The Infrastructure Bank - An Economic Elixir?

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With Congress returning this week, 90 Second Summaries kicks back into gear for the fall. All eyes will be on President Obama as he delivers an address Thursday evening to a joint session of Congress. Mr. Obama is expected to propose a infrastructure-related program to get the economy moving again, and an infrastructure bank is a prime candidate for inclusion in this package.

Last season, we covered a prominent infrastructure bank bill by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT3) and released an interview with the Congresswoman alongside it. Rep. DeLauro has reintroduced her proposal for the 112th Congress, so we are updating this episode to account for recent developments, and we'll be posting highlights of the interview on Thursday.

Here's the episode:

As always, the one-pager with more details is below the fold.

There's more...

Jobs Speeches vs. Jobs Plans

I'm on board with those upset over the infuriating optics of the President asking for a speech, Republicans shouting we don't wanna, and the President backing downAgain.  First reaction, for some reason it riled me more than Democrats rolling over in the debt-ceiling debate.  Second, the win here was nil, save a few -- admittedly too rare -- headlines like "The President Actually Tells Republicans No."

Republicans don't want to detract from their debate.  Fine.  The President shouldn't want to detract from that debate either.  It's Rick Perry's big moment, and smart money says that's comedy gold.  No one outside the beltway is going to care about the reschedule, or who looks like the adult in the room by next week.

In fact the speech itself will be a minor blip on the radar compared to any jobs plan itself, if -- a big if -- the President gets real.  AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, via LA Times:

Who knows what's politically achievable until we try?" Trumka said. "The president should articulate a solution of the size and scale necessary to solve the problem. We have a jobs crisis. … If you do only what you think the other side and the 'tea party' will agree to, then they control the agenda." 

[...]

For those worried about the deficit, Trumka insists that job creation and deficit reduction go hand in hand.

"They complement one another," he said. "You want to get rid of the deficit? Put 25 million people back to work and you won't have a deficit problem."

Trumka gives the Times a detailed plan worth reading, but the point here is behind the details: Set the bar on a jobs plan as high as you can, and use that as a starting point. 

Just like was said in the stimulus debates.  And the health care debates.  And the Bush Tax Cuts debates.  And the debt ceiling "debates."  And...

Republicans will oppose and roll out the hyperbole cannons, Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann will say dumb things.   But economically this is a chance to set an agenda and begin addressing an actual problem.  Politically this is the Democrats' last chance before the 14 month circus is in full swing to reset the narrative ceded the GOP.

Voters have already reset, Republicans have shown their hand with Bush's Cantor's jobs plan deregulatory orgy which managed to be even more sucktastic than his last "jobs" plan.  It's not going to take a committee to find a more popular and effective first step:

Over much of the 20th century, America's strong infrastructure investment was a major factor attracting global corporations headquartered in other countries to invest and create jobs here. Rising U.S. standards of living were fueled by a strong infrastructure system that facilitated the growth of companies in America, both global and domestic alike: transportation systems to move people and products, electrical systems to power plants and offices, communications backbones to drive computers and creativity. By 2008, the U.S. subsidiaries of foreign companies employed over 5.6 million Americans -- nearly 2 million in manufacturing -- and exported $232.4 billion in goods. That's 18.1% of America's total.

(h/t Think Progress)

Cantor's Plan Won't Create Jobs but Will Endanger Health

As we head into the fall political season, lawmakers and candidates of all stripes will be talking about the public’s primary concern – jobs. But just because some lawmakers will be using the word “jobs” a lot doesn’t mean they actually have a plan for creating them.

Take House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA). On Monday, he sent a memo to his GOP colleagues about what he called his “jobs agenda.” But the memo wasn’t really about jobs, it was a list of regulations the Tea Party types have been targeting all year. Eight of the eleven listed were environmental safeguards.

In Cantor’s alternate universe, it’s not the global financial crisis that is slowing job growth. It is the Environmental Protection Agency. Sure, the agency has been around for 40 years, during which the economy has expanded significantly.

Nonetheless, Cantor still believes the solution for unemployment is to stop asking polluters to clean up their garbage. Why, 40 years after the Clean Air Act was signed into law by President Nixon, have environmental safeguards become the economic bogeyman all of a sudden? For the same reason the Tea Party hammered on about the debt ceiling for months. And for the same reason every GOP candidate expends a lot of hot air denying climate change.

They don’t know how to solve the big problem voters care most about: job creation. They don’t know how to get Americans back to work. It’s much easier to talk about hot-button issues that get the radical parts of the base riled up: Government overreach! Towering deficit! A false climate conspiracy! If the base gets really incensed, they might not realize that the Emperor has no jobs.

I get it. Governing is hard work, and climbing out of a global recession is even harder. But we can’t abide the sideshow tactics when so many Americans are struggling to keep a roof over their heads. And we especially can’t do it when the so-called plan will actually endanger the health of American families.

All this grandstanding rhetoric about “job-destroying” regulations obscures two terribly important truths. First, environmental and public health protections save people’s lives. The updated safeguard for mercury Cantor was complaining about would prevent as many as 17,000 premature deaths, 11,000 heart attacks, and 120,000 asthma attacks among children each year. The smog standard he cited could save up to 4,300 lives and avoid as many as 2,200 heart attacks every year.

Second, cleaning up our air and producing greener energy actually can create jobs. According to a new report from the Brookings Institution, more than 2.7 million Americans work in the clean economy. That includes people who stop raw sewage from going into our beaches, install scrubbers in power plant smokestacks, and generate clean energy.

Those numbers will only grow. Jobs in the wind and solar sectors have grown by 10 to 18 percent every year for the past eight years, even during the recession, according to Brookings.

