Obama’s fiscal stimulus: some details

by on December 7, 2008 at 7:57 am in Political Science | Permalink

I was surprised to read the first plank of Obama’s proposed stimulus:

First, we will launch a massive effort to make public buildings more
energy-efficient. Our government now pays the highest energy bill in
the world. We need to change that. We need to upgrade our federal
buildings by replacing old heating systems and installing efficient
light bulbs. That won’t just save you, the American taxpayer, billions
of dollars each year. It will put people back to work.

Maybe that is deliberately unglamorous but I was expecting a more dramatic first punch.  Here, by the way, are some simple arguments for energy-efficient buildings.  My Google search doesn’t yield much useful, however, in the way of critical analysis.  (Any leads, readers?)  And surely ten years from now our government still will have the highest energy bills in the world, unless the goal is to grow so slowly that the Chinese government will pass us.

Oddly the two goals of the plan — saving dollars and creating jobs — often stand in tension.  Let’s say we could heat all those buildings for a dollar: how many jobs would that create?  Is the goal to "spend less" or to "spend more"? The mere fact that you can write in the comments section: "Spend more today to spend less tomorrow!" does not convince me.

The second plank of the program is more roads and bridges, which for better or worse you can consider the opposite of a carbon tax.  How quickly can that money be spent anyway?  The plan mandates quick spending of the transferred funds.  But maybe state and local governments will hold off on some currently planned expenditures (which is contractionary) so they can be ready to spend immediately once they receive their "use it or lose it" allocations.  Has anyone thought that problem through?

The third plank is upgrading school buildings.  ????????????????  Maybe this is Obama’s attempt to mimic ditch-digging, under the unassailable banner of "education," but again how quickly can these projects come on-line?  I call this one total waste and an outright mistake.

The fourth plank is extending the information superhighway.  Maybe, but isn’t human capital the real constraint at current margins?

The fifth plank is internet-connected hospitals and electronic medical records.  Those are good ideas but I don’t see how they contribute to economic recovery.  Basically you either force or pay medical care providers to do it and for sure health care is not the ailing sector.

The bottom line: When it comes to fiscal policy, many projects are not very good.  Most projects take a long time to come on-line.  The fiscal stimulus should, most of all, be directed at an effective marginal incentive scheme to keep up state and local spending.  I am still enthusiastic about Obama’s economic team, but I am starting to worry a little.  How many of these expenditures actually help needy people?  How many actually will help the economy?  In fairness to Obama this was a radio address, and thus hardly the setting for meaty analysis, but still I am a little underwhelmed.

Xmas December 7, 2008 at 8:35 am

Well, I could say that plank #1 doesn’t necessarily mean the government is going to spend less money. He could mean that the less money spent on energy, the more money to spend on cog-in-the-machine bureaucrats.

Now days though, I wouldn’t be surprised if a good chunk of energy costs go towards powering big-old tube monitors and decrepit computers with 200 watt power-supplies.

KipEsquire December 7, 2008 at 8:43 am

Throwing away working light bulbs to install working light bulbs, in order to stimulate the economy?

The ghost of Bastiat is chuckling.

odograph December 7, 2008 at 8:52 am

Xmas, didn’t Japan do an ‘everybody use notebooks’ drive? That’s the easiest, cheapest, and most dramatic path to lower personal compute-energy consumption (this nb is drawing 40w right now, my desktop+monitor would be 150).

Jason December 7, 2008 at 9:25 am

The package is perfect. If you think it is too small, remember that lots of extras will probably be added as it goes through congress. And it practically begs to be used for earmarks. This should help the Democrats raise all the money they need to further marginalize the Republicans.

jb December 7, 2008 at 9:35 am

Infrastructure spending isn’t what it used to be – what with all the extra studies and approvals and so forth that city, state and federal projects go through before they spend $1 on manual labor, Obama’s “upgrades” will take 10 years or more to realize any make-work gains.

Greg December 7, 2008 at 9:47 am

I agree that it sounds kind of lame. Where are the bullet trains and nuclear fusion plants? Of course, I suppose those things take even longer to put in play.

Maybe the helicopter really is the best solution?

