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Can the States Stop the Stimulus Bill?

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I feel almost guilty about the title of this article because by the time I was finished with the research it was clear that the answer was probably no. At one point it looked like there was hope that a group of governors would stand up against irrational and dangerous federal spending and refuse to accept money (and the strings attached to it) from the so-called stimulus plan, but as we get close to the passage of the bill that hope seems to be fading.

When the TARP bill passed and there was discussion of an additional stimulus bill there was a lot of murmuring among governors and state legislators about any money for the states coming with mandates attached which would burden the states with future spending and interference from the feds. Governor Mark Sanford of South Carolina who is associated with the libertarian-leaning Republican Liberty Caucus led the opposition and spoke out against the federal spending package on states rights principles. Surprisingly rumors and speculation were strong in Texas that Governor Rick Perry would also reject federal stimulus money, with the strength of a relatively healthy economy behind him. Other governors expressing concern and potential opposition to the stimulus bill included Sarah Palin of Alaska, Haley Barbour of Mississippi, and Bobby Jindal of Louisiana. With Sanford as head of the Republican Governor's Association there was some hope that he might swing that group behind a boycott of federal money. He would certainly have popular support for such a campaign, with calls to congressional offices running hundreds to one against the bill and influential fiscal responsibility group Americans for Prosperity circulating a petition against the "no stimulus" bill which is getting a lot of publicity.

But there's a reason why the bill includes so much money for certain special interest groups. It's not a coincidence that it includes billions for unscrupulous grassroots organizations like ACORN and tens of billions of earmarks for educational programs to win the support of the powerful teachers unions. Lobbyists for the construction and auto industries and for the educational establishment have really turned up the pressure in DC and at state legislatures to make sure that they get their share of the spending bonanza. The United Federation of Teachers even bussed teachers and their students to DC to show their support at the capitol. The NEA which is the largest of the teachers unions really pulled out the all the stops with lobbying and letter writing campaigns to remind legislators nationwide who can turn out the votes and the money to get them reelected.

The result is that by this week it looks like any hope that governors will be able to block the spending bill and refuse federal money and the interference and further federal control that comes with it is fading away. State legislators in Texas were up in arms and wanted their money and were looking for a way to end-run the governor and take the federal funds without his approval. The key fight came in South Carolina where Governor Sanford wanted to stick with this principles but was struggling because of budget problems and high unemployment. He made his position on the issue very clear when he summed up the essence of the problem with the stimulus bill in the Wall Street Journal:

Federal appetites may know no bounds. But the federal government's ability to borrow is not limitless. Already, our nation's unfunded liabilities total $52 trillion — about $450,000 per household. There's something very strange about issuing debt to solve a problem caused by too much debt.

Not wanting to miss their ride on the gravy train, South Carolina legislators took the decision out of his hands by getting their man in DC, house majority whip Jim Clyburn to add a provision to the stimulus bill which will allow state legislatures to authorize spending of federal funds if they don't get gubernatorial approval within 45 days of passage. Clyburn has no love for Sanford and his addition to the bill was clearly intended as a political rebuke to Sanford and the states-rights principles he stands for.

This provision in the stimulus bill basically means that even if governors oppose the stimulus package and want to block it, they will have no voice in the process. So now all of the governors who might have opposed the massive imposition of federal spending and obligations on their states are powerless. The implications for the future are ominous, because if this bill stands as a precedent it transfers a huge amount of power away from state governments and to the Congress, taking away any ability of states to determine their own fiscal policies when federal funds are involved.

The inclusion of this rule is troubling because there is very little question that it is blatantly unconstitutional and a clear violation of the 10th Amendment. It's a big stretch to interpret the constitution to allow for the Congress to force money on the states and then force them to accept federal government dictates on how to spend that money. This creates a situation reminiscent of the case in Schechter Poultry vs. the United States where the Supreme Court struck down the National Industrial Recovery Act of 1933 for giving powers to the federal government which were not granted to it constitutionally. It may also run afoul of the ruling in New York vs. the United States which ruled that it was unconstitutional for the federal government to force state governments to act as its agents. The passage of the stimulus bill with this inclusion may lead to legal challenges from some states and legal rights groups. If it does not, the danger of the precedent it will set in weakening state autonomy is frightening.

