Repeating failure on purpose
Posted by aogSaturday, 06 December 2008 at 17:05 TrackBack Ping URL

Sure, let’s move on to something more substantive than character flaws, although it might not really be a different thing. So, what about President Elect Obama’s plan to re-create the WPA? Is it an artifact of Obama’s instinctive socialism, unimpaired by any knowledge of history, or a payoff to his union supporters?

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cjm Sunday, 07 December 2008 at 07:57
  1. fund R&D for usable electric cars (then give the technology to ford and gm)
  2. build nuke plants
  3. re-build the electrical grid nationwide
  4. pump all the oofshore oil to pay for it
  5. subsidze replacing gas powered cars and rejigging “gas” stations
erp Sunday, 07 December 2008 at 08:29

Payoff to the unions as is the frenzy to bailout the auto companies. The current banking crisis orchestrated to explode a couple of weeks before the election may blow up in their faces as even the least informed citizen now knows there’s no more money out there and be reluctant to incur more massive debt1 (the real kind) right now.

The new FDR may want to remember that we were launched into a world war largely due to his love affair with communism.

1 Now called investment

Annoying Old Guy Sunday, 07 December 2008 at 09:22

Research on viable electric cars is really battery research, and there’s a lot of private funding for that already. I suspect that more government funding will make things go slower, not faster. Ford and GM will naturally get the technology since the companies will want to sell batteries.

As for the electrical grid, I kind of like the current system, since it punishes Califorinia for its self-righteous NIMBY attitude. It’s the kind of thing that should be primarily a state responsibility.

David Cohen Sunday, 07 December 2008 at 11:15

Ah, policy.

Dumb program motivated by his socialist assumptions.

cjm Sunday, 07 December 2008 at 11:59

what about flying electric cars, would that interest you? :)

you know a new national grid is a winner, and i know that you know.

this would also be an opportunity to get more intelligence into cars, so they can co-operate on freeways and avoid collisions — even self-steering! you say more electronics are better, but when presented with a golden opportunity you balk. hmmmmm.

Annoying Old Guy Sunday, 07 December 2008 at 19:38

I used to think about that quite a bit. I think it will have to wait until they can basically be autopilot like a robotic taxicab, even beyond what you mention here. Just think of the mayhem possible with flying cars, teenage boys, and beer. Especially teenage boys trying to impress teenage girls. But my real point is however much one would like it, government funding is not a good idea as it’s more likely to rush ahead to a dead end and get stuck there than deliver a real breakthrough.

Harry Eagar Monday, 08 December 2008 at 00:22

I take it you are assuming, without investigating, that WPA was wasteful or a failure or at any rate not something one would want to repeat.

What I would not like to repeat is the idiocy of non-regulation of financial markets, but some people seem not to have noticed anything amiss the last few months.

Annoying Old Guy Monday, 08 December 2008 at 10:23

Oh, no, I have investigated and I find it clear that we would not want to repeate the WPA (you could go ask Japan about that).

Harry Eagar Monday, 08 December 2008 at 13:28

Blow up the Boulder Dam. Right on!

I don’t think you investigated very deeply.

Annoying Old Guy Monday, 08 December 2008 at 15:58

Your economics are quite a puzzle to me, as there are at least three gaping holes in your response —

  1. The Hoover Dam is a sunk cost. However poor the initial decision to build may have been, destroying is it not going to improve anything.
  2. It is possible for a program or effort to be ill-conceived even if positive results occur within the overall failure.
  3. Even if a program results in a net positive doesn’t mean it was a good idea, or something to be repeated. One must look at the cost of those results. For instance, a subscriber drive by a newspaper may yield additional subscriptions, but if it costs $10K / new subscriber, would you recommend another round?

This suggest strongly to me that it is you who haven’t investigated very deeply.

Harry Eagar Monday, 08 December 2008 at 18:51

Well, since we are not (yet) in a deflation with 25% unemployment, I don’t think WPA is a relevant comparison. But if you are going to compare it, yes, WPA gave the country an enormous stock of useful infrastructure. I walk to work every day on WPA sidewalks, for example.

The initial decision on Boulder Dam was anything but poor, and the return on that smallish investment has been in the tens or perhaps hundreds of billions of dollars.

I am skeptical that, given the distribution of job losses, building highway bridges on the cuff is going to do much to revive the economy. Circuit City clerks and mortgate brokers are not, on the whole, going to seek work in the bridge trade.

In 1935, bridges made a great deal of sense, since they employed the kinds of people who were out of work.

