, Salem, MA


September 26, 2013

Watson: Budget debate ignores real problems


For example, we have millions of unemployed and underemployed citizens. The resulting damage is huge. Individuals and families go into all sorts of crises — accumulating debt, losing homes, experiencing health issues or marital breakup, becoming dependent upon government assistance, and not paying taxes.

Closely related to the unemployment crisis are the foreclosure and student debt problems. Millions of out-of-work Americans are still in danger of losing their homes, and a significant percentage of recent college graduates holds staggering amounts of debt.

Fueling the unemployment problem is globalization. Although the Wall Street meltdown precipitated the recession, 30 years of mobile capital, financial changes, job transfers to the Third World, growing corporate hegemony, and computerization had already weakened much of the stability and balance that once characterized the economy.

We also have significant infrastructure problems. The deficiencies in our road networks, bridges, mass transit systems and urban commuting routes are large, and they place real limits on our present and potential economic prosperity.

Additionally, we are faced with pivotal energy choices. Newly flush with both natural gas and oil reserves — enough for, probably, hundreds of years — we have big decisions to make. And they carry enormous implications for our economy. Closely related to that is our response to the ever-rising quantity of carbon dioxide in the air. Whether we address that will change the shape of the economy in quite different ways.

How do we begin to address these problems? What is the role of the federal government and its spending priorities? Shouldn’t the government — in collaboration with the private sector — take an active role in devising policies that attempt to solve these problems?

It is well-known that conflicting needs are pulling the government in two directions. On the one hand, we would like to reduce public spending and lower the national debt. On the other, we would like to underwrite some needed projects and investments, which simultaneously could help stimulate the economy and lower unemployment.

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