When Henry Paulson and George W. Bush crafted their “bailout” legislation, it was hardly surprising that the plan consisted of giving the money to the Wall Street criminals who caused the economy to crash, without external review by anyone. By the time Congress got through with the legislation, again, it was hardly surprising that this august body put some restrictions on it, but in the end, it gave taxpayers’ money to the large banks, “to get it circulating.”
Getting it circulating is a good idea, but a great many people think that how they went about it is the wrong way. The problem with the trickle down theory of economics is that the people at the top of the heap—the ones who started this disaster—rarely let enough money trickle out of their hands to make a difference. Already, the big boys—Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch, and others have set aside several billions of dollars for bonuses for their top executives. Burglars have guts, but these guys outdo the most brazen burglar.
There is a better way, a way that has been proposed by such public minded people as Ralph Nader, and others, including me.
The best way to circulate taxpayers’ money is to have the taxpayers themselves do it, through a massive public works program that would, at the same time, put a great many people to work, giving them enough earnings to allow them to trickle it upward to the small business people who are also hurt by the financial crash.
I would suggest that, to start with, America should spend the money on the design and construction of a national rail transportation system that would be equal to, or better than, those systems in Japan and in Europe. Such a system would connect every single area within the United States–north and south, east and west.
If we recall our history, it was the government in the middle 19th century that subsidized the railroad system back then that actually built America as a nation. Of course, we had to steal the land from the native Indians in order to do so, but when it was done, we had something that improved on the pony express and the stagecoaches to transport people.
I am proposing that, instead of giving the $700 billion to the banks, hoping they will circulate it, we build the rail system and keep it in government ownership—just like Europe and Japan. Think of the number of people who will be put to work over the next 20 years while it is being built. Think of how each dollar spent on such construction would multiply as it made its way through the economy. Think also of how such a system would rescue our environment, using non-polluting sources of energy to power the trains. Part of T. Boone Pickens’ dream could come true by transmitting nationwide the electricity created by wind turbines, and by solar. There would be no more scams available by the oil companies repeating the mantra, “drill, baby, drill,” or, “let’s use clean coal.” As well, T. Boone Pickens could use part of his profits to give money to another Swift Boat Committee whenever he sees the looming danger of electing a Democrat being elected President.
With such a rail system, it is safe to say that I, for one, would never fly on an airline again. What used to be pleasant for me when I boarded a commercial airplane is now an unwelcome chore. The seats are too small and too cramped. The search procedures, which, although necessary, are much too intrusive. In short, flying is no longer any fun.
Because it’s hard to hijack and to crash a train into a skyscraper, we need not be searched when we board. And having the ability to get up from a comfortable train seat to stretch one’s legs without being glared at by a flight attendant is worth more than one can imagine.
The other problem is that we would have to overcome the lobbyists for the airline industry and the automobile manufacturers. Maybe, when the auto manufacturers go to Congress, asking for money to make their cars more fuel efficient, Congress could add a condition prohibiting them from lobbying against a national train system. The same requirement could be placed on the airline industry, which comes, hat in hand, on a periodic basis for money from the taxpayers.
I don’t think we would be subjected to too many cries of “socialism” with this proposal, or at least, not after John McCain and Sarah Palin are vanquished. And those who, under normal circumstances would scream about socialism, let them speak directly to AIG, Merrill Lynch and other socialist-leaning capitalists. The usual suspects who can be relied on to try to stop any positive program for the benefit of the public are slowly being silenced by the actual entry level socialism now being entertained by Wall Street and the big boy banks.
Once the Iraq war is brought to a close, the $10 billion per month spending can be used to put people to work on the public works projects that would renew our infrastructure, such as repairing failing bridges and as well, renewing the highways. There are dozens of other public works projects that have waited too long to be worked on, so we will not be short of ideas on where to spend the money needed to revitalize the economy. At least bonuses for Wall Street executives will have to come, not from taxpayers, but out of the pockets of their stockholders.
Once Dick Cheney is gone, we just may be able to stay out wars for the next 30 or 40 years. We should then be able to pay for all of these projects without going into national bankruptcy. Talk about retraining, plentiful jobs will be available in this new public sector for those who have been working in the arms industry, which will, without a war to fight, hopefully whither away.
The real question is this: will our next president be able to bring the country around to this kind of thinking, or will he take the easy way out and, as Speaker Sam Rayburn used to, “go along to get along.”
We are hopeful that he will not.
JAMES G. ABOUREZK is a lawyer practicing in South Dakota. He is a former United States senator and the author of two books, Advise and Dissent, and a co-author of Through Different Eyes. Abourezk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.