Uncle Sugar

Wow, who knew presidents-elect gave weekly radio addresses. I guess the magnitude of just how important the election of Barack Obama is hasn’t sunk in with me yet. Placards proclaiming a non-existent “Office of the President Elect” and weekly radio addresses before January 20th strike me as…well, silly. But he’s the boss so I guess he can do whatever feels right.

So while a lame-duck do-nothing Congress tries to shirk responsibility for politically unpopular bailouts, President Elect Obama has been strangely silent on specific topics du jour. His latest radio address is a “present” vote on sending additional funds to the Big Three automakers. If by “present” you mean “goes completely unmentioned”. Instead, it’s chocked full of safe, pleasant sounding, and mundane make-work platitudes. Let’s take a look at phase one of Obama’s New Deal.

First, we will launch a massive effort to make public buildings more energy-efficient. Our government now pays the highest energy bill in the world. We need to change that. We need to upgrade our federal buildings by replacing old heating systems and installing efficient light bulbs. That wont just save you, the American taxpayer, billions of dollars each year. It will put people back to work.

Energy efficiency is a worthwhile goal – within reason. Reducing what the government pays for electricity will save us some money over time, but what will the endeavor cost and how long will it take to recover the expense? Would a better use of funds be to reduce the cost of energy?

Granted, unleashing teams of HVAC contractors on federally owned buildings will make work in that industry over the short term. It may reduce energy consumption in government buildings by 20% long-term. Considering the average family spends much more on their residential electricity bill each month than they contribute towards government energy consumption in a year, unleashing teams to construct new nuclear power plants will reduce electricity prices for decades to come and benefit Americans far more.

There’s no reason the US shouldn’t be the world leader in nuclear power. France currently generates 70% of its electricity at nuclear power plants. Right now 104 nuclear reactors generate ~20% of the electricity in the US. Nuclear has a much smaller footprint than windmills or solar panels and runs at its designed capacity regardless of weather conditions. High tech plants, high tech jobs, and lower electricity prices for decades. Nuclear power is clearly a much better investment than HVAC and light bulbs.

Second, we will create millions of jobs by making the single largest new investment in our national infrastructure since the creation of the federal highway system in the 1950s. Well invest your precious tax dollars in new and smarter ways, and well set a simple rule – use it or lose it. If a state doesn’t act quickly to invest in roads and bridges in their communities, theyll lose the money.

What exactly does this mean? More bridges to nowhere? Repaving all the Interstates? Ensuring no American ever has to drive down a dirt road? Haven’t the feds been using highway fund extortion to keep the drinking age at 21 in all fifty-seven states? Where have those funds been spent? Would Obama be willing to see states eliminate set-asides for minority and female-owned contractors to ensure they can act quickly to invest in roads and bridges?

If we’re going to spend a substantial amount of federal money on infrastructure we need to focus on our electric grid. As appealing as a nation of ditch-diggers may be, the reality is electricity consumption is going to increase by ~30% over the next two decades. Perhaps even more if electric cars actually become economically feasible/practical. Our grid is running at near capacity in many areas now. As Americans plug more and more things in around their houses and businesses those areas are likely to see brown/blackouts.

There are much more pressing needs than a surge of make-work transportation projects. They usually end up being the worst kind of Washington pork.

Third, my economic recovery plan will launch the most sweeping effort to modernize and upgrade school buildings that this country has ever seen. We will repair broken schools, make them energy-efficient, and put new computers in our classrooms. Because to help our children compete in a 21st century economy, we need to send them to 21st century schools.

Again with the energy efficiency. Geez. I can’t think of a more spectacular example of government failure than federal spending on education. Since the Department of Education was spawned test scores have declined while spending per pupil has skyrocketed. Of course, if anyone knows about throwing good money after bad with no improvement in student performance it’s Barack Obama.

Nobody wants children to be educated in dilapidated schools. But years of “modernization” hasn’t improved student performance. And call me crazy, it seems computers in the classroom may be beneficial for learning computer programming but just a distraction when it comes to reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmatic. Thanks to the advent of text-messaging, in twenty years there won’t be anyone left who can compose a business letter in proper English. While computer skills are essential in today’s job market we shouldn’t ignore classical education.

Funny that children who come to the US from Asian countries have a far better mastery of math and English than native children. If we really want to prepare children to compete in the 21st century it might be better to adopt Asian educational philosophies rather than masking students’ lack of educational basics with a machine that spell checks every sentence and performs all their calculations.

Educational vouchers would drive more improvement in student performance than merely increasing dollars spent per pupil. Schools forced to compete for tuition dollars would educate children or they would fade away. An increased focus on vocational education would give children who are uninterested in/unsuited for a classical education the skills needed to get good-paying jobs in the trades industry. Give the dollars to parents and let them decide where they should be spent educating their children.

As we renew our schools and highways, well also renew our information superhighway. It is unacceptable that the United States ranks 15th in the world in broadband adoption. Here, in the country that invented the Internet, every child should have the chance to get online, and they’ll get that chance when I’m President – because that’s how we’ll strengthen America’s competitiveness in the world.

There’s already excess fiber capacity, the biggest issue with getting everyone on a broadband connection is the geographical size of the country. DSL signals can only travel a short distance and cable Internet service is limited by the cable company’s willingness to string coax cable. Using electric lines is probably the easiest option and there’s been considerable work done toward that end.

Once again, Internet access can be of some utility to a child, but most recent studies show that computers and television distract children form their studies. This is an issue the market will fix over time and hardly a priority.

In addition to connecting our libraries and schools to the Internet, we must also ensure that our hospitals are connected to each other through the Internet. That is why the economic recovery plan I’m proposing will help modernize our health care system – and that won’t just save jobs, it will save lives. We will make sure that every doctor’s office and hospital in this country is using cutting edge technology and electronic medical records so that we can cut red tape, prevent medical mistakes, and help save billions of dollars each year.

Sounds great, why don’t we just cut their taxes and change accounting rules to let them spend their own money on new technology? The marketplace does work – they will spend the money more efficiently and won’t see 40% skimmed off the top to cover the government’s administrative expenses. Reducing the impact of HIPPA legislation would help save costs and ease the transfer of patient data as well.

I think we’re getting a nice preview of what we can expect from President Obama. Easy decisions. Profligate spending. Feel-good proposals. Ever expanding federal involvement in all aspects of life. Incremental socialism. And the creation of a new class of Americans who rely on Washington D.C. for their livelihood. That’s hardly a recipe for sustained, robust economic growth.

Barack Obama’s done quite well for himself by giving good speeches and not doing much. That’s probably the best conservatives can hope for from President Obama – lots of pretty words and few deeds. Our best hope is that he governs counter to the Democrat-led Congress and its historically low approval ratings. So far, he seems to be fashioning himself after Bill Clinton – not the worst possible trajectory from a conservative perspective. Only time will tell.

It’s worth remembering a government big enough to give you everything you want is big enough to take everything you have.

Posted by Baron Von Ottomatic

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