So the bad news is that despite the best efforts of a few heroes like Governor Mark Sanford of South Carolina, craven state legislators and power-hungry Democrats in Congress have assured that the massive stimulus spending will go into effect over the objection of concerned governors. In doing this Congress may well have precipitated a constitutional crisis and it is clear that the last remaining hope for those who want fiscally responsible government and oppose this massive deficit spending bill lies with legal challenges in the courts, and ultimately on the slender hope that the Supreme Court will block this massive expansion of federal power and affirm the validity of the 10th Amendment.

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About Dave Nalle

  • Maurice

    Well written and terrifying!

    Funny how we are always concerned with dictators like Chavez forcing their will on their citizens and yet here we have our own government seizing companies and forcing people to accept ‘gifts’ which are bad for them.

  • http://www.republicofdave.com Dave Nalle

    The expansion of federal power which this represents is the scariest part. Our local and state governments are supposed to be our primary source of governance, yet congress is now attempting to usurp that power.

    We’ve gone from Bush and his unitary executive to a congress which is even more power hungry and dictatorial. Our government is completely out of balance.

    Dave

  • Clavos

    Governor Sanford is dead on with this point:

    “There’s something very strange about issuing debt to solve a problem caused by too much debt.”

    It’s ironic that the people who are so afraid of the so-called “New World Order” conspiracy are failing to notice the rapidly deepening consolidation of all power in this country in the hands of the federal government and the democrats currently running it.

  • http://www.futonreport.net/ Matthew T. Sussman

    Ha. Next article:

    Can The Supreme Court Rule the Stimulus Bill Unconstitutional?

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ Roger Nowosielski

    Nothing would please our friends here better!

  • Glenn Contrarian

    “billions for ACORN”?

    Reference, please.

  • Rob Daugherty

    While ACORN is not specifically mentioned, recall what ACORN is:

    Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now

    The bill states:
    ““For a further additional amount for ‘Community Development Fund,’ $4,190,000,000, to be used for neighborhood stabilization activities related to emergency assistance for the redevelopment of abandoned and foreclosed homes…”

    ACORN and other nonprofit entities would be in line to receive these funds. What would these funds be used for? What exactly does “neighborhood stabilization” mean?

    And why would an organization called “Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now” take it upon themselves to register millions upon millions of people (i.e. democrats – real or imaginary) to vote.

    So…

    ACORN is not specified directly. However, what IS specified is a fund where ACORN gets its federal money.

  • http://www.republicofdave.com Dave Nalle

    Here’s a link to a more detailed explanation, Glenn.

    It’s basically a bunch of additional funding for a program from which ACORN already gets substantial federal dollars. IMO a gross conflict of interest. Too many partisan groups are operating under the pretense of being non-partisan on both sides of the aisle, ACORN just being the most egregious example.

    Dave

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    What exactly does “neighborhood stabilization” mean?

    Reading beyond those two words in the sentence you yourself quoted ought to give you an answer to that question.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Dave –

    4.19 billion dollars – that’s a LOT of money, huh? And though you admitted in your reply that ACORN is not specifically mentioned, you DID state in your article:

    “It’s not a coincidence that it includes billions for unscrupulous grassroots organizers at ACORN….”

    The context of your statement is CLEAR. BILLIONS for ACORN…even though you later admitted that ACORN – whose registration efforts have not been proven to have led to even ONE fraudulent vote in the entire nation in 2008 – is not specifically mentioned.

    Furthermore, Dave, since you made it clear that it is your belief (YOU made the statement, remember) that ACORN will receive billions…but do you know what ACORN’s operating budget is? Do you know their funding sources? Beyond what your neo-con pundits tell you, apparently not.

