I recently read with great interest about the ultra-high-speed Internet service available in Chattanooga, Tenn. Chattanooga, as it turns out, boasts of the fastest Internet speeds in the Western Hemisphere.
The average Internet speed in the United States is 9.8 megabits per second, according to a study by Akamai Technologies. Chattanooga’s service can reach speeds of up to 1,000 megabits – or 1 gigabit – per second. With a typical high-speed broadband connection, it could take nearly a half-hour to download a two-hour movie. In Chattanooga, the same download could take less than a minute.
Ironically, faster Internet service was just a secondary benefit for the city. Chattanooga’s network of fiber-optic cables was built primarily to enable a smart grid to manage electricity more effectively, particularly during inclement weather. So instead of taking days to restore electricity to residents following an outage, it takes Chattanooga only a few seconds.
You might think such impressive technology was provided by one of the major telecommunications companies. You would be wrong.
While Democrats and Republicans squabble over spending cuts and tax increases, the American people suffer. According to revised census data, 49.7 million Americans live in poverty. As of October, there are 12.3 million Americans out of a job; with that number likely larger because many gave up looking for work. In the construction sector alone, 930,000 workers are unemployed. Infrastructure spending is a mere 2.4% of GDP, compared to 5% in most of Europe and 9% in China. The Federal Government should immediately shift unemployment and defense spending to public works spending. In turn, the manufacturing sector, which as of October has 1.1 million out of work, will begin producing trucks, bulldozers, shovels, hardhats, steel beams, etc. It’s not rocket science, it’s the economy stupid!
The United States builds more roads then any other nation but lack the year-to-year funds to repair roads when they become outdated. Our airports are among the busiest in the world yet are notorious for be congested and delayed. Rail lines across the country travel at an average speed of 70 mph, while the average speed of European rail is 140 mph and 137mph in Japan. On average, each of us will spend almost 40 hours in an idle car stuck in traffic, and waste 26 gallons of gas and about $710 a year. 86% of public transit in the United States is done through driving, while the remaining 14% is split between trains, planes and various public transit. There needs to be greater balance and choice in how we travel to lower costs not only for gasoline but for other modes of transportation.
“We may consider each generation as a distinct nation, with a right, by the will of its majority, to bind themselves, but none to bind the succeeding generation, more than the inhabitants of another country.” Thomas Jefferson
The Democratic Party’s obsession with protecting entitlements is nearly as fanatical as the Republican Party’s obsession with tearing it down. The safety nets put in place during the New Deal and Great Society era is what we base the entire foundation of modern government around. Over the last few decades, the Republican Party has chipped away at these entitlement programs, while the Democrats try desperately to hold the pieces together. The only way Republicans could combat Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid was to make them fiscally unsustainable by repeatedly lowering taxes. Thus, the Federal Government, whether it be controlled by Democrats or Republicans, kept on spending while at the same time taxes were gradually cut. Problem is Republicans gave no viable alternative to these popular safety net programs. The end result was tremendous debt and popular domestic programs critically underfunded.
“We cannot continue to deny and postpone the demands of our own people while spending billions in the name of freedom elsewhere around the globe. No nation can exert greater influence or power in the world then it can exercise over the streets of its own capitol” –Robert F. Kennedy
In Washington, the focus has been about cutting spending and balancing the budget. We’re told by politicians on both sides of the aisle that the United States has to start “living within its means.” I believe that narrative is throwing gas on a raging fire and must be extinguished for the nation to see shared prosperity again.
The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq will cost at least $2.4 trillion by 2017. Couple this with the Bush Tax cut, which total over $2.8 trillion in lost revenue, plus an additional $3.4 trillion lost in revenue over the last ten years due to slow economic growth and it’s clear why there’s fiscal instability.