Jacqueline December 7, 2008 at 9:48 am

“more roads and bridges”

*More* roads and bridges or repairing/maintaining/replacing the existing ones? The excerpt just says “invest”. A lot of bridges are in pretty bad shape and need replacing ASAP anyway, if the federal government’s going to do that, might as well do it now…

mickslam December 7, 2008 at 10:11 am

Like Tyler, I think that infrastructure spending is too slow to act and doesn’t get money into hands quickly enough. We need a payroll tax holiday today.

The bridges in my town were last painted in 1982. I live in Oak Park, Il, which is a nice place. Just repairing and maintaining our current infrastructure is a few trillion dollars worth of spending.

It is funny that you would think that spending on schools wouldn’t be that much money. Anyone that lives in Chicago knows they could spend many billions and still not be anywhere near modern quality or energy efficiency. Many schools in chicago have kids in temporary trailer-like outside classrooms. I bet the major cities could absorb so much in infrastructure spending. We’ve neglected them for decades and while they are better than they were, there is lots left to fix in the cities.

Plus, we shouldn’t forget that yesterdays women teachers are todays lawyers, doctors, professors and business women. We have had a huge decline in the quality of teacher, simply because smart women today have viable options. I talk with my friends parents and realize that these women, if they were growing up in my generation, would never have been teachers but rather gone on to law school and business school, like my friends did.

Ape Man December 7, 2008 at 10:27 am

I don’t understand Dr. Cowen’s theoretical objections for spending money on energy efficiency projects as a means of stimulus.

When I come up with an energy saving project, I typically have to prove that it will pay for itself in three years. In other words, there is a big spike in spending followed by a gradual payback. Seeing as most economist seemed to believe that governments should spike spending to stimulate the economy in bad times and run surplus to pay down the debt in good times, energy saving projects seems ideal from a theoretical perspective.

As a practical matter, there are plenty of reasons why spending money on energy efficiency will have a less then ideal outcomes. For one thing, most of the big energy savings in any commercial building will be found in upgrading/modifying the HVAC systems.

People capable of working on commercial HVAC systems are few and far between even in this economic climate. None of them are short on work and the barriers to entry are pretty high.

You have to know a lot and you have be on your toes at all times. Screw up and you could destroy equipment worth hundreds of thousandths of dollars or make your company liable for astronomical EPA fines.

I don’t think I need to explain on economics blog what the effects of throwing a lot of money at small pool of labor with high barriers of entry would be.

Even those energy savings projects that don’t require skilled labor from the HVAC trades have problems. For example, many(most?) government buildings really should upgrade their windows to more energy efficient ones. But I would be amazed if anyone could get a project to upgrade windows in a large scale commercial building up and running in less then a year. Its not like you can just go down to Lowes and pick the windows out and have them installed the next day. More likely, it would take a year just to get all the planing done and get all the bids in (this applies to most major upgrades to an HVAC system as well).

Ironically, the only project that would really provide a stimulus right now and truly increase energy efficiency would be to replace outmoded florescent tubes and ballasts. I could get a project up an running to replace T12 with T8s within weeks in the real world. In a government setting, it might take me months, but it still would be well within a year.

I wrote up a project to replace T12s with T8s in a government run hospital. As a result of this project, I increase the quality of lighting and paid for the project in under three years. More over, I did this while using union electricians getting paid overtime rate and figuring generous amounts of time for each fixture (cause I knew the electricians would screw me if I figured a realistic amount of time).

Granted, this was done in an area upstate NY with high electricity costs. Also, the hospital was running many of the lights 24/7 which shortened the pay back time dramatically. Still, I could get a good pay back to replace any T12 if I did not have to use overtime rates. So contrary to what KipEsquire seems to imply, it can make good economic sense to throw out perfectly good light bulbs.

For this reason, most well run companies got rid of the their T12s years ago. But a lot of government buildings still have them.

Still, how much money can you really spend replacing light bulbs? The hospital that I came up with the project for had 7 stories and it was a big sprawling building (can’t remember total square footage). But total price tag for the project was under $100,000. Assuming that all federal buildings are still using T12s (in which case a lot of federal building mangers should be shot). It seems to me that you could upgrade all the lighting for a few billion dollars. Even assuming that I am hopeless naive about how much it would cost to relamp all federal buildings, I don’t think you are going to get a big stimuluses out of changing light bulbs.