    As of 2006, ACORN’s operating budget was about $37 million for an organization of over 200,000 people. The funding from several sources within the government added up to about $3.3 million per year from 2003-2006…in other words, less than one-tenth of ACORN’s operating budget.

    BUT ACCORDING TO THE LITERAL WORDS IN YOUR ARTICLE the federal government would increase ACORN’s budget perhaps a thousandfold!

    Next time, Dave, please be more careful to not skew the information you present…for that is certainly what you did. I strongly suspect your error was inadvertent, that you allowed your frustration and anger at Obama and ACORN to color your rhetoric beyond the point of truthfulness.

    In other words, please be more careful to allow the facts to determine your belief, rather than allowing your belief to determine the facts.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Dave –

    I looked at your reference – and it’s a JOKE! It’s titled “ACORN Could Get Billions….” – and NEVER shows ANY EVIDENCE WHATSOEVER that ACORN would receive anything more than what’s it’s been getting from the federal government.

    In fact, go to your reference and look at the ‘updated and more expansive study’ – IT’S JUST AN EXCEL TABLE WITH NO REFERENCES WHATSOEVER! I looked at another reference listed by your reference – an ‘analysis’ by John Boehner – and it’s the SAME table, and again with NO REFERENCES to back it up!

    But let’s say the article’s right, that ACORN’s operating budget for 2008 was $57 million – not surprising, considering the FACT that ACORN gets the majority of its funding from non-governmental (i.e. partisan) sources. The Boehner ‘reference’ also states that ACORN had receive just under $20 million from the federal government since 1998 – an average of two million dollars per year, or just under FOUR PERCENT of their operating budget for 2008.

    C’mon, Dave – will you at least check your sources to make sure they’re factual and verifiable? First clue – if you’re reading an article with inflammatory language (which your reference certainly had), make sure your BS filter is working.

  • http://www.republicofdave.com Dave Nalle

    Glenn, I’ll stop posting my opinion that ACORN is at least in part the target of some of this money when you agree that ACORN is involved in a wide variety of unscrupulous and partisan activities while taking large amounts of federal funds, which is utterly reprehensible.

    In addition, ACORN operates through hundreds of front groups and affiliates to mask their involvement and to allow them to avoid federal grant limitations and other types of oversight.

    And keep in mind that the point of this article is not the details or the degree of ACORN’s funding, but the attempt to take away the right of states to restrict and regulate federal spending in their territory. Whether it’s a penny or a trillion for ACORN is largely irrelevant.

    But by all means defend the most corrupt organization in the US until you turn blue in the face. I’m not going to cut them any slack.

    Dave

  • http://www.futonreport.net/ Matthew T. Sussman

    “Next time, Dave, please be more careful to not skew the information you present…”

    Is that anything like saying a comment by Rob Daugherty is the same as a comment by Dave Nalle?

  • http://www.republicofdave.com Dave Nalle

    Um, who the hell is Rob Daugherty?

    And I do wish that people would pay some attention to the serious issue raised in this article, rather than falling for Glenn’s transparent attempt at misdirection.

    Dave

  • http://handyfilm.blogspot.com handyguy

    Most states are begging for this money. And most or all of it is sorely needed.

    Gov Sanford and his legislature have clashed a number of times before. The rigidity of his libertarianism gets in the way of humanitarian assistance, because [like Dave?] he basically doesn’t believe in welfare and would like to see it abolished.

    And what would some of the writers and commenters do on here without Acorn to kick around? It’s highly comical.

  • Clavos

    Most states are begging for this money. And most or all of it is sorely needed.

    In which case, it’s a shame indeed that the administration and Congress won’t simply return the money to the states without strings, especially since that’s where the damn money came from in the first place.

    The arrogance of the clowns in Washington knows no bounds.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writer/dan_miller Dan(Miller)

    Clav,

    The arrogance of the clowns in Washington knows no bounds. I suggest, sir, that there are no bounds, because we, the voters, impose none.

    Dan(Miller)

  • Clavos

    Point taken, Sr. Miller.

