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The 700 Billion Dollar Question
Where We Live - with John Dankosky
Aired:
10/06/2008
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What would YOU do with 700 Billion dollars?

 

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52:16 minutes (25.09 MB)
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Whether you call it a "bailout" or a "rescue" or a "financial stabilization program" - the US government just spent 700 billion dollars, fixing problems with our financial system - caused by us.

At a time when dollars are tight, any similar investment in social programs, infrastructure, education or cutting-edge research would have been laughed out of Congress.  

So, here's the question - what if we could spend 700 billion dollars on something else - an investment in people, science, or industry?  A plan to cure cancer, or hunger, or both?

Today, we'll welcome in several guests - to talk about what 700 billion might buy us if we applied it to education, or poverty, or climate change, or cancer research, or national security.  

And, we'd like you to join the conversation:  What would you do?  What problems would you solve?  


 
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what to do..?

The fundamental problem with our way of life is ... exactly that...our way of life.

We have come to expect extraordinarily low costs for everything from sweaters (imported, of course) to food (massively and artificially grown), and to oil (because ..we use the most! than any other country, of course!). Because everything else was so cheap, we (banks) channeled all the money into artificially expensive housing for inappropriate home owners.

We ourselves produce next-to-nothing in real goods. Some of us are very good at producing ideas, but even there, many of the ideas fizzle out in a New York minute.. and most ideas need to be executed for them to be really good... and that execution is again generally turned over to other countries.

In order for us to regain our sense of what is right, unfortunately, will require a tremendous decline in the value of the US dollar (which is happening now). Only in that way we will actually be able to re-start any sort of industry in this country. It is, in a way, the most natural way to establish a trade barrier... and is not discriminatory to anybody (we could, attempt to establish artificial trade barriers... however in this highly financially connected world, this would be rejected as being a"unfair trade practice").

It is amazing to me that Congress was ultimately willing to pay the 700B, full well knowing that the basic roots of the financial problem were NOT addressed. I suppose that the 700B could be devoted towards kickstarting American industry again (an oxymoron), e.g., towards alternative fuels and energy generation (which you know the rest of the world will be clamoring for at some point in the very near future).. but that would be too sensible and too far sighted for most Americans and all of Congress.

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I am just wrapping my head around these large numbers. I am angry. This money could have paid for a lot of infrastructure repair, new schools, school repairs, health care and so much more. This is so much money drained from the system, going to the financial markets. It is stealing.

I am angry at the hypocrisy of the administration.  The S-chip program alone is a drop in this bucket and President Bush said we couldn't afford it. Yet we can spend seventeen trillion dollars for contractors in Iraq, making their owners and investors overnight multimillionaires, at least.

The AIG bailout money alone could give every adult some half a million dollars, before taxes. That would return $25B to the government at a 30% tax rate and still leave each adult almost $200,000.00 according to an e-mail that recently came my way. It would bail out the economy and at a far less steep cost. Or even easier, just cut the tax rate for the average America to 17%. That, according to the authorized biographer for Warren Buffet, is what his combined income tax and payroll taxes are. And he has no tax shelters, according to her. But remember the significant bump from the $600.00 rebate. Either planis almost immediate.

An interesting side note is that Congress still hasn't fixed the alternative minimum tax yet it could pass the $700B bail out in a relative blink of an eye and, so far as I can figure from poor reporting, apparently without any oversight of the project. They seem to have given the Treasury Secretary a license to steal.

Gordon Adams

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I would use the money to form a New Deal-like program based on the Civilian Conservation Corp of the FDR Administration.  This new program would be called the Civilian Transportation Corps.  It would recruit and train people to repair our Nation's ailing bridges, highways, railways and other infrastructure.

This would be a bottom-up investment in America's economy and would help prevent unemployment  stimulate growth, education and economic activity.

Chris Stan
West Hartford, CT

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I would use part of this money to increase cultural homogeneity in this country. There are too many disparate ideas of what it means to be a true American.  Divisions and differences exist based on geography, religion, race, ethnicity, educational level, intellectualism, and many more.  One man's American patriot is another man's radical extremist or 'wing nut'.  There is no blending to a common identity or 'national character'.  

Creating opportunities for common cultural experiences arts and education would go a long way to forming the concept 'I am an American, and so are you".  Perhaps then we could find a direction in this country and take it!

