The “cliff” matters, but for other reasons

Really great post by Robert Reich on FB today:

I can think of at least three cliffs that pose larger dangers to America than the fiscal one:

(1) The child poverty cliff. Between 2007 and 2011, the percentage of American school-age children living in poor households grew from 17 to 21%. Unless we focus on better schools, better health, and improved conditions for these poor kids and their families, we’ll have a significant population of undereducated and desperate adults.

(2) The baby-boomer healthcare cliff. Healthcare costs are already 18% of GDP, and between now and 2030, when 76 million boomers join the ranks of the elderly, those costs will soar unless we adopt a single-payer system that focuses on healthy outcomes rather than fee-for-services.

(3) The environmental cliff. Carbon levels in the atmosphere are increasing at a rate of 3 percent this year. Unless we adopt a carbon tax and/or cap and trade system (and get China and India to join us) we’ll be very soon at the point of no-return when ice caps irretrievably melt, sea-levels rise, and amount of available cropland in the world becomes dangerously small.

I think we should stop obsessing about the fiscal cliff and get working on these others. Do you agree?

I agree, and it also frames my distaste for the current brand of “cliffonomics” that plagues the major media coverage we are inundated with.  The biggest problem I see with the “fiscal cliff” drama is that the failure of Congress to find a solution to this issue is a bad omen for actually fixing anything of significance over the next four years. It seems that the GOP has figured that they can kick the can for another four years if they have to. That would include everything from health care and immigration to infrastructure and manufacturing.

There are much bigger issues in play than revenue and spending.  Basically the current argument is a marginal debate over which revenue and spending measures each party finds acceptable.  The debate takes place over the status-quo chessboard (maybe checkers is more apt… yep… checkers), whereas the real game should be played is in fixing the system to eliminate the source of the problem.  Massive public costs of healthcare due to a broken system are the number one savings vector, and they are being discussed in terms of weakening the already shaky net of healthcare options.  That is, to be blunt, insane.

Both sides in this dreadfully boring and childish “cliff” exercise are playing a game based on vote grubbing and base-preservation, which in the end will succeed at neither.  It is arguable that both conservative and liberal leadership have marginalized the center, and I believe it is because the center in America is rapidly asking “why can’t we have a better system, not just a rule change?” and neither party is willing to take that gamble.  What you have in Medicare and Medicaid is a proven revenue stream and a broken service delivery system.  The appropriations don’t need more than a tweak, but the delivery need a major upgrade.  That could involve means-testing, sliding scale reimbursement, cost controls, and possibly a subsidy/education system where you could get a break on say med school if you agreed to a commitment to serve.  That is tried and true policy strategy that has worked in the military for ages.  My fear is that a simple and rational pkan like that would be laughed off the table on day one because it doesn’t offer a clear political advantage.  The public benefit will never get to the discussion phase, because here in America, the public is well and truly fucked.

To close, a short list of major undertakings that have the potential to deliver jobs, GDP growth, straightline economic growth, and economic benefit:

  • Transportation infrastructure improvement project – WPA scale, bridges, roads, rail, and multi-user
  • Carbon Reduction Act with a jobs-based mechanism in addition or lieu of penalties/tax
  • Outright disincentives for offshoring capital and jobs.  Currently there is none, and we are paying the price on a national basis.
  • Dip toes into consumption-based tax, gaining a lever on the imbalance between profit and pure profit-taking that is ripping fuel out of our economy at an alarming rate.
  • STFU about immigration half-measures and put a true “move the line” system whereby immigrants can attain citizenship through normal means of work, paying taxes, lack of criminal activity, etc…

And so on.  Those issues have bigger up-front paybacks and yield larger benefits over the long haul than making seniors gap-fill for even more years before getting access to Medicaid or some other scenario where the least-able are punished for the inability of the wealthy to act responsibly.

In the words of the great Bootsy Collins: “Kirk Out”


One response to “The “cliff” matters, but for other reasons

  1. Sage words, my friend.

    Boehner would have to tortured in a Romanian CIA prison before he’d ever give in on anything about climate and offshoring money and jobs. There is absolutely no way that’s going to change in this chapter of Republican Follies.

    Fuggin’ idiots.