    We should start, and the sooner the better.

  • Cindy D

    Where will you get the money to buy the “representatives”?

  • http://blogcritics.org/writer/dan_miller Dan(Miller)

    Cindy D,

    They are not for sale. They are, however, available for rent.

    Dan(Miller)

  • Maurice

    This over balance of power by the federal government could lead to bad things.

  • Lumpy

    handy. why should our government be in the businesss of handouts? do you prefer that method of helping the needy because you’re too lazy to help them yourself or because you’d prefer to see them helped with someone else’s money. either way i’d peg u as the one who really doesn’t cate. certainly not enough to take responsibility with your owm precious time or money. heattless.

  • http://www.morethings.com/log Al Barger

    I don’t see how the states could do much to stop the “stimulus” bill anyway. Seems like the most they could do even in theory would be to refuse their little chunks of the state aid, which is what, 10% of the total?

    And it’s tough to ask someone NOT to take money that the feds are shoving at them. We don’t get any choice in paying for this nonsense. It’s not like if Sarah Palin refused their cut, then Alaskans wouldn’t have to pay the taxes or endure the inflation that will be used to pay for the whole mess.

  • http://handyfilm.blogspot.com handyguy

    Hi Lumpy. Lovely to see you as always.

    I am on the receiving end of government benefits right now, receiving the princely sum of $405 per week in unemployment benefits [minus 10% for tax withholding].

    I have not yet applied for food stamps, and I must admit like most middle class Americans I don’t even know how, or what the eligibility requirements are. But soon, I may get to find out. I lost my job at the end of August last year. I am attempting to live my life in New York City, not an inexpensive place, as you may have heard.

    Certainly I believe there should be a strong government safety net. The idea that people should be allowed to go without food or healthcare because they are down on their luck is quite repugnant to me. Maybe you’ve just hardened yourself to it. I won’t try to read the motivation for your unpleasant attitude.

    In a time of economic crisis, the poorest in our society become even more vulnerable. [I don’t include myself there, thankfully, and I hope I don’t have to.] And as has been pointed out, cash benefits to the poor are nearly always spent, 100%, and they do serve as some kind of immediate stimulus to the economy through grocery stores etc.

    Without federal subsidies, states may have to cut back on benefits significantly, and may have to lay off teachers, police, nurses, and other state employees.

    The money in the stimulus that is going to the states is not frivolous. There are a lot of people hurting right now. I’m glad we have a government that isn’t looking for ways to kick the poor when they’re down. Or whatever nicer sounding way you’d like to put it.

  • http://www.morethings.com/log Al Barger

    Suss sez: Can The Supreme Court Rule the Stimulus Bill Unconstitutional?

    Answer: They probably SHOULD, at least some good chunks of it. Then again, it’s not like the constitution actually means that much anyway. It would be just foolishness to expect the SCOTUS to ask the president or congress where the constitution gives them a right to do something. Pretty much the only clear restriction that the US Constitution places on government power is that they’re absolutely not allowed to stop women from killing their unborn babies.

    Other than that though, it’s anything goes. And what’s a trillion here and federalizing my medical data there amongst friends?

  • Doug Hunter

    “Certainly I believe there should be a strong government safety net.”

    For every person seeking a honest handup there is another (or more) looking for a handout. There is an underclass that uses the rules of the system against it. They cobble together disability benefits, welfare, housing vouchers, food stamps, alimony, and child support to eek out an existence. They hide income, duck taxes, and have relationships without marriage to game the system.

  • http://handyfilm.blogspot.com handyguy

    You state this with great certainty, but without any backup.

    Does this fraud really exist, in the organized manner you describe? If so, how large is it? Even if it is as large as you imply, does that mean we stop all government aid to the needy? What are you basing this on and what are you saying it means in terms of policy?

    Or are you just throwing out some more ideological ill will? We definitely need some more of that around here.