Larry December 7, 2008 at 10:40 am

I suppose you all got the contradiction between “use it or lose it” and “spend it effectively”. Given that trade-off, well, let’s just say they probably won’t lose it.

Cyril Morong December 7, 2008 at 10:48 am

Here is what Krugman said on his blog a few days ago. It underscores how slow fiscal policy will be.

“Infrastructure spending will take time to get going — a new Goldman Sachs report suggests that projects that are “shovel-ready† are probably only a few tens of billions worth, and that a larger effort would take much of a year to get going. Meanwhile, it’s very questionable how much effect tax rebates will have on consumer demand. So it may be hard for stimulus to get much traction until late 2009 — and that’s even if Congress goes along, which may be a problem given all the bad analysis and disinformation out there.”

Ape Man December 7, 2008 at 11:04 am

Brian J,

The problem is not that these things are bad ideas. Government building lag behind the private sector when it comes to energy efficiency. That should change no matter what your views on the utility of the government is.

But if you lost your job, could you get one upgrading the pneumatic controls on an HVAC system to a pneumatic/electronic hybrid? Do you know why it might make sense to do that? Do you know how to do a cost benefit calculation to figure out if it makes sense?

Labor is not a perfectly fungible product. Especially when you are talking about skilled labor.

Andrew December 7, 2008 at 11:29 am

How many of these expenditures actually help needy people?

Ape Man already made this point, but I was wondering the same thing. These projects sound like they primarily require specialized skills and trained labor. Where are these people going to come from? Laid off auto workers aren’t going to step right into a job designing energy efficient buildings or building bridges.

Ape Man December 7, 2008 at 11:32 am

Brainwarped, you said “If energy efficient lights could save more money, then it was already recommended by the GSA”.

In my experience, that is not true at all. While I have never worked with GSA, I have worked with New York State’s equivalent and I have seen their analysis of utility bills. Let me tell you, they don’t tell you much and they know it. That is why they also send consultants to the various facilties to try to figure out what is accually going on.

Believe me, those consultants know that that replacing T12’s with T8’s is a no brainier. But they failed to realize that building are still running T12’s even though they often walk through the buildings themselves. In fact, they did not believe me at first when I told them that that the hospital I mentioned was still running T12s. They never bothered asking the staff what they were using and they did not have enough practical experience to identify a T12 through a diffuser.

Moreover, there are a lot of projects that these consultants would like to implement but can’t because of push back from local administrators. Local administrators have to deal with the disruptions occasioned by the upgrades, but they don’t get to see the benefits from the savings. The state has tried to fix this by giving energy money back to the local facilities as reward for cooperation, but the problem still exists in part because the money goes towards budgets and not people’s paychecks.

You would be more accurate to say that the government is not all that good at implementing energy saving measures. That is why they lag behind the private sector in terms of energy efficacy.

That can change with enough political push. In New York State the Governor’s office has done some good work in pushing through some much needed energy upgrades on recalcitrant administrators. But there is still a lot that needs to be done and they know it. You would not believe how powerless a Governor can be in such matters. People can sabotage a program they don’t like in so many ways it is not funny.

Ape Man December 7, 2008 at 11:42 am

Brainwarped, you said “If energy efficient lights could save more money, then it was already recommended by the GSA”.

In my experience, that is not true at all. While I have never worked with GSA, I have worked with New York State’s equivalent and I have seen their analysis of utility bills. Let me tell you, they don’t tell you much and they know it. That is why they also send consultants to the various facilities to try to figure out what is actually going on.

Believe me, those consultants know that that replacing T12’s with T8’s is a no brainier. But they failed to realize that building are still running T12’s even though they often walk through the buildings themselves. In fact, they did not believe me at first when I told them that that the hospital I mentioned previously was still running T12s. They never bothered asking the staff what they were using and they did not have enough practical experience to identify a T12 through a diffuser.

Moreover, there are a lot of projects that these consultants would like to implement but can’t because of push back from local administrators. Local administrators have to deal with the disruptions occasioned by the upgrades, but they don’t get to see the benefits from the savings. The state has tried to fix this by giving energy money back to the local facilities as reward for cooperation, but the problem still exists in part because the money goes towards budgets and not people’s paychecks.

