Friday, February 06, 2009

Your pork is my bacon

Got up this morning thinking that if I had to hear one more talking head spew sound-byte-y BS about the stimulus bill, I would simply have to tear my hair out. Or, uh... you know... gnash my teeth.

How grateful I was to discover Steven Pearlstein bringing some (sarcastic) clarity to this issue:

"This is not a stimulus plan, it's a spending plan," Nebraska's freshman senator, Mike Johanns (R), said Wednesday in a maiden floor speech full of budget-balancing orthodoxy that would have made Herbert Hoover proud. The stimulus bill, he declared, "won't create the promised jobs. It won't activate our economy."

Johanns was too busy yesterday to explain this radical departure from standard theory and practice. Where does the senator think the $800 billion will go? Down a rabbit hole? Even if the entire sum were to be stolen by federal employees and spent entirely on fast cars, fancy homes, gambling junkets and fancy clothes, it would still be an $800 billion increase in the demand for goods and services -- a pretty good working definition for economic stimulus.

Right. The underlying point here is that "wasteful spending" is often code for "spending that immediately benefits someone else," or "spending that offends my ideology in some way." But c'mon: spending is spending. And it's always stimulative somehow.

Pearlstein goes on:

Meanwhile, Nebraska's other senator, Ben Nelson (D), was heading up a centrist group that was determined to cut $100 billion from the stimulus bill. Among his targets: $1.1 billion for health-care research into what is cost-effective and what is not. An aide explained that, in the senator's opinion, there is "some spending that was more stimulative than other kinds of spending."

Oh really? I'm sure they'd love to have a presentation on that at the next meeting of the American Economic Association. Maybe the senator could use that opportunity to explain why a dollar spent by the government, or government contractor, to hire doctors, statisticians and software programmers is less stimulative than a dollar spent on hiring civil engineers and bulldozer operators and guys waving orange flags to build highways, which is what the senator says he prefers.

Yes. These sorts of comparisons seem absurd to me.

And, in that vein, why are we supposed to assume that government jobs aren't really jobs? Par exemple:

Henninger weighed in with his own list of horror stories from the stimulus bill, including $325 million for trail repair and remediation of abandoned mines on federal lands, $6 billion to reduce the carbon footprint of federal buildings and -- get this! -- $462 million to equip, construct and repair labs at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"What is most striking is how much 'stimulus' money is being spent on the government's own infrastructure," wrote Henninger. "This bill isn't economic stimulus. It's self-stimulus."

Actually, what's striking is that supposedly intelligent people are horrified at the thought that, during a deep recession, government might try to help the economy by buying up-to-date equipment for the people who protect us from epidemics and infectious diseases, by hiring people to repair environmental damage on federal lands and by contracting with private companies to make federal buildings more energy-efficient.

Anyway, now it appears we are on our way to a deal... we'll see what happens.


mrG said...

Bacon, eh? Your wish is my command ... sorry.

Andrew Durkin... said...

Call me crazy, but I think that was awesome.

mrG said...

btw ... re: "But c'mon: spending is spending. And it's always stimulative somehow." I just wanted to tell you that I've wanted to shout that at all the players out there moaning no-fair on the no-arts clause of the deal.

But I don't because, well, would it do any good? Still, it's true. I live in a land where most every 'working' (sic) artist lines up for dole in the form of some grant or another, if not directly then indirectly through the festival and venue grants used to hire them, and while sure I've claimed my share of the prize too, I don't sit at home on Saturday night waiting for the Canada Council to call me -- why can't these folks just do what they do for the sake of doing it, because it has to be done, because it is vital and urgent to their own sanity and survival to be doing it, and if it so happens to strike a chord with others who want them to keep doing it, then that's fine too, but it's not the point.

I mean, what would Sun Ra do? Sit waiting for The Man to give him recognition, or continue spreading joy everywhere? Coltrane played in halls where there wasn't electricity because, truth be known, the 'hall' was a closed condemned building that HAD no electricity to turn on -- the whole East Village scene was only seen because nobody had any money and living there in 1962 was the cheapest place in America. Did lack of Daddy Warbucks funding stop Sun Ra? Did it stop Coltrane, or Albert Ayler or Charles Mingus?

Yeah I don't like them giving money to the auto-makers when there's already a total madness in car-buying, or to the computer makers when there's already total madness in this computing orgy, and sure I'd love if they even only just gave the money to essential arts infrastructure like or the schools, but they didn't and so there's not much use crying, life goes on, music goes on, and as you very rightly said, the money injected into the economy swirls around, that's the whole point and maybe it doesn't really matter so much where it got injected just so long as it didn't sit there in the Treasury (or the Treasury's Imagination) doing nothing.

A local chinese restaurant asked me for advice. They thought the economy being bad was affecting their business, they'd planned to lower their prices, they were going to do a campaign on it. I said sure, but just keep it upbeat, and call it their own Economic Stimulus Package -- if those who do get the breaks see their responsibility to spread the joy, if everyone plays together, how could it not succeed?

Sorry. Had to get that off my chest :)

Andrew Durkin... said...

No worries, I getcha!

I do think that even the most self-assured, internally-driven, doing-it-because-it-has-to-be-done sort of artist has an underlying psychic need for some kind of external "validation" -- especially in music, which after all is one of the more social art forms. Yes, I think, deep down, even Milton Babbitt wanted his audience. And we know how labor-intensive and exhausting it is to get one of those -- not to mention getting a living wage that allows you to make the music in the first place. So to have the possibility of government funding (which is another kind of audience) dangled in front of you and then yanked away -- I get why that would sting. I have felt that sting! (Which is not to suggest that it's only the artist's ego at work here... I think most artists are genuinely interested in the survival of the arts as a whole, just as much as they are in their own careers...)

But yeah, in a time of many bad things, this development is not necessarily the worst thing. I think the educational cuts and failure to fully invest in green tech are probably gonna hurt more, for instance. And, as you say, the money swirls around. Ideally. As a bandleader on a mission, I'd much rather fight against cultural ignorance (which is a battle I think I can win) than against audience poverty (which is a battle I know I can't).

mrG said...

thanks -- and maybe apropos to this, NuVoid posted this Braxton interview video where he addresses that very need for external validation, and concludes that he just couldn't wait for it (even though, as Max Roach had predicted, it did eventually come to him), but had it been what he needed to 'know' he was on the right track, Anthony Braxton would have quit a long time ago.