  • http://www.republicofdave.com Dave Nalle

    Handy, how on earth can one live on $405 a month? Well, I have some ideas, but it seems like an unsustainable situation. If you’ve got a car and some skills you should immediately move somewhere that there are jobs going begging. Compared to $405 a month the 6 people who asked me if I needed help in Home Depot today earn a princely wage.

    Dave

  • Irene Wagner

    Sure there are bound to be able-bodied people who scrape by on government benefits. For every $10 siphoned off the system by small potatoes thievery like that, there’s probably $10,000 taken by elected psychopaths (who hypocritically promised more benefits for the poor or who hypocritically promised lower taxes) who do mysterious things with all the money we’ve been paying in taxes, so that it a lot of it never gets to the poor…and so taxes need to be raised again…and they get more of it…

    Nope, no references. I don’t know of many who would disagree with the “doing mysterious things with the money we’ve paid in taxes” part, not these days anyway.

  • Clavos

    For every $10 siphoned off the system by small potatoes thievery like that, there’s probably $10,000 taken by elected psychopaths…

    Or by just plain scumbags, like the 58 year old Miami physician (a female) who was just sent away for more years than she’s likely going to live for ripping off Medicare to the tune of $11 million.

    I applaud the judge (also female) who sentenced her to enough years she’ll never get out. With a little luck, maybe someone inside will off the doctor before long and save us some money.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    For Dave and Rob Daugherty –

    First for Dave, an apology. I read Rob Daugherty’s reply and I thought it was yours, and I apologize sincerely. I am sorry for posting as if what he wrote was by you. This is not the first time I made a stupid mistake like this, and Lord knows it won’t be the last.

    That was NOT an attempt of ‘misdirection’ on my part – it was a stupid error on my part. However combative I may be, I do NOT try to use trickery or warped rhetoric to change the minds of others. Please do not ever assume that I use such base guile as a tactic.

    BE THAT AS IT MAY, you still posted as if ACORN was going to get billions, which they most certainly will NOT. I think you know this, and if you did know it, then while I am certainly guilty of making a stupid mistake, YOU are guilty of intentional gross exaggeration.

    AND FOR ROB DAUGHERTY…dude, verify your sources, willya? I try not to use untoward language…but your reference was pure crap – it’s ‘numbers’ were based on an Excel spreadsheet that listed NO SOURCE DOCUMENTATION WHATSOEVER.

  • Cindy D

    RE # 28

    That was $405/week Dave.

  • http://handyfilm.blogspot.com handyguy

    Yes, $405 per week. Still a stretch for NYC. I did get a severance payment, which will have been used up soon.

  • http://ruvysroost.blogspot.com Ruvy

    Glenn,

    I have no URL sources for this – only my gut. A number of times I sought work with ACORN, thinking that it was about community activism and the like. Every single time I went for an interview, I got this bad feeling that ACORN was all about hustling people to accept things or do things they did not want to do. Every single time I got this strong feeling in my gut that these were people I wanted very badly to stay away from.

    I see what they have brought forth to you for a president – and all I can say is that I’m glad I stayed away. My conscience feels better.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ Roger Nowosielski

    All f … bureaucracies are like that. You should have lived in the city of Oakland, Ruvy. Nepotism is the defining principle, in addition to who knows whom. But they all talk a good game.

  • bliffle

    While deserving and needy people continue to suffer, we, the US Taxpayer, continue to subsidize the worst banks with the misbegotten TARP:

    bailout sleuth

    ” By Chris Carey on February 14, 2009 9:08 PM

    Regulators closed four more banks on Friday, seizing their assets and deposits and placing them with other financial institutions.

    Two of the four failed banks were absorbed by companies that had received taxpayer capital through the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program, continuing a trend that BailoutSleuth has been tracking for the past few months.

    Of the thirteen banks shut down by regulators since the start of the year, nine were taken over by other institutions whose own balance sheets had been bolstered by the government.”

    Can there be anything more nuts than SUBSIDIZING the growth of banks that will be even more “too big to fail” in coming years?

    Who thinks this stuff up?