You would be more accurate to say that the government is not all that good at implementing energy saving measures. That is why they lag behind the private sector in terms of energy efficacy.

That can change with enough political push. In New York State the Governor’s office has done some good work in pushing through some much needed energy upgrades on recalcitrant administrators. But there is still a lot that needs to be done and they know it. You would not believe how powerless a Governor can be in such matters. People can sabotage a program they don’t like in so many ways it is not funny.

r m flanagan December 7, 2008 at 11:51 am

I understand that Obama’s headline items may not be sufficient but….

A.There’s no objection to them per se altho there may be specific implementation obstacles as noted above.

B.This was a politician’s speech to the voters .The sort of closely reasoned exposition for which Cowen was looking would have caused that audience to go to the kitchen for a beer………

C. And therefore I doubt whether we have any real indication yet of what Team Obama really intends to do,possibly because TO hasn’t yet made that choice. Which would be sensible………..

D. Because surely that choice requires the type of data-informed discussion which has not been practiced for many(say 8) years in Washington.

Ron in LFP December 7, 2008 at 11:51 am

Green buildings

Seattle built a new “green” city hall a few years back and got a gold LEED certificate for it. Here is the press release http://www.seattle.gov/mayor/newsdetail.asp?ID=5590&dept=40 .

But… now the reality. The new building is WORSE than the old one. http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/local/231282_energyuse05.html

“Seattle’s new City Hall is an energy hog – Higher utility bills take the glow off its ‘green’ designation

“Seattle’s new City Hall was designed with the environment in mind, using the most energy-efficient technologies.

“But the building acts like an old-fashioned electricity hog. It has lofty public spaces and walls of glass designed to welcome citizens and suggest an open and transparent government. It also uses 15 percent to 50 percent more electricity some months than the older, larger building it replaced, according to Seattle City Light utility bills.

“The high energy use is an embarrassment for the city at a time when Mayor Greg Nickels is urging municipalities across the country to cut their energy consumption and voluntarily comply with the Kyoto environmental protocols. City Council members last week reacted to the energy consumption news with shock, then shook their heads in disbelief.”

y81 December 7, 2008 at 12:22 pm

Whenever I cross the Hudson into real America, what strikes me most is what a fantasy all this talk about energy efficiency is. Outside of New York City and a few other downtowns, all of America consists of vast sprawls of buildings that you couldn’t possibly get to without driving. And the buildings themselves are low flat boxes that just pour heat (in the winter) and cold (in the summer) into the surrounding air. Unless you are willing to force people to live and work in much denser settings than they currently do (in which case, as Tyler notes, you won’t need all those roads and bridges), energy efficiency is a joke.

liberty December 7, 2008 at 12:40 pm

All the ideas are perfectly reasonable ideas for ways that government can spend without the spending being entirely make-work and completely useless.

However, this is damning with faint praise.

Why should government do this spending at all? This is supposed to be a stimulus, but all that is occurring is that government is borrowing more money (hurting the dollar, potentially crowding out private lending) in order to compete with and displace private projects, paying government set wages, purchasing at monopsony rates, etc.

What these “stimulus” projects have in common is that they are all government spending. Somehow government spending is supposed to be better than private spending, I guess because private spending is weak and needs a “stimulus.” How about making it a little easier for private firms to invest? Like cut taxes?

It seems to me that if you want business to recover, you should start by taking its straight jacket off, stop expropriating so much of its profit, and stop calling it bad names and dragging it into court for making a profit. Instead, some people seem to think that having the massive monopoly power called government compete with it is the answer. Somehow, I don’t think it will help business recover.

