Thursday, September 27, 2012

Part II: Background on the topic and setting for field research

It has occurred to me that I have chosen a rather daunting topic. Never mind that there are thousands of Economics textbooks on the market already (pun intended) along with the dozens of books on the separate subjects of The New Deal, The Fair Deal and The Great Society and that I'm just a lowly undergraduate anthropology student writing the equivalent of a term paper on these subjects! Potential information overload notwithstanding, I simply want know whether or not Obama's entry into this saga of government intervention in the economy was successful or not. But that depends upon who you ask. This isn't just a question of which side of the political aisle you happen to be on, but also on that old adage: cui bono? The drug traffickers benefit from the cocaine they import from Bolivia (C&C Ch 16) but the Bolivian people suffer for it (along with MANY others, but that's another paper topic). The rich benefit from the innovative medical treatments to combat disease and infection that our medical establishment invents but the poor don't (RCA p.48) because of the way our society is set up.

I'm not trying to lure the reader into a relativistic tailspin. I'm simply pointing out that when it comes to the subject of economics, there are many systems and scenarios that "work". It's just a question of who they work for: whose quality of life increases or decreases and what is the cost?

Ever since the start of the Recession a few years back, I think it has become painfully apparent that total unregulated laissez-faire capitalism is designed to benefit those already in power and who already have money while the rest of the population gets gradually poorer and poorer (RCA Ch 3). After all, the time in American History with the least amount of regulation and government oversight of the economy is now called The Gilded Age. The Great Depression came on the heels of a decade dominated by financial recklessness and corporate greed. One could even argue that Ronald Reagan’s economic policies laid the groundwork for the current Recession.

Which this leads me back to the main focus of my project: the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (usually shortened to the Recovery Act or the stimulus) and whether it "worked" or not. Once again, cui bono?

According to the website dedicated to monitoring the Recovery Act, it was supposed to do three things:
  • Create new jobs and save existing ones
  • Spur economic activity and invest in long-term growth
  • Foster unprecedented levels of accountability and transparency in government spending

The stimulus provided $787 billion (later increased to $840 billion) in three main forms:

  • Tax cuts and benefits for millions of working families and businesses
  • Funding for entitlement programs, such as unemployment benefits
  • Funding for federal contracts, grants and loans

Punching in Arcata's zip code into the search bar, I found that $14,652,594 (!) was spent in this area, 
$1,631,112 on HSU alone! It's trickier to find out precisely what this money was actually "for" so I'm going to have to call around and (hopefully) find someone who actually knows what this money funded and whether or not it was effective. This means calling community health centers, elementary schools, Greyhound (no seriously Greyhound (in this area) got over a million.) and many of the other recipients of the stimulus money. Looking forward to it!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Part 1: Introduction

My dad likes to describe himself as a NRA Democrat, but he jokes that he's referring to one of the earliest agencies of Franklin D. Roosevelt's "New Deal" called the "National Recovery Administration". I think one of his favorite possessions is a portrait of FDR made in the 30's given to him by my great aunt. What makes that portrait special is that it also has a tiny NRA sticker in the bottom right corner.
           I've only recently come to appreciate the portrait, for more than its historical value anyway. Through my last 2 years in high school and my first year in college, I was a firm Libertarian. I despised social safety nets and so called "welfare-queens", believed firmly in "that government is best which governs least" and thought that only a totally unregulated market could bring about economic prosperity. I can picture seventeen year old self fuming over Prof. Krissman's claim that three main "isms" (Imperialism, Colonialism, Capitalism) are responsible for so much cultural devastation. But ever since the recession started, I've drifted away from my laissez faire philosophy and since then I've adopted a very different political and economic outlook. It's hard to argue with the case of Brazil (RCA p. 46-47) or with the sad history of Malawi (C&C Ch 17). But, I can feel the lingering libertarian inside saying "No! This is what happens when government gets involved with the economy! That's why things are such a mess!"
             So, rather than read about far away places and stay in this fog, I want to see how these kind of policies effect us here. I'd like to talk to business owners in downtown Arcata and see how they're doing during this terrible recession, stop by city hall and learn what they did with money given to them by the Recovery Act (enter your zip code to see the projects in your area!) and above all, see the mechanics of these policies in action and how they effect my neighbors. I want to have a more detailed understanding of these economic policies and though I'm fairly confident in my own current position, I'm eager to review it and learn more. I don't want to give the impression that I don't anything about these issues, only that I know my knowledge is superficial at best. Should be interesting!