    This means that even federal anti-trust will be hampered against these dodos since WE subsidized them.

    ALL of the TARP funds and ALL of the bailout money in the Stimulus should be re-allocated to saving homes in foreclosure and getting the already-evicted back into their homes.

    What we are doing is destroying the USA with taxpayers money.

  • http://www.republicofdave.com Dave Nalle

    Who thinks this stuff up?

    From what I can tell, most bad ideas originate in the big, round and greed filled head of Chris Dodd.

    And don’t forget that 90% of the Republicans in Congress voted against TARP.

    Dave

  • Doug Hunter

    “You state this with great certainty, but without any backup.” – Handy

    Why do I need a ‘study’ to tell me what I can see with my own eyes. The first thing I mentioned in my list of abused programs was disability. I’ve never studied the history of disability or really been that interested. I know that when I see application after application of perfectly healthy looking people listing SSI income that something is up. Sure enough, after I read your post I looked up the actual statistics which bore out exactly what I could surmise from observation. Per capita rates for disability have increased fourfold in the last few decades.

  • http://handyfilm.blogspot.com handyguy

    Doug, all I can say is that I’m glad you’re not making policy. Spotty observational data and hunches may be OK for making glib comments on here, but your observations prove nothing at all. You have no knowledge whatsoever about whether these individuals [however many or few of them there are] are disabled. You have only your own prejudice, your assumption that they are malingerers.

    And my question still stands: say you could prove large-scale welfare fraud. Are you saying we should not have welfare at all because of that? Or should we possibly just enforce the rules better? That’s if there’s a problem — which you believe because of your ideology, not because of empirical evidence or proof.

  • Clavos

    There certainly is large-scale Medicare fraud — to the tune of $7 million daily/365 days a year, according to an extensive muckraking series by the Miami Herald published late last year.

    From today’s edition of the Herald:

  • http://handyfilm.blogspot.com handyguy

    I’m happy for the doctors in question to be exposed and punished.

    Doug was talking about individuals who receive aid committing fraud, not others like doctors who game the system.

    The Medicare fraud doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have Medicare, and other fraud [speculative in the case of Doug’s post] shouldn’t affect our attempts to aid the poor and disabled.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Clavos –

    There you go again….

    It wasn’t MEDICARE committing the fraud, now was it? It was the DOCTORS who they contracted with…who were defrauding the American people by defrauding Medicare…much as the Republican party enabled Big Pharma to defraud America on a TRULY grand scale (tens of billions) by not allowing Medicare to negotiate the prices. Medicare (unlike the VA) had to pay the prices offered, and not a penny less.

    If you’re SO sure that Medicare is committing so much fraud on a grand scale, howzabout showing us where MEDICARE – and not the doctors who submit fraudulent bills – is actually committing the fraud?

  • Doug Hunter

    As to hunches, you should open your eyes sometimes instead of letting others tell you what to think. The world often isn’t as complicated as it seems and when someone tells you it is, it’s often because they have something to hide. Even something as ‘complex’ as the recent mortgage mess.

    If I told you could invest your money on 100% loans plus closing costs, fees, and furniture thrown in to people putting little or none of their own money in without documentation of their income or with a history or nonpayment, then explained to you how much it cost to get a foreclosed property off the books all for the introductory interest of 3% for the first year or two you’d with 7-8% return afterwards you’d definitely balk. It was a very simple matter for a laymen to see that risk was being underpriced. Wall street created a cloud of compexity around this simple product to defraud investors which again reinforces my point that when their is complexity there is usually something being intentionally hidden.

    Anyway, to your questions. It’s very simple to see the drive to get on disability. With an NPV of approximately $250K from cash payments and lifetime healthcare there is powerful incentive to get on the rolls. Toss in pretty lax rules on what constitutes a total disability (including a large range of psychological disorders) and a lawyer advertising on TV to take your case for free I can see why alot of these people make the decision. Is that fraud? Not necessarily. They’re just taking advantage of the rules as provided to them.