But, then again, I don’t think that is really the main thing that politicians are usually after.

persiflage December 7, 2008 at 1:07 pm

I recall reading in the Economist that two of the three most effective ideas for energy saving investments were: improvements to the insulation of commercial/institutional buildings and improvements to the efficiency of commercial lighting systems. Both of these efforts appear doable with current technology and materials, and the skill set in the pool of unemployed US workers.
The government owns enough commercial buildings to provide a substantial national project in this area of work. But it’s not as sexy as putting a bunch of subsidized photovoltaics on the roof…

babar December 7, 2008 at 1:45 pm

this is an interesting discussion. after reading this and thinking it through, infra spending is problematic.

one thing i haven’t seen on the thread is that much of the need for new infrastructure lies in the exurban sprawl built in the 00s and 90s. i personally wouldn’t want to support exurban sprawl — if someone wants to live in such an inefficient way let them pay for it personally.

what would be a better investment then?

PS how much would it cost to move washington dc? could you do it for $1T?

Ape Man December 7, 2008 at 1:57 pm

Sorry for the duplicate comments.

Zach,

All fluorescents are not created equal. This is especially true in commercial settings. Also, in some situations you can replace fluorescents with LED’s. Exit signs would be good example of where this is feasible (although the savings from doing this are mostly in reduced labor costs).

Also, I know for a fact that New York State has stopped a lot of construction projects dead in their tracks over the last month. These are projects for which the project documents have already been drawn up or were in the process of being drawn up. These could all be started up in a hurry if the Feds gave them the money. This would not be new spending so much as restarting spending that got canceled.

The problem is that some of these project should not have been started in the first place. There is a big difference between needing infrastructure and getting the government to fund the projects that need to be funded as opposed to somebody’s vanity project.

Japan would be a could example. They built of lot of roads that few people use in order to “stimulate” the economy. But they are still packed like sardines into their mass transit. Go figure.

Having said all that I want to make it clear that I am not arguing for a “stimulus” package. I am dubious that such things have ever worked and I really don’t think they will work in the current environment.

But I do think the infrastructure of this country is headed for a criss. And I do think the government could do a lot more to catch up with the private sector in terms of energy management.

However, I get nervous when people argue for these things on the grounds that it will create jobs. I just don’t think people realize how hard it is to find people to do certain types of specialized work. To truly tackle our infrastructure problems is going to take more then just money. It is also going to take changing the structure of our workforce. And that is not going to happen overnight.

Ape Man December 7, 2008 at 2:13 pm

Sorry, did not put in the full money quote. Rushing too fast. The rest of it should be…

In Animal Farm, George Orwell notes that “some animals are more equal than others.” In LEED, though, all credits are equal, even though some credits have greater environmental benefits than others. Because you only need 26 points (of 69 possible), we’ve heard LEED consultants remark that you can “certify a building without getting any energy points.” Maybe so, but why bother? A respondent to the Green Building Alliance Survey said it best: “In a recent building, we received one point for spending an extra $1.3 million for a heat-recovery system that will save about $500,000 in energy costs per year. We also got one point for installing a $395 bicycle rack. This must be corrected.”

Like I said, LEED is all about being politically correct. Not saving money.

Brian J December 7, 2008 at 2:52 pm

Ape Man,

I’m not sure what I think of your tone, but nevertheless, I absolutely understand what you are saying. I’m not under the impression that every single worker can do any sort of project, but then, who is? The sort of stimulus plans being thrown around seem to have something available for everyone, whether the person’s background is in manual labor or something in the professional fields. Again, this doesn’t mean skill sets will perfectly match up.

Phil December 7, 2008 at 3:04 pm

Let me get this straight. Obama resurrects the Works Progress Administration and nobody asks whether stuff from the 1930’s (whose efficacy was debatable then) is applicable 3/4 of a century later?

What it is with megalomaniacs from the pharaohs to the present that requires them to erect buildings?

jorod December 7, 2008 at 3:33 pm

Fixing schools is a homage to the teachers’ unions to make their jobs more secure. The schools are unimportant in politicians eyes. They are kept alive because they provide patronage jobs and campaign workers.

The energy stuff is a bone for the left-wing energy crazies. Many hospitals are already investing in electronic media.

Many states, including Illinois, are running large amounts of red ink. There is no way the states can increase spending.

Democrats don’t understand how jobs are created. You might as well talk to a pineapple.

