Austerity for Whom?

Last fall we spent the long Columbus Day weekend in Baltimore and Washington (see here and here). The purpose of our visit was twofold, to visit our daughter at Goucher College and take our youngest daughter on a couple of college visits. After our visit to Johns Hopkins Saturday morning we met our middle daughter and drove down to the Inner Harbor for the afternoon.

Walking from the garage near Camden Yards to the Inner Harbor we passed the Occupy Baltimore encampment. Just kitty-corner from the Harborplace Mall and the USS Constellation Museum, you could look across and see the marina and the new Ritz-Carlton Residences. As we were walking along I said to our middle daughter, pointing first to the Occupy camp and then the marina, “99 percent, meet 1 percent. 1 percent, meet 99 percent.” Seeing the two so close together really brought home the stark differences between them and a couple of recent columns (1 and 2), along with another installment in my friend Brian’s “Capitalism Destroys Everything” series of posts got me thinking about this again.

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A Stone of Hope

When we visited the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial last fall I was struck, not only by the symbolism of the “stone of hope” coming “out of a mountain of despair,” but by the figure of Dr. King himself. To me the look of determination on his face and the unfinished nature of the statue say that the work is never done. While progress has been made overcoming official inequality there are still other ways inequality threatens America’s place as a “land of opportunity.” It’s not about envy, it’s not about division, it’s about real opportunity in the long term best interest of us all.

Still Not Getting It

QuestionI’m still not getting it.  I don’t understand why we aren’t jumping all over the idea of health care (not just health insurance) reform as one of the best ideas since sliced bread instead of throwing up barriers based on fear and falsehood.

As a nation we spend nearly double the per capita average of OECD nations on health care.  That’s double the amount, per capita.  That mean it includes the 46 million, 47 million, 50 million, or however many million we count without health insurance.  And let’s be clear:  Just because someone doesn’t have health insurance doesn’t mean they don’t get health care.  It just tends to be delivered disproportionately on an emergency basis, therefore costing more and ending up with more of those costs being passed on to everyone else through higher health care costs and health insurance premiums.

We could spend 20% more than the OECD average, both to make up for the eastern European and Latin American countries’ far lower figures and to allow for more research and higher rates of medical provider payment, and still spend less than half what we do now.  That would free up, not cost, but free up more than $1 TRILLION that is already in the economy.  That’s $1 TRILLION a year that could be redirected to other purposes, and we would still have a better, more efficient health care system, health care for everyone, and potentially better outcomes.  So why are we even talking about how much more health care reform will cost??  Because that trillion dollars of freed up cost is going into someone’s pockets right now, that’s why.  Sorry to be so cynical, and while recognizing that there are many complexities to effective health care reform, when you get right down to it, how could it be anything else?

How is this not a no-brainer?

Bing Buzz

How do I search for thee?  Let me count the ways.

The wonder of the World Wide Web is that is does, in many ways, put the world at your fingertips.  Knowing exactly where you want to go (by having the URL for a particular page) is fine, but how do you find what else is out there?  How do you explore?  How do you discover things you had no idea even existed?  Enter the search engine – that marvelous class of tools that lets you sift, and filter, and sort through all of the stuff out there in unimaginable proportions.

Okay, then, a search engine.  But which one?  Microsoft, at least, thinks you should use Bing, which is being billed as a “decision” engine, whatever that is.


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America’s Next Top Scapegoat

rick-wagonerRick Wagoner’s out at GM, Fritz Henderson is in.  There’s been a lot of beating up on the American auto industryover the last months.  Longer than that, actually, in some corners, but it really took off with last summer’s rising fuel prices and fall’s global credit crisis dealing a one-two punch to Chrysler, GM and, to a lesser extent, Ford.

While this day has been coming for a little while now, and arrives not completely undeserved, I can’t help feeling that the American auto industry is being scapegoated to an unfair degree.  And when auto sales among all manufacturers are down as much as they are, how can you expect anyone to come up with a viable plan for turning the company around and returning to profitability?  If people can’t afford new vehicles because they don’t have a job, or can’t get credit even if they do, how is that so much the fault of the auto industry?

The American (i.e. brands with domestic roots, not U.S.-based plants of companies with origins in other countries) auto industry may well be the next (or most recent, depending on your perspective) casualty of globalization.  It also may not be the best place to focus our attention, energy, and resources for the “next economy.”  But if that’s what’s happening we can take some of the sting out of it and stop heaping blame when there’s more than enough of that to go around.

Resuming Our Regularly Scheduled Blog

Yes, it has been quiet around here of late, hasn’t it?  And yes I have been spending time on Facebook, but that’s not the only thing.  We’re also getting deep into the budget process and, like much of our economy, it ain’t pretty.  It could be worse, of course, and I don’t want to run the risk of being one of those harbingers of doom (see here for some thoughts on the adaptability of the human species and other things worth believing in) getting far too much airplay.  There are still opportunities to be found – or to be made – even though it’s hard to get people to see beyond the dismal news bombarding them at every turn.  There are opportunities to plan better, to set new directions, and not just crawl in a hole until it’s over.