    What needs changed are those rules and the incentives that promote questionable behavior. How you ask? Get rid of incentives for failure and treat people equally. It really is that simple.

    Instead of making people avoid jobs, hide cash income, stay out of marriage, and give away assets to qualify for medical care give everyone universal healthcare.

    Instead of cutting off benefits like food stamps at modest income levels subsidize quality food for everyone and offer middle income families a credit equal to what poor people get with their stamps. Then there’s nothing lost if you improve your situation.

    That’s alot of what frustrates people. You see people sending death threats to the octuplet mom and putting here down. That’s pent up anger that the system rewards people for these things. They don’t understand why she’s getting paid enough to do nothing but raise kids and still can afford in vitro when they’re working their asses off with no time for their kids and can barely pay for their basic healthcare. Frustrate them enough and they might just call that social security lawyers’ number on the screen, their collective backs are hurting anyway.

    On a side note, I did have my hopes up for the Obama stimulus. What I see on the social side is more of the same, very little for actual working middle class and lots of handouts to those who do little or no work.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ Roger Nowosielski

    You’re not going to eliminate the welfare class with one clean sweep. It had accrued over the generations. One way to start would be to place all able-bodied persons in work-situations. That should have started long time ago. It’s kind of late now.

  • bliffle

    Roger will discover the answer if he keeps digging like this.

    The fact is we can’t put every able-bodied person to work in our current situation. There isn’t enough work to go around, especially if people fueled by desperation keep increasing their weekly work hours.

    We have assured this result with persistently increasing productivity for the past 60 years.

    For a long time we compensated for increased productivity by increasing consumption, largely through advertising.

    But now our high consumption has been diverted to foreign manufacturers, thus undermining the available work.

    This has been exacerbated by increasing skills requirement in almost all workplaces. It is no longer sufficient to have a strong back and a willing attitude. Those things are almost worthless. Witness the crowds of unwanted unskilled laborers standing around in the Home Depot lot.

    An unskilled laborer is almost worthless, even in traditional trades such as gardening and construction. A campesino from a rancho in remote Mexico may be able to till a cornfield but he’s worthless to tend tomatoes, carrots, squash and trim overgrown shrubs and trees. Even a simple weed-whacker is beyond his skills. let alone any kind of garden carpentry or architecture.

    On the construction site an unskilled worker is just a liability hazard. There simply is no place for simple heavy lifting. Even driving nails is a skilled job now (one laughs to see Jimmy Carter and other celebrities putting on a show at Habitat For Humanity by hammering nails). Most modern construction jobs now use highly developed materials, complex tools, and classroom training for erection.

    Sixty years ago Norbert Weiner (a great MIT WW2 engineer for the illiterates out there) said that no man could compete with a steamshovel and earn a subsistence wage. John Henry, anyone?

    We have to spread the jobs we need among a wider population, and we have to cease expecting everyone to earn their way in our traditional Puritanical way.

    It’s better if a husband and wife each work 20 hours a week and spend more time with their children and taking care of family affairs.

    Maybe it’s better if an artistic boy spends his time painting rather than trying to be an insurance adjuster. Maybe, with enough effort, he’ll even paint something that is pleasant to look at, an outcome which seems not to be given by our present system of overpaid Celebrity Artists, who seem bound to paint things that make your eyes smart.

    Spread the work! The wealth will take care of itself.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ Roger Nowosielski

    But that’s why, bliffle, this should have started ages ago. You remember the advent of what they called “automation” – way before the computer revolution. There was talk back then, and hope, of reducing the work week to 35 hours – even to thirty or less. Would have been perfectly fine by me – creating a semi-working, semi-leisure class. But it never materialized, though, did it? In fact, there was an avalanche of women entering the work-force, part-time at first and then full time. And it depressed the wages all around, with the effect that now both members of the household had to work in order to maintain their old lifestyles.
    There was a window, then, which we had missed. I guess too many working people were just too greedy – all they wanted is more material goods.

    Well, it’s haunting us now.