I haven't been following all the talk of the federal stimulus plan too much. Usually, I would. I'm kind of a news junkie and when it comes to coverage of important, big picture policy issues, I'm usually all ears (and thoughts).
So, I have to give a bit of a disclaimer that what follows is not a critique of any particular aspect of the current stimulus plan making its way through Congress.
I do understand the basics of the debate though - Democrats want to spend money on specific projects and government programs and helping those who have come on hard times meet their daily needs. Republicans prefer to just reduce our taxes and let us use that money to start buying things and starting companies again. That's surely a bit simplistic, but it will work for the purposes of this particular entry.
So here goes. These are some of the random thoughts rolling around in my brain:
Question #1: Can we really just "create" jobs whenever we want? Whether it is by cutting taxes or funding some big government project? Doesn't there have to be some reason for a job existing - namely that a person is needed to help provide a product or service that someone else is willing to pay for? If people aren't willing to pay for something, then wouldn't it stand to reason that creating a job to produce what people don't want (or can't afford) really won't solve anything in the long term? Which leads to my second question....
Question #2: Does a job have to serve any purpose other than to give people money to spend? What if a job was completely useless to society except for the fact that it gave a person money to go spend on something else? I'm sure it wouldn't take long for any of us to come up with a few jobs that we pretty much would have to admit serve little purpose. Let me suggest one. Advertising.
Let's be honest, the only reason we have an advertising industry is to get people to buy more things. It doesn't give us shelter. It doesn't give us food. It doesn't give us clothing. It doesn't really "give" us anything of value. We don't need anyone to tell us that we need food, clothing or shelter do we? So really, the only reason to have an advertising industry is to convince people to buy more things, which in turn creates more jobs, which in turn gives people more money to buy things, which in turn creates more jobs, which.....leads me to my next question...
Question 3: Why don't we just give money to the advertising industry to hire more people to create more ads. Talk about the ultimate stimulus package! If anyone can convince America to go out and spend more, its gotta be advertisers. They must just be a bit understaffed right now. A little extra boost should get things back on track in no time. Which leads me to...
Question 4: Are we essentially saying our entire economic system is based on buying and selling things that we really don't need? And that if we stop buying and selling those things we really don't need, we are essentially hurting ourselves because most of us work in jobs that produce things we really don't need? Which leads me to....
Question 5: Is our economy really just one, big, elaborate pyramid scheme? Or Ponzi scheme? It must not be because both of those are illegal. Maybe its really just a big social contract. You buy my stuff you don't need and I'll buy your stuff I don't need. We'll all have jobs and homes and TVs and cars and whatever else we can come up with.
So what does this have to do with land use planning?
Well, I'm sure that many would say that we aren't using the stimulus package to create any old jobs. We're using it to create infrastructure - roads, bridges, schools. Things we need anyways. Fine. I can go along with that.
Here's the connection. If we spend money we don't have on fixing roads and bridges and extending sewer lines, and in doing so we continue to subsidize an incredibly inefficient land use pattern, and we do it all in ways that we really can never afford to maintain without some additional massive government spending that requires us to go into even more debt, then what good is it to give people jobs replacing or building that infrastructure? Doesn't this just make us go deeper and deeper into debt on something we really could not afford and never even needed in the first place?
Then again, maybe I've got it wrong. I guess all of our talk in this blog about cutting wasteful government spending and inefficient land use patterns should be ignored. Because, really, the more roads we build, the more we need cars to get around, the more we can spread out, the more we'll need TVs and movies and video games to entertain ourselves, the more we'll need Doritos - lots of Doritos - to munch on (and Mountain Dew to wash it down) while we watch our TV and movies, the more we'll need telephone lines and telephones and internet connections and computers to communicate with each other....which....all....creates....jobs.
At least until we start running out of the gravel and oil and iron and other stuff we need to make this all work. But that won't happen for at least a couple hundred years, right? Unless, of course, the Indians and the Chinese and everyone else in the world learn what we have learned about how to create jobs.
Gotta go. I'm going to go out and buy something I don't need. My job depends on it.