Infrastructure, or public works, is the backbone of any nation. That being said, our nation’s back is broken. Roads, bridges, canals, levies, water lines, sewer pipes, communication networks, power grids, railways, seaports and airports are falling apart faster then can be repaired. Unfortunately, lawmakers in Washington refuse to seriously address this growing crisis. Instead of focusing on a problem, finding solutions and implementing a planned course of action; members of Congress stick to non-informative talking points. It’s clear that something must be done, yet there seems to be no political courage to act boldly and decisively.
We as a nation have surrendered to the fiscally conservative dogma that we need to cut taxes and reduce spending to return to economic prosperity. However, the Constitution explicitly grants the legislator the power to “provide for the general welfare” of the nation by collecting taxes to either pay down the debt or in this specific case create a proper public works system that serves the interests of all Americans. Fiscal conservatives are wrong and moreover they are cowards because when strong, responsible governing is the needed prescription, they shy away from taking action.
It may seem hard to believe, but back in the 1930s the Federal government put Americans to work who couldn’t find a job in the private sector. Imagine that, the government assisting the unemployed by providing them a job. Instead of giving them a handout, able bodied men and women out of work joined Federal programs such as the WPA (Works Progress Administration). The WPA was and still is considered to be one of the most successful New Deal programs, yet it’s largely forgotten today.
The WPA employed over 8 million Americans from 1935 to 1943 and pumped $11 billion into the economy($170 billion total/$19 billion each year by today’s standards). In the first year alone, the WPA employed over 3 million Americans on public works projects across the nation. In total, the WPA constructed 116,000 buildings, 78,000 bridges, 651,000 miles of road and improved 800 airports.
In my last article, I explored the idea of Youth Social Security. Many said it was a good idea in theory but would be difficult to pay for. Sure, it would be difficult for us, the average American, to pay for. It’s well known that nearly 70% of income taxes are paid by the wealthiest Americans (keep in mind their rates have also steadily dropped over several decades); while almost half of those currently working don’t pay any income tax. However, has one ever considered that half of the country is too poor to pay? All the while, the shrinking middle class is wondering whether it will end up richer or poorer.
“It is our duty now to begin to lay the plans and determine the strategy for the winning of a lasting peace and the establishment of an American standard of living higher than ever before known. We cannot be content, no matter how high that general standard of living may be, if some fraction of our people—whether it be one-third or one-fifth or one-tenth—is ill-fed, ill-clothed, ill-housed, and insecure.” FDR, January 11, 1944, State of the Union Address
Now more than ever, there is a fear of what the future will bring. Americans of all walks of life are struggling to make ends meet. It has become abundantly clear that “trickle-down” economics bore little fruit. The millennial generation, my generation, is looking for leadership and solutions to guide them through these difficult economic times.
Congressman Paul Ryan has been focusing on poverty since before the 2012 election. Ryan recently said “We’ve got the 50th anniversary of the war on poverty coming up next year. We don’t have much to show for it.” Not much to show for it, huh? Medicare, probably the most enduring legacy of the Great Society, has lifted millions of seniors from poverty. In 1967, the poverty rate among those 65 or older was 30 percent; in 2011 that number was 8.7 percent. The Head Start program has given millions of children the chance to escape poverty through early investments in education. These are just a couple of the many accomplishments of the Great Society’s war on poverty. Furthermore, it’s unfair and misleading to call the war on poverty a loss because many of the programs have been either altered or completely abolished. For example, the Personal Responsibility and Work Act of 1996 gutted many of the key components of the war on poverty. So when Congressman Ryan says we have little to show for it’s because key provisions of the Great Society have gradually been dismantled over the last few decades.
The October jobs report by the Labor Department shows unemployment rising to 7.3 percent. However, that doesn’t account for those who stopped looking for work or are underemployed. Not factored in unemployment numbers is the over 300,000 people who stopped looking for work in the last month alone. Add to that the Labor Department’s “alternative measures of labor underutilization,” which stands at 13.6 percent and you find a crippled workforce.
According to numbers from the Department of Labor, 8.7 million jobs were lost during the Great Recession, which lasted from February 2008 to February 2010. Since 2010, about 7.2 million jobs have been added. Unfortunately, many of the jobs created were seasonal or part time.