Let's Do Something Big and Simple about the Economy
Cash Ebb and Flows
ere's a simple idea that just occurred to me. Why don't we get rid of the idea of a free market?
I'm only partly joking there, but the idea that just occurred is actually not a joke. Given that we're seeing a kind of state-financed economy already, with a $700 billion bailout of Wall Street, proposed bailouts of Detroit, etc., and that companies everywhere are experiencing fast-occuring, acute pain in their balance sheets, why don't we first of all agree that there is a role for government in stabilizing the "free" market?
Having done that, now let's agree that if companies can raid the Treasury when times get tough, they need to help build it back up when times are flush.
So, once we get through this immediate crisis, let's, yes, raise corporate taxes by getting rid of the loopholes (and, once those are gone, maybe even lower the rate a few points, to bring it more in line with other countries'). But let's use some of that increase in money -- maybe half of it? -- to set aside in a pool that earns interest and goes untouched until the economic data tanks again. Say, two consecutive quarters of unemployement increases, or GDP contractions, or some simple but intelligent combination of economic indicators as reported by the Commerce Department. At whatever point that is, the money automatically becomes available for low- or no-interest loans to businesses that have filed taxes in the previous year.
Do we concurrently suspend or lower the corporate tax rate in the rough times? Are there certain other loan application requirements a company has to meet in order to borrow from this fund? That's for other people to figure out, people who understand how the current commercial paper market works and how a liquidity crisis brought us to a bigger economic crisis.
But the larger point is this: companies pay into a collective fund in profitable times so that they can get easy credit in tight times. Think of it as an old-fashioned, neighborhood thrift or credit union for Wall Street, Main Street and all the other business districts around the country. Put the money in one of Al Gore's lockboxes. And make the program's availability predictable, based on the generally accepted economic indicators, so that there's less chance of lobbying to game the system.
he good news: at this point, it doesn't even need to be said, but that never stopped me. Talk about history. Someone pointed out that very, very few countries have elected or appointed someone of a racial minority to lead the country. The most obvious, prior to this, was Peru electing a man of Japanese descent (which didn't actually turn out too great for them). But no country near the size, power, or economy of the United States well, there isn't one, but you know what I mean -- has done so. And yet I see something like this happen and I'm actually reminded of something Ronald Reagan quoted at the groundbreaking of his presidential library in Simi, California, from a letter someone had written to him not long before: "He said, you can go to live in another land you can go to live in France, but you can't become a Frenchman. You can go to live in Germany, but you can't become a German. You can go to live in Japan or Turkey, and you cannot become Japanese or Turkish. But anyone, from any corner of the world, can come to live in the United States and become an American."
Leaving aside the Constitutional requirement that someone be born a citizen to become president, I'm still stunned at what it will say to the world on January 20 when, walking into any U.S. embassy anywhere in the world, visitors will see a photographic portrait of a son a Kenyan and a Kansan as America's president. Not only that, a man who still has relatives living today in both places. And yet, far from being born to a life of privilege, grew up to be elected the most powerful person in the world. That, to me, says more about what America means in the world as much as anything else we might say or write about our country or our history.
Thomas Friedman's article today was particularly excellent: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/05/opinion/05friedman.html ...in which he says that "on Nov. 4, 2008, shortly after 11 p.m. Eastern time, the American Civil War ended, as a black man — Barack Hussein Obama — won enough electoral votes to become president of the United States."
On a more serious note, my excitement at yesterday's election results were tempered today to learn:
The Oklahoma state legislature is now controlled in both chambers by Republicans. (In this election, no less.) That is the first time since statehood that has been true. And in a state that is 11th out of 51 (including DC) in the percentage of people living in poverty and 8th in the nation for teenage pregnancies. (Not to mention 15th in the country for babies born to teenage and unwed mothers overall.) Of course, the reason I bring all this up about Oklahoma is because no state voted more firmly for McCain this election than Oklahoma. The one (admittedly lame) saving grace I can find in this fact is that Obama didn't lose Oklahoma any worse than Kerry did. Which means, maybe, that Oklahomans are against progress more than they're against black people? Yay, progress! Or, rather...yay, anti-progress?
More importantlybecause I mostly (but sadly) expected those results from OklahomaI'm really bummed about the results on constitutional propositions in California, Arizona and Florida about marriagewith California the most prominent. Enshrining bigotry into the state constitutions of California, Arizona and Florida definitely felt like a slap in the face, hard enough to draw blood. Arizona was one thing; but that California and Florida could turn their back on racism but still vote for homophobia is kind of a tough thing to accept. I understand that these things improve over decades and even generations. But that didn't make those votes any less a slap and spit in the face. They weren't the first states to vote that way, but I'd hoped they wouldn't be the last. Now I guess I have to hope they are the last.