Sunday, December 7, 2008

Let's Make Jobs

I've been busy at work, too busy to blog much for the last couple weeks, and am quite thankful for that. After all, I have a job, and a good one at that. According to reports, the U.S. has lost around two million jobs, the worst decline since 1974. With job loss numbers like that, people are starting to get desperate.

Obama has announced, but not detailed, a plan for job creation. Some of the components are sensible, such as renovate deteriorating school buildings and making public buildings energy efficient. Others, however, miss the mark. Rebuilding the national highway system cites Eisenhower, probably a good P.R. move, but it seems unwise in our current economic and environmental situation to do so without also making a priority of rebuilding of our once-great national railway system, and giving matching funds to cities and suburbs to expand commuter rail and metro systems.

The idea of upgrading hospitals being limited to giving them access to electronic medical records also seems sorely lacking. Many hospitals need facilities expansions and upgrades, equipment modernization, and most importantly staffing expansions (especially in nursing and emergency room doctors).

Furthermore, a national effort towards preventative medicine, nutrition, and fitness would not only reduce healthcare costs (an economic win), it would also create jobs and business opportunities in these areas (another economic win). Legislation mandating insurance (including government plans) pay for preventative care would be a good start.

Cutting subisides on beef and corn would also be a good plan. This would force a cometitive agricultural market and allow other food options to be cost competitive, such as real sugar vs. corn syrup. It also brings me to energy, as corn ethanol should not receive subsidies, and neither should oil. Cutting both would save taxpayer dollars, and open-up the alternative fuel markets by making alternatives to these two options more competitive.

Corn ethanol is not much of an alternative to oil, as corn is a resource-intensive crop to produce (I love to eat it, but am not so keen on as a monocultural basis for all agricultural production in our country). In tandem with transferring subsidies from processes that are already mature (corn and oil) to R&D into better processes, the government should also encourage hemp ehtanol production. Hemp is a lower water usage plant than corn, and is a hearty stock that can grow on "waste" land not used for food production.

Hemp ethanol could ameliorate several problems with corn ethanol: that using corn to make ethanol is preferencing fuel over food, that corn is a resource-intensive crop, that corn ethanol doesn't seem to have a gross energy win as a fuel source, and that subsidizing a mature process that isn't hampered by previously restrictive laws or counter-subsidies of another product and therefore should be able to compete on the open market is the worst kind of corporate welfare.

Any plan to create jobs in this economy will be met with public acceptance, but I hope the Obama team will be more creative and contemporary in their thinking about such plans. Simply looking back at Eisenhower and F.D.R., and adding the word "Internet" in a couple places, isn't going to be enough to create enough new markets for the U.S. to be a world leader not just economically, but in terms of economic and environmentall problem solving and technical innovation as well.

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