By Zach Carter, Media Consortium MediaWire blogger
Welcome to The Media Consortium’s Economy MediaWire project! Check this space every Tuesday for a discussion of the best economic coverage available on the information superhighway.
This Tuesday, of course, is no ordinary Tuesday, but the day of the most important U.S. election in generations. Poll after poll has shown the economy to be the top concern for voters this year, as an epic financial crisis and the bursting of the housing bubble have ensured that the next president will have his hands full come January.
But while there is plenty of bad news to go around of late, Ezra Klein notes for the American Prospect that economic downturns can be extraordinary opportunities to overhaul national infrastructure, as the government steps in to fund projects that support what the private sector can no longer afford.
"Right now, there’s something damn close to political consensus for a transformational investment package," Klein writes, arguing that, "the next president should be thinking hard indeed about how to make the most of the opportunity."
During Congressional hearings over the last two weeks, two influential economists have urged the government to embark on major infrastructure projects as a means to stimulate the economy. Both Nobel Prize-winner Joseph Stiglitz and NYU Professor Nouriel Roubini, who accurately predicted nearly every development in the recent Wall Street implosion, argued that the best way to ease economic malaise is to pour money into green energy projects. Preventing a recession appears out of the question, but why not set our sights on something "transformational," in Klein’s words, that could fend off ecological destruction even more comprehensive than the recent financial hemorrhaging?
David Morris emphasizes the potential for environmentally friendly infrastructure development for AlterNet, suggesting that a President Barack Obama may "institute a massive public works program focusing on infrastructure that lends itself to a green orientation."
Morris notes several frightening parallels between today’s green energy movement and that of the early 1980s, when environmentalist momentum from the Carter administration collapsed under the weight of the most wrenching recession since the Great Depression. We have witnessed a similar drop-off in green interest this fall, according to Morris, as the financial crisis has deepened and gas prices have declined dramatically. But renewable energy industries are a much stronger political force today than they were in the early Reagan years, and Morris believes the sheer efficiency of green projects will give the next president more bang for his outlay bucks than other programs. Environmentally conscious investments can sharply reduce operating costs, while creating armies of new jobs.
Writing for The Nation, James S. Henry and Jim Manzi claim that it is time not only for the government to boost research and development, but to "nurture a national culture that reminds young people of their country’s innovation heritage and encourages them to become engineers, designers and scientists, rather than just lawyers, accountants and bankers."
Beyond infrastructure, The Progressive’s Matthew Rothschild discusses research from Mark Zandi of Moody’sEconomy.com, which reveals that many traditional lefty priorities are also among the most efficient methods for stimulating economic growth. Expanding food stamps programs and unemployment benefits puts money in the hands of people who will actually spend it, instead of making long-term investments that keep the funds out of the general economy, Rothschild writes. Priorities touted by conservatives this election cycle, like slashing the capital gains tax and lowering income tax rates for the wealthiest corporations, are much less effective.
Speaking of throwing money at big corporations, the Treasury Department is currently funneling hundreds of billions of dollars to banks in an effort to boost lending so other firms can borrow money buy supplies, pay workers and fund research. It’s not a terrible concept, except, as Robert Kuttner notes back at the Prospect, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson isn’t actually requiring banks to lend the money out, and the banks would rather use the cash to finance acquisitions and pay dividends.
This is, of course, an outrage, but it is far from inevitable. Kuttner cites Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s "yardstick competition" programs, where a public entity would compete with the private sector and provide products oriented toward the general social good, creating incentives for industries to offer better products. Under Roosevelt, the government invented the long-term fixed-rate mortgage, which was so effective that it quickly came to dominate the private marketplace. Taxpayers would get better results from their present bailout burden if the government would actually takeover one institution outright and have it make new loans without wasting money on dividends, Kuttner argues. Other banks would have to boost their own lending activities in order to keep from losing market share to the government, and billions of taxpayer dollars wouldn’t be squandered.
Jim Hightower has a great breakdown of the five greatest villains of the current financial crisis here.
With President George W. Bush set to host an economic summit with international leaders on the financial meltdown this month, OneWorld.net carries an excellent story by Jim Lobe on a call from almost 600 non-governmental organizations for fundamental economic reforms aimed at protecting the most vulnerable members of the global economy. Bush is widely expected to oppose reforms to the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, which many NGOs claim have imposed policies that have benefited Western companies at the expense of the international poor.
This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the economy. Visit economy.newsladder.net for a complete list of articles on the economy. And for the best progressive reporting on critical immigration and healthcare issues, check out Immigration.NewsLadder.net and Healthcare.NewsLadder.net.