Fiscal Stimulus II
November 22, 2008, 11:32 PM
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Obama says today in his weekly Youtube message:

I have already directed my economic team to come up with an Economic Recovery Plan that will mean 2.5 million more jobs by January of 2011 – a plan big enough to meet the challenges we face that I intend to sign soon after taking office. We’ll be working out the details in the weeks ahead, but it will be a two-year, nationwide effort to jumpstart job creation in America and lay the foundation for a strong and growing economy. We’ll put people back to work rebuilding our crumbling roads and bridges, modernizing schools that are failing our children, and building wind farms and solar panels; fuel-efficient cars and the alternative energy technologies that can free us from our dependence on foreign oil and keep our economy competitive in the years ahead.

How much of this can actually be done in 24 months?

It's crucial to understand that this isn't December 8, 1941 anymore. The people who voted for Obama have spent decades making it extremely difficult to do quickly anything physical. For example, California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger sponsored a bunch of bond initiatives that passed in 2006. But, I am told by a Sacramento insider, that, two years later, no dirt has been turned. I'm sure that a lot of environmental scientists, lawyers, and administrators have been pulling down paychecks, but in the physical world, nothing has happened in 24 months.

So, let's look at Obama's suggestions one by one:

Yes, we can quickly put people to work "rebuilding crumbling roads and bridges." There aren't, as far as I know, big environmental impact snags with resurfacing existing freeways. There's this one lane in particular that every time I drive it takes a day off the life of my car. Of course, all this would just make driving more enjoyable so it's the opposite of the "green" philosophy of the rest of Obama's thinking.

What about "modernizing schools that are failing our children"? First of all, there's little relationship between physically spiffy schools and non-failing schools. Los Angeles has spent something like $24 billion on school construction and remodeling in recent years with no clear return on the money. For example, the brand new, state of the art East Valley High School that opened in the San Fernando Valley a couple of years ago can't get enough students to fill it because it's overrun by gangs. Parents are lying about where they live in order to get their kids into the two pre-WWII high schools in the neighborhood because they are terrified of the brand new one. Here are the three comments about East Valley that I found on a website:

Although the students underneath me have similar beliefs about the school, I feeel that the school is a work in progress. It could be better but at the moment it is unorganized and undergoing many stumbling blocks. I feel that we need help from other schools and officials to make it better.

Posted by a student on 11/09/07

I am a student at east valley high school in north hollywood california. I never feel safe at this school. The teachers have no authority over their classrooms, or students...... I'm definetly not graduating from a school like this.

Posted by a student on 11/06/07

I find some of the teachers top rated, committed and have great teaching. However, the school culture is a mess...tagging everywhere and the principal seems not to care about all these.

Further, most of LA's school projects took many years to get off the ground. Construction of the 2500 student Belmont Learning Center near downtown LA that just opened was a notorious 20-year nightmare. From Wikipedia:

The project to build the school began in 1988. The site of the school had previously been used for industrial purposes, and a concern of soil contamination was confirmed during development in 1999. This resulted in a temporary halt to construction.

In December 2000 Superintendent Roy Romer[5] saved the project and began reviewing private bids to address the additional issues at the site. In 2002, "An Alliance for a Better Community" was selected to finish the project.[citation needed]

Further complicating the development, in September 2002 an earthquake fault was detected on the northeast portion of the plot. The project was again temporarily suspended.[6]

In May 2003 the Los Angeles Unified School District voted to finish the school but with certain modifications: inclusion of a 10 to 12 acre (4 to 4.9 ha) park; a 500 seat learning academy; a library; an auditorium; and a parent center. Once completed, these changes resulted in one of the more luxurious schools of the urban sections of the district.[citation needed]

The total project cost was then estimated to be around US$300 million. A voter initiative bond called Measure K provided $3.3 billion of the construction funds, with city funds supplying the rest.[citation needed]

In December 2004, approximately 60 percent of the buildings were demolished because of the earthquake fault and then construction continued.

What about upgrading existing schools? Well, one obvious problem is that it's hard to employ a lot of construction workers on schools except during the summer vacation, unless the school is so empty that you can shut down part of it and turn it into a construction site. But, if so few students go to it, why bother?

How about "building wind farms and solar panels?" Once again, there giant environmental issues. Wind farms are not popular in California. Further, hooking remote wind farms into the electrical grid is not trivial.

Finally, "fuel-efficient cars and the alternative energy technologies that can free us from our dependence on foreign oil and keep our economy competitive in the years ahead" haven't gone through the formality of being invented yet.

So, what do I think Obama will actually do in the short term?

A lot of state and local governments will need bailing out, most notably California, to prevent massive layoffs of civil servants. I expect to see, in the spirit of bipartisanship upon which Obama campaigned, a summit meeting between President Obama and Governor Schwarzenegger in which Obama hands tens of billions to California to meet payroll and even hire some more paper pushers and social workers. That's what Obama's entire career has been devoted to: taking money from productive people and hiring people like himself to collect paychecks while failing to solve social problems. That's his base.