I’m sure I am not the only one who was underwhelmed by the series of
Presidential debates. Here is what the candidates and the
1) Regarding energy problems: Government should act more
swiftly to promote solar and wind installations.
they need to do more to promote small, distributed installations.
Because of economy of scale, coal, natural gas, and nuclear
generation does not scale down very well. Wind and especially
solar power can be scaled down reasonably . This is
a question of where the power will come from; it is a question of who
controls the power, and how it is distributed.
One of the problems we will face, is the poor state of the electrical
grid. Having more small, distributed power generation could
reduce the need for large, expensive, and vulnerable transmission
lines. I know someone will comment, “but that won’t solve the
problem.” True, it will not. But there is no
one thing that will solve the problem. If there
were, we’d be doing it.
Decentralizing the generation of power will improve supply and
reliability, and buy us a little time to work on more definitive
solutions. Distributed systems are not popular, because no
entity can control them. Too bad.
Also, nobody mentioned peak oil. It is one of the defining
challenges of our time.
It sure would be nice to see that at least one candidate
understands the issue, or at least knows how fragile our energy
delivery system is. For example, did you know that if
the country simultaneously topped off their gas tanks, it would completely
exhaust our supply of stored gasoline? Do either of
the candidates know that?
The entire discussion of offshore drilling showed that both candidates
are at least three weeks
behind the times in their understanding of the issue. Neither
seems to appreciate the fact that the credit crunch is going to
limit the ability of energy companies to engage in the large
capital expenditures necessary for development of oil
of oil sands may become economically unfeasible.
One of the candidates has mentioned the role of conservation, but
neither mentioned the need to improve our railroad system.
is going to be important, and it would be much better to do it now, and
get the savings and the employment benefits now.
2) How will we balance the need for national security with the
expectation of civil rights? No one asked that, but we need
answer. The answer is this: first, we need to understand that
function of national security is to protect people, their property, and
their money. Anything that threatens those things is a threat
national security. So quit worrying about the unlikely things
that cost a lot to address. Funny thing: if you do that,
no need to fret about civil liberties.
3) To the extent that deregulation of the financial system is a
problem, what specific regulations would you propose for financial
Limit leverage to no more that 12:1. Require public reporting
all level III assets, along with the methodology used to compute their
value, and disallow “off balance-sheet” assets. Require
default swaps to be regulated like insurance. Disallow
“over-the-counter” (really under-the counter)
securities transactions. All such transactions should take
place in an open marketplace.
In other words, get rid of the shadow financial system, and get back to
Oh, and while you are at it, require that institutions that originate
loans maintain some degree of risk if the loans are not paid back.
As pointed out by Brad DeLong, attempting to come up with
a succinct explanation:
Well, because the investors and creditors did not do
due diligence and check that the banks that were the ultimate holders
of derivative securities had done their due diligence and checked that
the financiers who had created the derivatives had done their due
diligence and checked that the purchasers of the securities had done
their due diligence and checked that securitizers had done their due
diligence and checked that the lenders had done their due diligence and
checked that the home buyers had done their due diligence and checked
that they could afford their mortgages if house prices stopped going up.
Catastrophic failures of risk management at seven
different points along the chain–any one of which
would have kept us out of this current mess. [emphasis added]
Neither candidate articulated a clear understanding of the origin of the
financial crisis. The problem was not caused by
falling home prices. It was caused by the fact that house
prices continued to rise, while incomes did not keep up.
Excessive and fraudulent
mortgage origination contributed. Government efforts to
home ownership backfired. Rather than increasing the number
persons who own homes sustainably, those efforts
artificial price supports. This distorted the market, leading
prices higher than what the market could bear.
A modest amount of that would have been OK. But it got way
out of hand.
In the UK, which faces a situation analogous to that in the US, it is
estimated that house
prices will not recover until 2023.
Some politicians suggest that we support housing prices now.
That is an awful long time to prop those prices up; it’s
that we could afford to do that.
Sure, the financial crisis is more
than that. Perhaps it is pointless to try to narrow it down
single root cause. But to the extent that you can talk about
single cause, it was the divergence between income and housing prices
that did it. The reason that is important, is that it
the role of the systematic
gutting of the middle class.
People did not adjust their expectations of what is realistic
a middle-class family to have, in the face of changing economic
realities. While the middle class has gotten poorer,
have risen, not fallen.
4) Food security. No one wants to acknowledge that this is a
problem in the USA. Note that the UK is setting up a national
of Food Policy Advisors, to start working on food security.
The new council, to be made up of experts from every
of the food system from farmers through to retailers, will advise on
improving food production at home, ensuring low income food choices
have adequate levels of nutrition and maintaining cheap foods through
We need that in the USA, too. Sounds like a heavy government
hand, but hey, it’s homeland security, right?
5) Speaking of security, what about health care?
The whole homeland security rubric is nothing more than an excuse for
the government to do what it wants to do. The thing is, it
equally well as an rationale to compel them to do the things they
currently do not want to do. Specifically, make sure that
is enough food, that people have access to health care, and that basic
infrastructure is adequate.