On balance, it shows how intellectually bankrupt the left is. A road to nowhere amounts to nothing. A road to a new factory or office would mean real economic growth. We need to eliminate the huge surplus housing units to get suppliers in these industries working again. Instead , the government is trying to prolong the agony. Get government out of the way. Charge off the bad assets and reprice the rest. Then get things moving again.

calieconomist December 7, 2008 at 4:47 pm

Tyler-

Do you think the bridge collapse in Minnesota acted as a carbon tax? I think the relevant question is whether the money goes more to rebuilding or maintaining roads or building new ones. Also, it depends where the roads are built as to whether they encourage sprawl or not-building in LA probably worse than in NYC.

Also, what’s wrong with the light bulbs? A major critique of infrastructure project is that they take too long, so they stimulate when the economy has recovered. This is an automatic stabilizer, which means government spends less when times are good (A la Clinton years) to avoid overheating the economy.

Overall it seems like a great idea to me, it’s green, saves the government (and thus the taxpayer) money in the long-run, automatically stabilizes, and is fairly unskilled labor-intensive. Maybe not the bulbs, put I assume actually putting them in requires a lot of labor(some ethnic groups more than others ;) )

Basically, it’s a winning idea.

Tom Davies December 7, 2008 at 5:26 pm

What’s the reason for government spending being better than an equivalent size tax cut?

– People will save too much?
– It will just inflate asset prices?

Steve Sailer December 7, 2008 at 5:39 pm

So, the logic here is that there are a whole lot of projects that weren’t worth doing back when we had a lot of money, but are now worth doing because now we don’t have any money?

rhhardin December 7, 2008 at 6:16 pm

If they want to restart the economy, zero the cap gains rate and the corporate tax.

The trick is to get capital out of Treasuries, via sending a message that soaking success isn’t on the agenda after all.

Mao December 7, 2008 at 6:57 pm

Obama is an empty idiot who is only worried about his identity crisis. His speeches are written by a 27-year old frat boy who never had a real job in his life and hangs out in Dupont circle. He is surrounded by a cadre of true believers, and tries hard to be intelligent about “the economy”. I think it could have been a lot worse. How many African Americans / College Grads with 100K+ debt / undocumented Americans does it take to change a lightbulb? At least Obama will hook ‘em all up with some porn. We Need More AdyouKayShun, si se puede.

meter December 7, 2008 at 7:34 pm

“What it is with megalomaniacs from the pharaohs to the present that requires them to erect buildings?”

We’re not talking about erecting anything as far as I can tell – we’re talking about repairing or improving existing buildings (and infrastructure).

How old is the roof on your house?

Tom Hanna December 7, 2008 at 9:17 pm

“ten years from now our government still will have the highest energy bills in the world, unless the goal is to grow so slowly that the Chinese government will pass us.”

Well, I think that growing our government slower than a Communist one is a pretty good goal and doing so ought to help the economy grow faster.

Brian J December 7, 2008 at 10:12 pm

Replacing one type of fluorescent lighting with another — since when is this a Cabinet-level policy?

I think you’re taking the statement way, way too literally.

Basil December 7, 2008 at 10:22 pm

Greg, right on the money!! Where are the bullit trains and a fusion energy project
like the Manhattan project. We have technology out there with nuclear that also can deslinate needed water. Conservation is just a ploy to keep more people in poverty. I’m certainly for making federal buildings more energy efficient. Bridges and roads should be built to accomodate these new transportation systems
powered buildings that have already been built or need to be built. Education
has been a problem for over a 100 years. One federal job my wife had didn’t even
have computers and she was in the legal profession. Yes we need jobs, good paying
jobs and ones that are devoid of the now deceptive practice of age discramanation.

Russell Nelson December 7, 2008 at 11:27 pm

Hey, I’m all for getting $10K to run fiber optic cable 2.5 miles down Pleasant Valley Road to my house. The trouble is, of course, that 1) it will take me $10K in time and effort just to get the money, 2) accomplished trough-suckers like DANC will be in line before me, and 3) nobody thinks it can be done for $10K anyway.

Seth December 8, 2008 at 6:11 am

So where is the portion of this blog post where you suggest better ideas.

I admit, turning every government building green may not SOUND very exciting, but I don’t see where it’s something that can’t be started the day after the new administration takes office. It will pour money into a new industry where we want to lead the world; that money will go to American businesses and employees, including many who will be newly trained for jobs that havea future, and it will send a message to business and home owners that we are serious about energy conservation.

