Monday, July 27, 2009

Lack of Foresight and Imagination in Washington

First things first: let's stop pretending that American business can still think about the future ten to twenty years down the road. One of the ironies in our era is that the oil industry is one of the few areas of the business sector that can think ten years down the road, at least sometimes.

If there is to be change, it has to come from our government. Capitalism, free enterprise, competition and all of that will continue to play a role for many years to come but our current economic structure simply cannot deal with problems that have a long timeline such as global warming, declining fossil fuel production and the long neglected problem of world population.

To deal with problems that will play out over the next decade or two, the American government has to get involved. Unfortunately, our government has been ineffective for the last thirty years. There is some hope that the Obama Administration can renew our capacity to make things happen again. Sometimes I feel that Obama is a little behind the growing understanding of the American public but, for the most part, it's a truism that the president cannot move too far out in front of public opinion. Public opinion, of course, has very little to do these days with the American people. Public opinion is largely a fiction of the media, particularly in Washington and New York.

In the last post I wrote how the Chinese seem to have an energy policy while we continue to pretend that Wall Street experts are on top of things. We have been deluding ourselves for thirty years that free enterprise someday, somewhere, in some magical manner, will somehow take care of our energy needs and invent dreamosol, the universal energy solver. The nation that for a hundred years showed what practical men and women can do is now engaging in fantasy.

Of course some people are beginning to notice that we just may have a problem. Tern Norris and Jesse Jenkins of the San Francisco Chronicle have some very useful figures that may startle business people who like to crunch numbers:
As Congress debates climate and energy legislation, Asian challengers are moving rapidly to win the clean-energy race. China alone is reportedly investing $440 billion to $660 billion in its clean-energy industries over 10 years. South Korea is investing a full 2 percent of its gross domestic product in a Green New Deal. And Japan is redoubling incentives for solar, aiming for a 20-fold expansion in installed solar energy by 2020.

In contrast, the United States would invest only about $1.2 billion annually in energy research and development and roughly $10 billion in the clean energy sector as a whole under the Waxman-Markey bill - less than 0.1 percent of U.S. GDP. A group of 34 Nobel laureates recently wrote a letter to President Obama decrying the lack of investment and calling on him to uphold his promise to invest $15 billion annually in clean-energy R&D.

The other guys get it. How is it that we don't?

It's a given that the current generation of Republicans sent to Washington have become useless know-nothings. The thing to keep in mind is that there are also machine Democrats in Congress. 'Machine Democrats' is my catchall phrase for both Democrats from conservative states who get nervous when the status quo is threatened and Democrats in blue states who are put up by various people who know a Republican can't win but who need someone who is likely to continue business as usual. These Democrats are nearly as useless as the Republicans. The only way for our nation to move forward is for more progressive Democrats to be elected. Republicans and machine Democrats are supposedly pro-business. What they actually are is pro-privilege, pro-insider and pro-monopoly. What we need are progressive Democrats who believe that free enterprise and real competition is important while also believing that capitalism needs to work for people and not against people. Until that happens, the economy and power of the United States will continue on what is obviously becoming a downward spiral.

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Anonymous S.W. Anderson said...

One hallmark of knownothings is that they go through life believing that what is is what will be. That telescopes the time horizon they're willing and able to process down to just about end-of-nose territory.

Yet the great lesson of history, and indeed of life itself, is that the one constant is change.

So, one needn't be a geologist or oil magnate to figure out that if oil has been abundant and easy to find more of but is notably less so now, it stands to reason it's only a matter of time before it will be scarce and increasingly difficult to find more of.

People so hamstrung by ignorance and self-serving complacency should never be allowed to make public policy or shape the economy in a major way. With hands on the levers of power, they are a danger to themselves and everyone else.

I don't suggest knownothings be rounded up and herded into concentration camps, just that the public get and stay wise to their M.O, and deny them access to power.

12:03 AM  

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