing nations will be hard pressed to catch up for decades at the least. And by the time they do the wealth disparity should not be such a problem. So let's expand that further and make it a focal point of our economy. But can we expect everyone to get a PhD and work in a lab? Probably not. What do we make of our middle class? I'm really not sure.

These are very difficult questions and I'm not expecting a blockbuster solution. But I'd like to see them asked. Even if the candidate's answer is "well, I'm not sure, but it's a priority and we're going to work on it." This is just another critical area where we're getting all platitudes and no honest discussion. And it bugs me. A bit.

(to follow in part 3, "the vision thing")

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