Tuesday, July 24, 2012

On Government Spending, Cost Inefficiencies, and Jobs

I was reading through a bunch of articles on the economy and what might happen if the automatic deficit cuts are applied (that was agreed upon by Congress if they couldn't reach a deal on how to make specified cuts). The focus was on defense spending where a 10% automatic across-the-board cut would be applied. So, for a submarine construction program, they'd have to cut 10% funding. That has the GOP trying to pin the lost construction jobs on the President.

I find the hypocrisy of that unsurprising, but revealing. It is an admission that the government can and does create jobs - the GOP is questioning where those jobs are coming from. It's apparently okay that defense contractors get government contracts to build stuff (using union labor in many instances), but if the President proposes infrastructure programs to spur jobs, he's derided as a socialist or worse.

I don't have a problem with the military spending on building new submarines and other technologies that can allow the military to do more with fewer personnel (the newest aircraft carrier will have a significant reduction in personnel aboard because of automation of numerous functions). Lower personnel costs have a cumulative effect. It reduces exposing our soldiers, sailors and marines to harms' way.

But at the same time, we need to address serious and widespread deficiencies in infrastructure. That would be a tremendous jobs opportunity but the GOP points at the stimulus package as a failure. What they want people to ignore is that the stimulus was as much a bailout of states that were in major deficit situations that couldn't raise taxes into the teeth of a major recession (at least half the stimulus was transfer payments to cover existing obligations, not to spend on new infrastructure that would encourage jobs development and a lasting improvement to infrastructure).

Still, there's plenty of fat on infrastructure projects. Amtrak went ahead and announced a $151 billion program that would upgrade the Northeast Corridor to true high speed rail. It's a staggering figure considering that it would run about $330+ million per mile or more than 10 times what it would cost for a mile of high speed rail in the rest of the world. There's no reason it should cost that much, and it would sap spending elsewhere on infrastructure. Construction costs are significantly higher on such projects in the US than they are elsewhere. That cost inefficiency has to be addressed at the same time that such projects are done.

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