It is difficult to overstate the pride and the hope that accompanies the election of Barack Obama to the Presidency of the United States. As America’s leader, he brings youth, intellect, optimism and empathy to the world stage; he represents many of America’s greatest virtues; ability to change, desire to improve, belief in progress, compassion for everyone. Barack Obama is the latest wonderful surprise America has delivered to the world; he is American exceptionalism incarnate. The City on the Hill celebrates today, as a new page in history is turned. Obama’s victory showed the world the good character of the American people.
With a Democratic Congress, and an enthusiastic following rarely seen, Barack Obama has a unique opportunity to deliver on his promises of change. In the spirit of bipartisanship that has inspired the best of Obama’s deeds, as well as those of his challenger, here is EcoWorld’s centrist agenda for Obama’s Presidency – with right-of-center notions mingled with left-of-center notions. Those on the left will no doubt find many of these suggestions difficult – they will be joined by those on the right who find difficulties with all the rest. This agenda is not meant to be comprehensive, but rather, at least somewhat pertinent to the green and cleantech issues we cover.
A CENTRIST AGENDA FOR BARACK OBAMA
(1) Health Security: Make Medicare available to anyone who wants to pay the premiums, regardless of their age or work status. Make all healthcare expenditures deductible. Make Medicare coverage portable going into or coming out of private insurance plans, and allow private insurance plans to compete with Medicare. Don’t create any new administration, allow Medicare to take care of all of this. Allow Medicare to offer coverage to private companies who find their package competitive with private insurance plans. Fund this through collection of premiums and by raising the cap on Medicare withholdings.
(2) Retirement Security: Merge all public employee defined benefit plans in all states, counties and municipalities throughout the United States with Social Security, liquidate public employee pension funds and invest the proceeds into the Social Security fund. Have one, upgraded retirement security formula – based on Social Security – apply to all workers, public and private. This restores solvency to all state and local governments. Fund benefit upgrades by raising the Social Security limit as much as necessary, possibly by requiring a declining percentage of higher income bracket increments without ever applying a cap.
(3) Military Strategy: End America’s neglect of strategic military spending – deploy the F-22 and F-35 jets and accelerate development of the next generation of flying machines and all promising innovations in this vital area. Invest in space industrialization, starting with a no-compromise national aerospaceplane design. Restore and extend American leadership in all aspects of aerospace. This is an investment that yields the dividends of technological leadership and spinoffs to our industries.
(4) Reject Protectionism. Invest in struggling major U.S. manufacturers by providing low interest loans. In companies where these loans are provided, take over their corporate pension funds by merging them with the Social Security fund and apply to these workers the same set of defined benefit calculation formulas that all retired workers receive through Social Security. This restores solvency to America’s largest manufacturers and makes them more competitive. Prove that American workers combined with American innovation are second to none. Global trade provides benefits to everyone.
(5) Revisit the Global Warming Debate: Start by appointing two international peer review teams of respected scientists, one of skeptics, and one of alarmists. Let them report and compare findings based on observational data and model simulations in an intellectually honest manner. Meanwhile, bann global warming related fees and taxes, they are being used to delay government budget and spending reform. Recognize the fungible connection between allowing global warming takings and avoiding public sector fiscal reform.
(6) Adopt Centrist Ideology: Embrace the American opportunity, and continue entitlement reform. Explain the corrosive effects of welfare, and continue the reforms Clinton initiated. Challenge disadvantaged communities to rise out of the cycle of dependence through their own initiative, and encourage a meritocracy where initiative is rewarded. Recognize corruption exists in all sectors, corporate, financial, academic, government – everywhere. Reform Wall Street but also regulate and reform unions, especially in the public sector where they have far too much influence.
(7) Practice Common Sense Environmentalism: End excessive zoning and land use restrictions based on extreme environmental concerns and restore property rights. This will help everything from housing to resource extraction to stay affordable, and nurturing a robust competitive market for supplying goods will help avoid future bubbles. Focus on eliminating genuine pollution instead of worrying about CO2, for example, upgrade coal emission scrubbers to parts per billion (from parts per million) levels of toxin removal. Investigate environmental groups and other nonprofits who use their tax deductible donations for partisan political activity.
