Refinancing Our Future, The Stimulus Package and Education

In today’s blog I discuss several thoughts related to the economic stimulus package, the arguments against it, and how this relates to the importance of funds to support education.

We can’t mortgage our future, we already did.

The debates over HR 1, the Economic Stimulus package have been fascinating. They are a reminder of why our nation became governed by two legislative bodies, and an even clearer reminder of why one party has ascended to dominate both. We hear a lot of talk from opponents of the stimulus package who threaten that we’re “mortgaging our futures, or mortgaging our childrens’ future” or “saddling future generations with debt” channeling Ronald Reagan’s ghost.

Well, I have some news for you, mortgaging of futures is nothing new. I was a victim of future mortgaging.

As a child growing up in the 80’s, innocently playing GI Joe, Atari, and Dungeons and Dragons, I had no idea that my future was being mortgaged without my consent. My future was mortgaged, to the tune of a trillion dollars for the massive military buildup, and or the construction of an Earth-threatening arsenal of nuclear weapons.

But then I had my own kids, who started their lives in the W. years, and I watched their futures get mortgaged to pay for the destruction of and the occupation of Iraq.

So, with the current stimulus package, we can’t mortgage the future of my or anybody’s kids. We have no equity. Fortunately, we can Refinance our future, and I do believe that’s what’s going on. Rates are low, the time is right.

EDIT: Shortly after I posted this, I discovered an article at the Heritage Foundation from 2005 that uses the Refinance metaphor for revamping Social Security- I hope you can see the irony in these laughable arguments.

You just think you have a job, but it isn’t real.

You see, I don’t have a real job. Neither do most of the people I know, according to GOP Chairman Michael Steele. That’s because government jobs AREN’T REAL.

The arguments against Keynesian economics reach new lows in the words of the new head of the Republican Party, who tries to assert the intellectual superiority of conservatives by spouting complete nonsense.

Here are a few highlights:

Steele spends an extensive time trying to explain how the government can’t create jobs, and how they aren’t real jobs, and temporary contracts and blah, blah, blah.

He discusses how small businesses “want to grow, become national, international…” Small businesses want that?

But perhaps even more enlightening is when Steele reveals that the economic downturn is only 18 months old, and that the last 8 years have not contributed to the current situation, which is very convenient, but authorities beg to differ- there are even books on the subject that more than two years old.

I just don’t understand how spending on special education is going to stimulate the economy!

Arguments of ignorance are common in floor speeches in the U.S. Congress, but especially in the Senate, where members frequently remind CSPAN viewers how out of touch they are with the little people. In this round of debates and follies, the Senate reminded America why funding bills begin in the House, by fulfilling their constitutional role of representing the interests of the elite.

Fortunately most of the Members of the House Appropriations Committee (even Republicans) understand the need to increase funding for IDEA (the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), that’s why they’ve been continuing to gradually increase the fund for decades.

Unfortunately, a whole lot of other folks (especially Republicans opposed to the stimulus package) have no clue about how federal education funds work, so they similarly can’t understand how putting any money in these funds would have any stimulating effect. So here, I’ll try to explain IDEA in really simple terms:

1) Schools have to pay all the costs associated with providing for the needs of students with special needs.

2) IDEA is Federal Money that helps cover these costs. It goes out to all the schools in the Nation.

3) IDEA funding is nowhere near enough money to cover the extra costs associated with serving students with special needs.

4) Schools spend the money anyway, so they fund special education with their general funds.

5) In an economic downturn, the costs associated with serving special needs students will not fall, in fact, costs rise annually.

6) Putting lots of money into IDEA will free up lots of money for the schools to be able to cover costs and avoid layoffs to teachers, staff, etc. and to continue all of the purchasing they do that also stimulates the economy.

But are these real jobs? You’re damn right they are. In my town, and in many towns, the school district is the leading employer. Non-union folks often balk at the demands of union teachers for benefits and pay, but when it comes right down to it, the economies of many of our communities would be underwater without these stable teaching jobs in their midst.

Got Schools?

By the way, can we build and fix up some of these schools? In one debate a confused Republican claimed that the Federal government has never been in the business of building schools. He was promptly corrected- in many towns, the LAST time we built schools was during the New Deal, with Federal funds. Today’s Republicans would have fought the building of those schools too.

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4 Responses

  1. Not only are teaching jobs real jobs, by their very nature they create jobs. You can only pave so many roads and smelt so much iron. Eventually you are going to need workers who have an education.

    Also not real jobs: Arts jobs (http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/culturemonster/2009/02/arts-stimulus-1.html) Quote from Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.): “We have real people out of work right now and putting $50 million in the NEA and pretending that’s going to save jobs as opposed to putting $50 million in a road project is disingenuous.”

  2. The arts jobs are indeed jobs- one of the leading industries in California. Interestingly, in some cases, money put into arts and social programs create jobs with greater efficiency than public works projects. For example, money put into public education goes more than 80% to salaries- it’s a labor intensive field with minimal overhead. Public works projects can vary widely in labor costs, but can be under 50% of the cost. Arguably, public works projects can create physical structures that can perform functions for generations, but they don’t necessarily create more jobs outright.

    It has been suggested to me that the affinity and preference for construction jobs is a failure of imagination, one that also implies a degree of sexism in the job creation mythology. Even though a ballet dancer and a construction laborer may pull down the same salary, some folks just can’t imagine what the dancer is doing as work, even if they might be willing to drop 100 bucks to see the ballet!

  3. Not only did I mention the sexist implication of shovel-ready jobs, but I’ll say here that there is an ageism factor as well. With the increased number of people over 50 who are out of work, you can’t tell me we are going to be making the best use of their years of work experience by putting them in intensely manual, entry-level jobs. This is America. Homeland of innovation, birthplace of jazz, Kodak film, the moving picture (movies), basketball, the internet, fast food, the space program, amusement parks, and yes, even silicon breast implants. But these industries must not be real jobs either. . .

    On another note: I’m tired of hearing politicians (Republicans) trumpet the inefficiency of government agencies (as in the postal service) implying that only private organizations can do anything right. I have never had a package sent to me or that I sent to someone via USPS get lost. I’ve never even heard of anyone I know say they lost a package. On the other hand, I’ve heard lots of stories of airlines losing people’s luggage. Oh, maybe it’s been a while since they’ve flown commercial.

  4. First of all, I love the new blog. Cool lay out!

    I love how the Republicans are suddenly the party of fiscal responsibility. Excuse me? The Republicans (in the last 30 years or so) have been the party of massive deficit spending. Dick Cheney famously remarked that Reagan proved deificts don’t matter. I suppose W proved that they do. President Clinton was far more fiscally conservative than Reagan, Bush 41 or Bush 43. I imagine Obama will follow in kind.

    I love the notion that the stimulus bill is an attempt to refinance our future. It has enough short term provisions to jump-start the economy, but enough long term provisions to sustain the revitalization of the economy. If this works, the GOP can kiss its ass goodbye, since it has followed the example set by Rush Limbaugh and have actively sought to undermine Obama to make sure he fails. I think Obama’s hope to create a unified America has been run-off the road by GOP obstructionism throughout the lead up to this bill.

    On an unrelated note, isn’t funny how the GOP picked Michael Steele? Sort of like how they picked Sarah Palin to be the VP running mate in order to shore up disaffected Hillary voters. This is a shameless attempt to appeal to African-American voters, who have typically voted with the democratic party.

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