Thursday, January 24, 2008


The nation has suddenly discovered that we are in a recession. In Michigan, this is no surprise. We have been in hard times for a few years already. I remember two Halloweens ago, trick or treating with one of Anna's classmates, a family that was trying to relocate from downstate. The friend's dad told me that in their subdivision downstate (Brighton, I think) half of the homes were for sale and a third were in foreclosure.

That was some time ago, but Michigan suffered quietly until our presidential primary a few weeks ago. Having all of the candidates show up and try to speechify about our "one state recession" was odd, sort of like when the doctor tells you you're going to be fine but your friends are acting like you're in your final days. Mitt Romney made me laugh, vowing to bring back every single one of Michigan's lost jobs, as if the jobs were lost sheep and Mitt was a sheepdog.

I think of this recession like labor pains. If houses aren't selling, well, no wonder! You can't build bigger and bigger houses farther and farther from civilization without buyers eventually deciding the all that commuting and home heating is more than they can afford. You can't expect to sell bigger and bigger trucks and SUVs to that same commuting population without eventually seeing that market collapse when oil prices get squirelly or when global warming becomes too hard to ignore. You can't outsource all manufacturing to cheaper labor markets without eventually causing consumers to doubt the quality of the goods that you're trying to sell.

When a person starts to think that they're travelling down the wrong path, the natural instict is to stop and think. That's where I see our nation right now, stopping and thinking about taking a new path.

Congress and the president are anxious to nip this recession stuff quickly, and they have been quite speedy in deciding that a tax rebate is just the thing. I don't think they've stopped and thought at all. I sent this message to my congresspeople today:

The talk radio today was all about the looming recession and the federal government's response to it -- another tax rebate. There seems to be general agreement that the recession was triggered by high oil prices. I wonder, then, why the stimulus package is not targeting energy conservation?

Instead of a "spend it how you want it" tax rebate, why not give cheap loans so that folks can install solar hot water heaters, put up home wind generators, update to more efficient furnaces, install effificient windows and insulation, trade in their gas guzzlers, renovate properties along public transit routes (start with the ones in foreclosure) relocate their businesses out of the suburbs and back to the cities, along public transportation routes?

We have contractors and skilled laborors sitting idle, ready to do this work. For an even quicker stimulus, we have organizations like Traverse City's Father Fred Foundation in need of funds to help families with home heating bills. Give them money tomorrow and it will be out in the economy next week! Another tax rebate seems like a knee-jerk response, and not a very effective one at that.

I suspect that my message is too late, as the tax rebate plan seems all but a done deal.

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