Kevin Phillips – Political and Economic Analysis from a Guy Who Keeps Being Right

I like to read books on economics. I’ve found time and again that my field, education, is inextricably tied to economic shifts and economic policy. Two books I’ve read recently deal with the details of what’s been going wrong in finance, monetary policy, fiscal policy, and government that has led to the current recession, and don’t bode well for the future of U.S. prosperity.

I highly recommend the following books: Bad Money: Reckless Finance, Failed Politics, and the Global Crisis of American Capitalism

and American Theocracy: The Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil, and Borrowed Money in the 21st Century

Below are some videos where you can hear Kevin Phillips discuss some of these topics:

There are Worse Things to Leave Our Children than Debt

walkinginrainThe economic downturn, coupled with the changing of the guard in Washington, has led to increasing political polarization in economic views. America is more liberal than it has been for many years, and we’ve been voting that way. It is the belief of a majority of Americans that liberal economic policies are what our nation needs to survive. But there is far from a consensus about how we should go about recovering from this precipitous economic decline.

We are at a crossroads, where few would suggest that inaction is the most prudent course. Our children and subsequent generations are frequently dragged into this debate. Giving the appearance of the ultimate highest moral ground, conservatives argue that the worst thing we could possibly do in these times, is increase the Federal deficit.

On it’s face it is a compelling approach. No one wants to make things harder on the next generation. But are there things worse than debt that we could leave our children? Absolutely. Is the price of ongoing debt maintenance, at pennies on the dollar, really so significant that we should ignore the issues before us?  Should we endanger the health of our children, their future job prospects, or possibly even the survival of the human species, just to entertain a fantasy of fiscal responsibility?

Leaving our children and future generations with a burden of debt is a small price to pay compared with the what could result from political inaction or insufficient investment in the present. History has shown this to be true.

Worse than Debt:

Global Warming: Without dramatic changes in the types of fuels we use, our processes for producing electricity, and means of transportation, we will continue to increase the rate at which we are polluting the atmosphere with excess carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. An increase in debt may be necessary to create the infrastructure, incentives, and innovations required to make the technological improvements required worldwide to prevent rising ocean levels, drought, mass starvation, as well as uncertain climatic, biological, and agricultural changes.

Inadequate Education: The challenges we face today are pushing the limits of our science, technology, and ingenuity. Perhaps one of the most difficult aspects of responding to a changing world, is that in a democracy, the will to change must be the will of the people. But inadequate education leaves the electorate ill prepared for facing complex scientific, medical, or economic issues. In order to bring about enlightened policy, we need an enlightened electorate that has education and experiences to understand the reasons what changes and innovations are necessary.

We can reflect on how we might have dealt with current problems, if only we had been better educated in the past. Investments in education decades ago might have imporved the scientific knowledge that could have enabled swifter changes in energy policy to curtail global warming. Better knowledge of economics and finance might have enabled us to prevent the recent real estate collapse and derivatives improprieties. Better media awareness might have prevented the Bush administrations manipulation of the news and facts in the run up to the attack on Iraq. Better consumer knowledge might have made us less susceptible to manipulation by corporate advertising.

Undoubtedly, increasing our investment in education is the best national defense America could hope for, because it will prepare America for the uncertain challenges we will face in the years and decades to come.

Archaic Energy: Prior to the massive sequestration of Carbon Dioxide and production of Oxygen that was performed by plants in the Paleozoic, the surface of the Earth outside of the oceans was mostly uninhabitable by non-plants. Now humanity is attempting to reverse this process, by pumping up oil from the Carboniferous, burning it to release the CO2, and decreasing the habitability of the Earth’s surface. What a stupid way to power any kind of progress. Our number two energy option consists of smashing neutrons together to make highly radioactive juice that must be stored in vats FOREVER, with no permanent safe storage facility. There are other ways.