(8) Set Realistic Infrastructure Priorities: Invest in practical, versatile infrastructure that people want. Instead of subsidizing ultra high density “transit villages” and building light rail, get government out of the housing business, and fund more and wider freeways and car friendly infrastructure. Fund research to develop next generation busses and smart cars. Rebuild our roads and bridges – trains can wait. Restore balance to the urban planning dialogue. Embrace supply side resource solutions; instead of rationing water, build desalination plants and upgrade sewage treatment plants for water reuse. And if rate-payers are going to foot the bill for windfarms and solar fields, invest as well in underground transmission conduits.
9) Develop all Energy Sources: Continue to encourage alternative energy, but also develop more nuclear power, natural gas and oil. Help the coal fired power plants completely clean their emissions (except for the CO2 which is probably just a harmless trace gas that plants require to live and that we can’t possibly significantly reduce in any case). Create energy and water abundance; in general, emphasize creating resource abundance through market competition. Invest in any cost-effective energy investments that can be performed in a relatively clean manner. Restore intellectual honesty to impact comparisons, for example, the relative consequences of developing 1.0+ million square miles of fuel-growing lands vs. 100,000 square miles of tar sands.
10) Keep the Dream Alive: Once America has rekindled a new era of prosperity, the most sustainable and best yet, we can further improve all the entitlements we afford, all the investments we make, and all the marvels our technology delivers. Maybe by Obama’s second term we can already afford to start programs to build bullet trains and bases on the Moon. As our prosperity grows, we will continuously upgrade our treatments for every human ailment, have increased options to rescue and protect charismatic fauna and their habitats; we can and we will manage our industrial, financial and natural ecosystems better than ever. America is the heart of the new world generation; we have proven this again with the election of Obama; it is our time.
The Question of Carbon Trading: There is one huge question relating directly to Obama’s agenda and green issues, and that is carbon trading. If carbon trading is done right, and if it is the only way to prevent global economic deflation, then we probably should get started. Despite some claims to the contrary, the impact of carbon takings and redistribution is regressive, and even via a market trading application creates new and burdensome requirements for business. It could destroy many small businesses, and so it should only be applied to the largest companies in limited sectors.
Equally vital, implementation of carbon trading should reject the excessive preoccupation with reducing CO2 emissions. The motivation for carbon trading should be to accelerate transition to non fossil fuel energy, not to reduce CO2 emissions. Any sort of carbon sequestration or reduction schemes, absent other benefits such as improved efficiency – should not be considered eligible as offset investments. Carbon auction proceeds should be primarily invested in alternative energy production and research and an upgraded power grid. Carbon trading will revive Wall Street and create a new asset class on which to collateralize capital formation. For the purpose of global economic recovery alone, limited carbon trading is possibly worth considering if it can be correctly applied.
A recent column by a decidedly non-centrist commentator, the occasionally offensive but always lucid Mark Steyn noted an Obama Presidency would usher in the 4th wave of socialism in America. The first would have been the New Deal, the second LBJ’s Great Society, and the third the stealthy infiltration of state and local organizations over the past 25 years. But socialism is governance, socialism is collective behavior, ultimately socialism might describe the ideology of any functioning social contract. Can both entitlements and takings apply in a flat, impassive way, with an equal formula granted every citizen? If so, then as technology and economic freedom increases overall productivity, the government can steadily offer more services and security without relying on greater takings, or on counterproductive and unfair redistribution in either direction. Socialism is a continuum, not a place. How much is the question.
If this version of a centrist agenda is not anathema to Obama and his top people, is not excluded from the table, then one might hope a new and uniquely American center can form. If the ideological opponents of Obama’s original constituency are not overwhelmed and silenced in a storm of righteous rhetoric accompanied only by new government takings, and instead are helping to write the new laws, and being listened to “even more when we disagree,” then there is hope indeed. To make the next quantum leap, Obama must aspire to construct a transcendent center.