The Common Good

More Financial Madness

Here is part two of my thoughts on the financial situation that the United States faces. Our nation needs a jobs bill. The country needs a second stimulus bill. I understand the problem with the national debt. It leaves our president and Congress between the devil and the deep blue sea. The size of the national debt is both unsustainable and a national vulnerability. A jobs program would add to the debt. At the same time, without jobs, the economic recovery will slow to a crawl or stall out altogether, sending the country back into recession.

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Both Republicans and Democrats talk a good game about job creation. President Obama and the Democratic Congress passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) (a.k.a. the stimulus bill) in 2009. It provided for tax cuts and credits, strengthened the social safety net for people who had lost their jobs, sent money to the states to help retain the jobs of teachers, firefighters, and police officers, and provided for job creation through construction for highways and schools. It made investments in helping to move to electronic health records.

At the time, some economists thought that the stimulus bill was too small. Nobel Prize winning economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman wrote: "Unless something changes dramatically, we're looking at many years of high unemployment." He went on to say in the same column: "The truth which is that the stimulus was too little of a good thing -- that it helped, but it wasn't big enough -- seems to be too complicated for an era of sound-bite politics."

Republicans now control the House of Representatives, and their focus has been on reducing the deficit. At the same time, they do not want to increase taxes. They argue that reduced regulations and tax cuts will give an incentive to businesses to create jobs. This, however, is far too simplistic and naïve. Business owners hire workers when their goods and services are selling. When there are no customers, there is no need for people to provide the service or make the widgets. People are laid off, and the job loss has a ripple effect throughout the economy.

I have a suggestion. Congress ought to pass and President Obama ought to sign a jobs bill that would rebuild the waste cities in the United States of America. Isaiah 61:4 speaks of the work of those who have been blessed: "They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations."

Such would give young people work and training in the building trades -- jobs that cannot be exported. This would also breathe life into downtown areas of cities large and small, of towns and villages across the country. These newly renovated buildings could house arts centers and provide space for crafts people to sell their wares. Renovated buildings could provide mixed-income rental housing for people who are not yet ready to buy a house. We could pay artists to sculpt sculptures that children could play on within a new urban landscape with public flower and vegetables gardens, mass transit and bike lanes on the street. This would have a positive ripple economic ripple effect.

When people are working, they do not need unemployment insurance, rather they pay taxes. This means increased revenue to the federal treasury. In 2008, the United States government spent several hundreds of billions of dollars to bail-out Wall Street banks. Much of the money has been paid back. Now it is time for the government to bail-out ordinary Americans. Not to do so is more financial madness.

Dr. Valerie Elverton Dixon is an independent scholar who publishes lectures and essays at JustPeaceTheory.com. She received her Ph.D. in religion and society from Temple University and taught Christian ethics at United Theological Seminary and Andover Newton Theological School.

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