In 2009, the new Congress and President buckled down to fix the economic mess of the Great Recession of 2006-2008. We all wished them luck and wisdom... and it seemed that everybody — columnists, political sages, bloggers and citizens — was chirping in with suggestions from the wings. Here are David Brin's, calling for more than a bandaid-and-a-bailout solution. Were any taken? Can they still be implemented?
For example: Demand equity and restitution. Use TARP and other bailout funds to buy only items that might offer good returns, when things turn around. Those who long howled that "government should be run like a business" have no right to complain when the United States takes advantage of an opportunity to buy low in order to sell high later on. Whiners who don't like this are hypocrites. Note that the Big Three automakers qualify under this condition, while distressed derivative wagers, held by foolish aristocrats, do not.
Also: Require that beneficiary companies make good faith efforts toward reclaiming unfair and absurd executive compensation. In fact, all future aided companies that have experienced outrageous executive compensation should be asked to file a lawsuit against those past executives, at least on a pro-forma basis, in order to establish a legal basis for discovery processes.
So much for repair. Now — what about renew? Similar principles should guide the new economic stimulus plan, including investing some of the $850B that soon-to-be President Obama and Congressional leaders plan to spend on public infrastructure projects. Among the guiding principles for how they do spend it ought to be:
Spend quickly, so that a maximum number of unemployed get to work, but...
Spend in ways that also maximize national benefit — the purpose of concentrating on infrastructure.
Do not stimulate with tax or other changes that will be hard to rescind once the crisis is over. (Unless this is part of an overall plan, e.g., reducing FICA payroll taxes in exchange for a permanent percentage-based fuels tax or a windfall bonus tax.)
Do not fall for "emergency" scams that favor specific companies, cronies, or Congressional districts. (This was done by the Bush Group, using 9/11 and Iraq as excuses to sign "emergency" bypasses to contracting laws, favoring pals to the tune of tens or even hundreds of billions of dollars. This is, in fact, history's largest loophole-for-theft, and it's gone unmentioned in the press.)
Establish a principle that no region of the country will benefit more than 10% more than the tax-proportion they contribute. Yes, Red America will howl, and Obama might have to back down on this one. But even broaching it would be a great way to make a political point: to drill into peoples' minds how hypocritical it has been to bash the blue zones, while they have been carrying more than their fair share of the burden. Ironically, this could help ease the "culture war" by making clear where Red America's self interest lies — and tone down the bitterness!
Finally, I feel I really need to reiterate my assertion that any bailout of the Big Three U.S. automakers ought to entail an imaginative compromise deal with the workers. Neither side has been either up-front, or right, in the tussle over further UAW concessions. The Unions must realize that their present deal is archaic, brittle and contributing to the collapse of a U.S. motor industry. On the other hand, those troglodyte Southern senators who demanded concessions simply in the form of across the board pay and benefits cuts are at-best waging civil war on behalf of the South and the horrifically stupid managerial caste that ran Detroit into the ground.
Common sense demands that the workers accept that a third or more of their rigid wages and benefits should change its form — but not necessarily go away! It is time for labor and pensioners to accept the blatantly obvious: that their enforceable obligations make them the top creditors of Ford, GM and Chrysler. For once George W. Bush said something right. Treat this as a bankruptcy! With present shareholders and management dropping to the bottom of priority, that would leave the workers and pensioners — effectively — the owners of the Big Three.
Live with it. Yes, both labor and management have struggled desperately, for decades, to avoid facing this inevitable day. But the era of employee ownership has arrived. So? Turn lemons into lemonade. Show what you are made of, by turning these companies profitable! And then pass out those profits to member-owners. That ought to make up for bringing formal, line wages down to competitive levels.
Think about it. As both workers and owners, UAW folk ought to come out ahead! That is, if they believe in themselves and in their products and potential.
Copyright © 2009 by David Brin. All rights reserved.
"After the Great Recession" (published in full here) was one of a series of 21 "Unusual Suggestions" Brin posted following the election of 2008, when it seemed that everybody — columnists, political sages, bloggers and citizens — wrote missives about "what I'd do if I were president."
David Brin, "Power of Consumption"
David Brin, "A Primer on Supply-Side vs. Demand-Side Economics"
David Brin blogs at Contrary Brin and comments on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and Quora specifically to discuss the political and scientific issues he raises in these articles. If you come to argue rationally, you're voting, implicitly, for a civilization that values open minds and discussions among equals.
David Brin's science fiction novels have been New York Times Bestsellers, winning multiple Hugo, Nebula and other awards. At least a dozen have been translated into more than twenty languages. They range from bold and prophetic explorations of our near-future to Brin's Uplift series, envisioning galactic issues of sapience and destiny (and star-faring dolphins!).
Short stories and novellas have different rhythms and artistic flavor, and Brin's short stories and novellas, several of which earned Hugo and other awards, exploit that difference to explore a wider range of real and vividly speculative ideas. Many have been selected for anthologies and reprints, and most have been published in anthology form.
Since 2004, David Brin has maintained a blog about science, technology, science fiction, books, and the future — themes his science fiction and nonfiction writings continue to explore.
Who could've predicted that social media — indeed, all of our online society — would play such an important role in the 21st Century — restoring the voices of advisors and influencers! Lively and intelligent comments spill over onto Brin's social media pages.
David Brin's Ph.D in Physics from the University of California at San Diego (the lab of nobelist Hannes Alfven) followed a masters in optics and an undergraduate degree in astrophysics from Caltech. Every science show that depicts a comet now portrays the model developed in Brin's PhD research.
Brin's non-fiction book, The Transparent Society: Will Technology Force Us to Choose Between Freedom and Privacy?, continues to receive acclaim for its accuracy in predicting 21st Century concerns about online security, secrecy, accountability and privacy.
Brin speaks plausibly and entertainingly about trends in technology and society to audiences willing to confront the challenges that our rambunctious civilization will face in the decades ahead. He also talks about the field of science fiction, especially in relation to his own novels and stories. To date he has presented at more than 200 meetings, conferences, corporate retreats and other gatherings.
Brin advises corporations and governmental and private defense- and security-related agencies about information-age issues, scientific trends, future social and political trends, and education. Urban Developer Magazine named him one of four World's Best Futurists, and he was cited as one of the top 10 writers the AI elite follow. Past consultations include Google, Microsoft, Procter & Gamble, and many others.
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