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Friends,

I share the goals of many of your callers and speakers, but I am persuaded that we can solve many of these problems far more expeditiously, not through any programs, but through an educational effort.

I realize this seems odd, particularly in a state with Yale University and many other fine public and private colleges.
But a major part of what ails us, as a society and as an economy, can be traced back to a very old and systematic error in how we do things.  The good  news is that the problem is very, very solvable.  The bad news is that few if any of even our "best educated" people have ever been exposed to the ideas.

The ideas to which I refer are those of Henry George (b. Philadelphia in 1839, d. NYC in 1897).  His most famous book was Progress and Poverty, which sold over 6 million copies before the turn of the century (and think what that would be in today's much larger market).   I would also send you to his 1883 book Social Problems.     

Progress and Poverty is available online at
http://www.schalkenbach.org/library/george.henry/ppcont.html
and an excellent modernized abridgement is online at www.progressandpoverty.org  (or from Amazon; search on these words: drake george progress poverty)

Social Problems can be read online at
http://www.schalkenbach.org/library/george.henry/spcont.html
.

Hardcopy is available at http://www.schalkenbach.org/ or on ebay or Amazon.  (Millions of used copies are still out there.)

You will come away with a radically different understanding of why we have poverty, and how we might go about eradicating it.  Not another program. Generally, even the best intentioned programs ultimately tend to make things worse for others who they aren't broad enough to reach.   Henry George gets to the root of the problem, and tells us how to eradicate it.  Plain, simple, honest, logical, efficient, just.

And, by the way, his remedy will also have wonderful and highly desirable effects on urban blight and urban sprawl, and thus on long commutes, energy usage, urb an redevelopment, pollution, dependence on foreign oil,
economic opportunity, job creation, housing affordability.  
Yes, all these are more tightly and closely related than you might realize, even if you were an economics major or even an economics PhD at one of our fine universities.  As John Dewey put it, No man ... has the right to regard himself
as an educated man in social thought unless he has some first hand acquaintance with the theoretical contribution of this great American thinker.

You might also explore http://www.wealthandwant.com/ and
http://lvtfan.typepad.com/ and
http://www.answersanswers.com/  and
http://www.masongaffney.org/ for more about Henry George's ideas in a contemporary context.

We can solve these programs at which people would like to throw money.  But not through throwing money at them  -- and indeed, throwing money at them will actually make many things worse, not better, in the medium and long run, if not in the short run!

I hope you'll dedicate some programs to these ideas; I can suggest some guests, including some from within Connecticut.  Tom Condon seems to have an appreciation of them, for one.

Wyn Achenbaum
Stamford, CT

typo!

In the next to last paragraph, the word "program" should have been "problem!"

And of course once we have a society have educated ourselves on the wisdom, justice and efficiency of Henry George's ideas, the next step is to implement his simple reform. This will appeal, too, to many of us who are frustrated by the illogic and complications associated with our reliance on federal and state income taxes. Adam Smith and many other wise thinkers would approve -- have approved. You might start with these two pages:

http://www.wealthandwant.com/themes/quotable_notables.htm

and

http://www.wealthandwant.com/themes/quotable_nobels.htm

for just a few!

CT Public Service Workers' Recovery Plan

Thank you for the thoughtful discussion on alternatives to solving our nation's economic crisis -- public service workers in CSEA/SEIU Local 2001 are very concerned about the national economic melt-down and have been promoting solutions to weather the economic storm...

 

Last week, our union proposed a "working families" recovery plan because we believe our elected leaders should do more than pass a bill that lets the banks and buyout firms that created the crisis off the hook. We believe we should not lose this opportunity to address the crisis facing working families all across the country.

 

For half the $700 billion in taxpayer money we're now going to spend to bail-out Wall Street, SEIU proposed a stimulus plan for working families that would invest in:

1. A national health care plan;
2. A plan for energy independence and green job creation;
3. Improved infrastructure;
4. Tax reforms to correct a system that currently favors CEOs and business while contributing to a growing income divide;
5. Affordable education;
6. Relief for struggling homeowners - halting foreclosures so families can keep their homes; 
7. Reforms that ensure workers have real freedom to choose a voice at work; and
8. Retirement security.

 

Rank-and-file public service are concerned that bailing-out Wall Street will leave working families struggling on Main Street behind -- even with the compromises and concessions the Administration and the House GOP have made. Our union has an online petition and invites listeners to add their voices to our plan for a new era:

http://action.seiu.org/anewera/