In two or three years, we will have greener buildings, lower energy costs and a newly trained workforce.

Explain to me how any of that is not simple and workable and good.

nelsonal December 8, 2008 at 7:38 am

Speaking of government efficiency drives, I formerly worked at a state pension manager. We had large windows and mine was southern facing so I typically left my lights fluorescent off and worked using the natural sunlight. As it happened I started around the time of rolling blackouts in california so the state was trying hard to control energy costs and had a huge efficiency push. So one day the head of the agency comes in to chat and as he’s leaning over my twin 19″ CRT monitors that easily pulled hundreds of watts more than my co-workers 15″ LCDs, and he mentions that he’s been meaning to put me in for a governor’s efficiency award because I always leave my lights off.

Paul December 8, 2008 at 11:06 am

Here in California, our state government has mandated extreme energy saving measures for a long time. I ‘m sure to a lesser extent other states have similar programs. The canard that we are losing gobs of energy in our less than energy efficient buildings is just so lame. The vast majority of gains in energy efficiency have already been made. Additional improvements will be at the margins; we’re on the diminishing returns end of that savings curve.

Second, this program strikes me as an illegals employment act. In our big cities, most construction jobs are held by illegals. They have effectively pushed out legal labor. Why are we bailing out them ?

Third, make work jobs for our higher skilled work force will do nothing to keep their creditors at bay. This looming depression is after all a credit crunch at it’s core. Urban living today is much more expensive and complex than it was in 1933. This new New Deal will succeed at a significantly less successful extent than the New Deal that managed to only reduce the
un-employment rate to 17 % by 1939.

Jenny December 8, 2008 at 2:57 pm

I don’t understand why you’re so against fixing the schools. Most school districts and universities have huge backlogs of projects that haven’t been funded, but are on the drawing board and ready to go.

The high school my son goes to is a pit. Many of our buildings are not earthquake safe, energy efficient, or attractive.

Our governor (Oregon) lobbied Obama to include working on schools as part of the stimulus package. We’ve got $650 million worth of projects that could be started up very quickly. Read more here .

Mr. econotarian December 8, 2008 at 4:17 pm

“we must also ensure that our hospitals are connected to each other through the internet.”

This is pretty much impossible under the HIPAA security rule :)

PQuincy December 8, 2008 at 6:57 pm

It seems one thread in the Obama proposals is that they can be characterized as ‘investment’ rather than merely spending. That’s politically important as well as economically rational.

It also seems to me that shifting spending from energy commodities to manufactured products with a lower cost tail — that is, by throwing out old light bulbs and putting in new light bulbs — does make sense, though Ape Man’s comments on HVAC and labor issues are smart.

My vote: a juicy increase in NIH and NSF budgets: the infrastructure for evaluating and spending is already in place, and one can spend a modest amount simply by changing the payline percentile from ~8% (now) back to ~25% (10 years ago). The money will be spent rapidly, largely on fairly expensive high-tech products, many of which are still manufactured in the United States, and which supports high-quality jobs. And the product is both more trained scientists and more high tech jobs, with actual research progress as a nice (if hard-to-calculate) bonus.

Admittedly, one can’t spend enough this way to get the economy rolling…but if one’s spending on the projects that both have immediate benefits AND long term benefits, restoring our research infrastructure seems to be a worthy target.

Nancy@The Sallan Foundation December 9, 2008 at 3:01 pm

79% of NYC’s carbon footprint comes from heating, cooling and lighting buildings (and running our computers and cell phone rechargers plugged into every building outlet). The capacity of the power system to generate and transmit electricity is nearing maximums, while electricity consumption rises, steady as a heartbeat, 1% annually and peak consumption on hot summer days requires small, dirty and expensive “peaker” plants to be fired up.

All in all, Obama’s announced commitment to making public buildings ultra energy efficient can prove to be a giant step forward in know-how and scale toward solving problems that are environmental & infrastructural, while enhancing economic competitiveness and domestic security. By the way, it’s an awfully good way to create jobs for the 21st century economy where there will be rising, not sinking demand over time.

Of course, I think talk about building insulation is really interesting, but I don’t work for an elected official.

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