The lithium battery industry is also expanding like crazy. These batteries power your smart phone, but they also make hybrids and electric cars go farther. According to New York Times article. American companies produced less than 2 percent of the global market for advanced batteries in 2009. By 2015, 40 percent of the world’s supply could be made in America. I went to Michigan during my summer vacation, and I saw what the newspaper described: abandoned factories every five miles. But the lithium battery industry is providing an alternative to Rust Belt blight. It’s putting Americans to work, but it’s also putting our nation on path toward leadership. Whoever figures out how to make cars and electronic be cleaner, more efficient, and cheaper will dominate one of the biggest markets of this century.

This kind of industry growth provides a positive agenda for the future. I challenge the GOP and the Tea Party to come up with something constructive. They keep talking about what they want to tear down—clean air safeguards, taxes, deficit spending. But what do they want to build? Even if they don’t have a job creation plan figured out, I would like to see them offer something affirmative for a change.

Genuine Investment in Jobs .. and Infrastructure

The U.S. unemployment rate remains dangerously high, and in some communities, rivals the rates of the Great Depression. Clearly, there is a jobs crisis in this country.  While the temptation for those who are employed might be to be thankful and exhort one another “not to rock the boat,” there is a plethora of reasons why that would be a Very Bad Idea. Ok, the thankful part is probably a good idea.

On the other hand, the boat needs to be rocked. At least a little.  On both sides of the partisan divide, talking heads are beginning to posture. “I stand for job creation.” says one. “No – I stand against all job-killing legislation.” boasts another. “I’m pivoting to focus on jobs.” “I will work tirelessly to focus on what the American people need – jobs.”  If we could create jobs out of hot air, the unemployment rate would be 0.0 percent.

People want and need jobs. Good jobs - that offer a living wage, necessary benefits, and the ability to conceive of a future beyond where you are today. An essential element of the American Dream is a belief in the ability that hard work should be rewarded. But what happens when large groups of our fellow Americans are encountering some of the longest-term and most intractable unemployment seen in decades?  It’s not a problem only for the unemployed, although the point can be made that even if the effects were only felt by the unemployed, it would still be a problem that each of us would be responsible for. However, even in an argument based entirely on self-interest, the current unemployment rates cannot stand.

First, people out of work, unable to find work, and losing hope of finding work, are not spending money. People out of work are losing their homes. People depleting their savings are unable to plan for their children’s education.  Thus, your neighbor’s unemployment may: 1) lower consumer confidence; 2) lower the value of real estate in your neighborhood; and 3) decrease the number of students attending college and/or raise the number of students competing for increasingly limited financial aid.  These are relatively simple examples.  There are more nuanced arguments to be made – for example, herehere, or here.

The solution seems simple. Invest in jobs. After all, it’s become a widely accepted truism that our infrastructure is crumbling. Pay our unemployed to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure.  In the words of Aziz Ansari, “Jay-Z has vodka he makes. Jay-Z signs the tab, money goes back into his own pocket!” We need planners, construction workers, architects, clerical workers, lawyers, accountants, and numerous other job titles. They need work. Again, there are more nuanced arguments to be made – for example, herehere, or here.  It may be complicated to figure out how to actually implement and maximize our investment in our future. But it’s not just necessary. It’s imperative.

Genuine Investment in Jobs .. and Infrastructure

The U.S. unemployment rate remains dangerously high, and in some communities, rivals the rates of the Great Depression. Clearly, there is a jobs crisis in this country.  While the temptation for those who are employed might be to be thankful and exhort one another “not to rock the boat,” there is a plethora of reasons why that would be a Very Bad Idea. Ok, the thankful part is probably a good idea.

On the other hand, the boat needs to be rocked. At least a little.  On both sides of the partisan divide, talking heads are beginning to posture. “I stand for job creation.” says one. “No – I stand against all job-killing legislation.” boasts another. “I’m pivoting to focus on jobs.” “I will work tirelessly to focus on what the American people need – jobs.”  If we could create jobs out of hot air, the unemployment rate would be 0.0 percent.

People want and need jobs. Good jobs - that offer a living wage, necessary benefits, and the ability to conceive of a future beyond where you are today. An essential element of the American Dream is a belief in the ability that hard work should be rewarded. But what happens when large groups of our fellow Americans are encountering some of the longest-term and most intractable unemployment seen in decades?  It’s not a problem only for the unemployed, although the point can be made that even if the effects were only felt by the unemployed, it would still be a problem that each of us would be responsible for. However, even in an argument based entirely on self-interest, the current unemployment rates cannot stand.

First, people out of work, unable to find work, and losing hope of finding work, are not spending money. People out of work are losing their homes. People depleting their savings are unable to plan for their children’s education.  Thus, your neighbor’s unemployment may: 1) lower consumer confidence; 2) lower the value of real estate in your neighborhood; and 3) decrease the number of students attending college and/or raise the number of students competing for increasingly limited financial aid.  These are relatively simple examples.  There are more nuanced arguments to be made – for example, herehere, or here.

The solution seems simple. Invest in jobs. After all, it’s become a widely accepted truism that our infrastructure is crumbling. Pay our unemployed to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure.  In the words of Aziz Ansari, “Jay-Z has vodka he makes. Jay-Z signs the tab, money goes back into his own pocket!” We need planners, construction workers, architects, clerical workers, lawyers, accountants, and numerous other job titles. They need work. Again, there are more nuanced arguments to be made – for example, herehere, or here.  It may be complicated to figure out how to actually implement and maximize our investment in our future. But it’s not just necessary. It’s imperative.

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