Searching for the Moon

Shannon Clark's rambles and conversations on food, geeks, San Francisco and occasionally economics

Being political – taking a risk – some suggestions…

Posted by shannonclark on July 25, 2011

Being political – taking a risk – some suggestions for job creation

Tonight President Barack Obama gave a speech about the looming debt ceiling crisis. I haven’t yet had a chance to view the video of, though I’ve seen summaries of his speech and the initial reactions.I am a firm and strong supporter of President Obama – have been since he was my senator when I lived in Illinois (though in his initial primary race for that position he ran against a neighbor of mine whom I knew personally from our local coffeehouse, however once he won the primary I was proud to vote for him for the Senate and years later for President). Many friends of mine have joined his administration and I hope to do all that I can to reelect him.

But after we get past this debt crisis, assuming that we do, there remains many major problems in the US today – problems which are pervasive and nearly universal and which resist any easy solution. These problems stem in part from the excesses of the past decade, from the growing disparity in incomes, opportunities and outcomes around the country.

There are no easy answers – I support President Obama’s proposals – to make the very highest earners in this country pay a little bit more each year and to close a wide range of loopholes but there is much more that needs to be done to fix government and as importantly fix the US (and the larger global) economy. And yes, if all goes well next year this might mean that I personally have to pay a little bit more in taxes.

Here are, however, a few suggestions.

1) Hold the telecom and cable industries in the US to past promises and commitments

The US has some of the slowest and worst broadband speeds of any major country in the world at the moment (and are far slower than many smaller less “major” economies as well). Not to mention a very dysfunctional cellular service in much of the US. All of the companies – telcos and cable companies use public assets (rights of way, spectrum) and in most cases have limited monopolies (or duopolies). In exchange for tax breaks and the purchase of rights to various spectrums etc they have made many promises but have rarely been held to them. Fixing this wouldn’t be easy but would both require a LOT of new jobs directly (to upgrade copper to fiber, to install more cell towers, to upgrade switching stations etc) and indirectly could spark major changes in how the US workforce works – allowing people to work more productively from homes or to work in smaller offices closer to their homes. It could also spark entirely new business opportunities based on real high speed access.

2) Streamline and simplify zoning rules across the country and make it easier for mixed-use and creative re-use of spaces to occur

This takes effort in 1000’s of local jurisdictions across the country but the current model of land-use across most of the US is broken. It relies on the separation of residential, commercial, office and industrial spaces from each other, encourages much of the urban and suburban landscape to be devoted to cars (and parking of cars) and discourages uses of spaces once abandoned in a way different from how they were initially constructed. This means that housing developments built for single-families can’t easily in many cases be turned into rental homes or multi-family residences. It means that as factories close they can’t easily (in most cases) be converted to commercial spaces or loft apartments. It means that most Americans can’t meet their regular shopping needs within walking distance of their homes but need to drive just to get some milk or to drop off dry cleaning. This change would take time and would change the “character” of many parts of the country – but in turn it would unlock massive entrepreneurial opportunities and help create 1000’s, likely millions of jobs in the process.

3) Adopt serious efforts to reduce oil consumption across the board

Moving to California from Illinois I have been struck by one very puzzling difference in the architecture of California to that of Chicago. Throughout California homes, apartments and office buildings alike seem to mostly have been built without the use of insulation or the many steps standard in Illinois to help manage energy use of buildings. Sure my condo back in Illinois when I bought it had single pane windows but as I lived there the entire building was upgraded to double pane windows (at a cost of well over $1M) with an immediate result of a major reduction in the energy use of the building. Here in Northern California an investment into the infrastructure of our homes and office buildings would result in massive long term energy savings while also creating 1000’s of jobs in the process. Sure homeowners would need to spend money (as would other landlords) but this is a case where in many cases they would see a return in that investment rapidly. Furthermore this is a place where simple, low cost government efforts could spark much of this investment at low cost.

For example…
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