Insufficient Health Care: We have, in America, supposedly, the finest health care ‘system’ in the world. That is, if you own stock. Somehow, however, when something’s really wrong with you, you can choose to get treatment, and lose any and all assets you possess, or suffer. Health insurance is becoming a luxury item. Employer-based health care is dissolving. A system that is for-profit will always economize. In business, some things are acceptable losses. You or I might be one.

No Access to the Means of Production: A key aspect to America’s growth and development was the wholesale giveaway of America’s natural and economic resources to a privileged few. But the endowed wealthy have never had enough. Economic downturns have consistently resulted from mass redistribution from the many to the few. After all, if most people don’t have sufficient economic resources to expend on goods and services, the economy must slow while the wealthy stow the assets and collect capital gains, which result in minimal economic stimulus. Hard work and creativity are not always sufficient for balancing unbalanced systems of economic stratification. The real way to create a wealthy society is to enable wider access to the means of production, thereby enabling economic opportunities not just for those lucky enough to be from regal bloodlines, but for all Americans.

A Dangerous World: Foreign policy that alienates allies and creates enemies can only make the future more uncertain for our children. We cannot afford to make problems that they must solve. A compassionate and tolerant approach to world affairs that fosters peace and encourages cooperation will benefit the children of all nations.

Debt? A small price to pay.

Heat: Global Warming Still Simmers


While the issue of global warming has been on the back burner, the physical reality of excessive emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses continues to endanger us all. I believe it is fortunate that we chose a President who seems to have a handle on the reality of climate change. It was disconcerting during the campaign that McCain and Palin spoke freely about “burning all kinds of fuels” in their proposed energy policy. Policy makers are missing the point when the see the fuel as the problem not the burning. For science novices: burning anything produces carbon dioxide gas, the most significant global warming pollutant (well- except Hydrogen, but H2 has its own problems).

Fortunately, not everyone has forgotten. PBS produced a Frontline special entitled “Heat°” which addresses several barriers to battling this elusive threat, focusing, wisely, on the misconceptions about potential remedies and technology. This documentary is an excellent overview of the technological, corporate, and economic barriers we currently face to keeping the planet habitable.

Many government officials, Members of Congress, energy companies, automobile manufacturers, and agricultural special interests have deliberately distorted the dialog about the actions we can or should take to curtail CO2 emissions. Several of these are addressed succinctly in the PBS special.

Topics include:

THE MYTH OF CLEAN COAL Clean Coal doesn’t exist, yet the idea is tossed around loosely as a key element of any future energy policy. No proposed or experimental strategy for reducing emissions from coal would be considered, by any definition, CLEAN. Burning coal is the leading cause of many kinds of pollutants in much of the world, including CO2, mercury, Sulfur and nitrogen oxides, and particulate matter. If clean coal (and they’re only talking about capturing the CO2 here) is possible, it may be prohibitively expensive, and only possible in certain geologic and geographic areas.

THE MYTH OF ETHANOL Corn based ethanol is not a valid energy strategy for reducing CO2 emissions. Without extensive agribusiness lobbying and huge government incentives and legal support, ethanol probably wouldn’t exist as a transportation fuel at all. The ethanol dream is over.

THE MYTH OF THE CHEVY VOLT There is an absolutely classic and depressing (Michael Moore-type) scene where GM gives the film crew a demo of the Chevy Volt, and it doesn’t work at all. They are pushing it in front of a moving truck that says “Reliable”. This car is the answer to Toyota’s car of YESTERDAY! The auto manufacturers have done everything they possibly can to twist, turn, distort, and manipulate the transportation free market, ironically, to make money (possibly motivated to draw profits from their financing divisions, not in the sales of durable goods!). Ford, GM, and Chrysler have destroyed themselves. Bailouts will be forthcoming.

Issues that were not adequately addressed: The myth and boondoggle of Hydrogen Fuel Cell Cars, and the mythical new 4th generation nuclear reactors.

Here are some pics of my family at a climate change rally in DC in 2007. We’re in the top right corner of the big ‘O’.


My family engaging in activism as a carbon offset. Me, Yvonne, Maximus, and Odessa on the front lawn of the U.S. Capitol.


80% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050. Is it possible?