I am concerned that Bush and Paulson, who have already slugged the economy over the head with a 16-pound hammer, will do some permanent damage over the next few weeks. Whether Obama, or anyone else, can retrieve the situation is an open question. We’ve never had an economy just like this one, never had it collapsed and cannot guarantee that any particular course of action will improve things.

Annoying Old Guy Tuesday, 09 December 2008 at 07:50

The return on, say, the initial investment in Wozniak and Jobs did even better. You depend far too much on anecdotal evidence which is not reliable. And, of course, I never claimed that the decision to build Hoover Dam was poor, merely that it didn’t matter if it was.

I think we could recover quite easily, but that no modern politician would be willing to give up enough of his power to do so.

Harry Eagar Tuesday, 09 December 2008 at 11:34

I’d like to hear your plan. What power does the government have to give up? Printing money?

Annoying Old Guy Tuesday, 09 December 2008 at 11:45

Economic intervention. Things like the FMs. Industrial subsidies. The second highest corporate tax rate in the world. Regulations of process rather than results. Arcane tax codes to favor political popular things. High taxes.

Like exercise and diet, the results wouldn’t be instanteous but in the not very long term things would be much better. The idea that you can “shock” the economy into recovery is laughable.

Harry Eagar Tuesday, 09 December 2008 at 15:01

If you impose reasonable regulations, you don’t have to shock it, because it stays healthy.

I’m against arcane in all circumstances, but tax codes to favor politically popular things — I thought that’s what self-government was for. I like, for example, the highway use tax, because I know what kind of highways you get if you wait for the free enterprise system to provide.

Industrial subsidies are an interesting case. White oak barrels, probably not necessary any more. Capacity to produce machine tools, worth preserving against future need even if it reduces ‘efficiency,’ as the Japanese learned the hard way.

Annoying Old Guy Tuesday, 09 December 2008 at 15:43

The problem with tax code provisions are

  1. They’re inefficient
  2. It’s a prisoner’s dilemma, where the self governed are better off if they all agree to not do that sort of thing, and worse off after a while once it starts.

And, which is rarely done, you have to count the cost of the cure against the cost of remediation from the problem. It’s stupid to pay for preventatives if they cost you more than cleaning up the problem.

Harry Eagar Tuesday, 09 December 2008 at 18:32

inefficient is a matter of perspective. If you decide to wait for the market to deliver paved roads, you will wait an infinitely long time, and if you place a time value on money, there is a cost to that, also.

Annoying Old Guy Tuesday, 09 December 2008 at 20:49

I am not sure I see how tax code provisions build paved roads.

Harry Eagar Wednesday, 10 December 2008 at 19:24

26 U.S.C. § 4081

Annoying Old Guy Wednesday, 10 December 2008 at 19:57

Taxes don’t build roads, and the imposition of taxes on road users doesn’t build roads, in fact it’s frequently the case that the tax money isn’t used for roads at all.

Jan. 15 [2006] —Since 2004, private companies have pledged about $35 billion to build and operate toll roads across Texas and the United States, a Star-Telegram review of proposals shows. That’s more than the $34 billion in federal highway aid that Congress disbursed nationwide last year.

Yep, that sounds like forever.

erp Thursday, 11 December 2008 at 07:27

Heard in passing that Florida is thinking of setting aside some roads as pay-as-you-go.

Since I no longer read the papers nor listen to the news, I don’t know if they’re building new roads or taking some existing roads off line, but it sounds like a good idea to me.

Drivers who don’t want traffic and are willing to pay a premium for that convenience get what they want leaving less traffic on the local roads the rest of us should use.

When we were motoring all over North America, it irked me that a lot of the traffic was local. People going from one town to the other and clogging up the interstates for people going through.

Locally, I refuse to use the interstate to drive from one exit to the other and there would be a lot fewer accidents if everyone did the same.

Public vs private road building.

I 95 which we’ve driven countless times from Florida to Connecticut and back has been undergoing widening since before recorded history. The pace couldn’t be slower if two guys with a wheel barrow were doing all the work themselves, although there’s usually an impressive array of heavy machinery parked along the side of the road with orange cones as far as the eye can see, probably as props to reassure passersby that, in fact, work is going on at time nobody is looking.

Private companies not having the bottomless pit of funds the public sector enjoys would per chance move projects along at a brisker pace.

Harry Eagar Thursday, 11 December 2008 at 12:07

26 U.S.C. § 4081. US tax on gasoline can be used only to build roads.

I go to Texas every year. Haven’t seen a toll road yet.

Annoying Old Guy Thursday, 11 December 2008 at 13:10

Yeah, so that states put the money in a “trust fund” which contains state bonds, the proceeds of which are used for whatever the state likes. I figured that out decades ago when I tried to figure out a state could have a large fund for road repair and really lousy roads.

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