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Gas prices in China, Will work for food, Ambient Induced Investing, Agenda for the Next President and more   (week of June 5, 2008)

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Mike D.

First, let me compliment you on your website. It has become a must-read for me every day and I'm always impressed with your essays.

I would like to make a couple of points however with regard to your May 30 entry "Wishful Thinking, Speculation and Oil". I am a Canadian and have lived in China for almost five years. I am currently in Harbin in the extreme north-east of the country. Harbin is one of the ten biggest cities in China.

You seemed to wittingly or unwittingly lump China into a list of cheap-gas producer countries and, while I realize the Chinese government does subsidize gasoline, it hardly puts the country into competition with the under $1 crowd. The price of regular gasoline in Harbin is currently 5 RMB per liter. An American gallon is 3.785 liters, so 18.925 RMB per gallon. Using the latest exchange rate of about $.1442, that gives a price per gallon of $2.73, admittedly lower than American gasoline but a long way from the prices in the OPEC countries.

There is another consideration. I can drive around Harbin happily on $2.73 a gallon, but if I want to drive to another city, there is a road toll on all the expressways and avoiding their use is literally impossible. Obviously, long-haul trucking is less competitive with the railroads because of this factor.

I hope this information is useful.

CHS note: Mike is correct--I should have distinguished between countries with modest subsidies like China and India and those with heavy subsidies like Iran and Venezuela. Thank you, Mike, for setting the record straight.

Harun I.

Will work for food....(RE: When You've Paved Over Your Own Country and Can't Feed Yourself--Buy Up Another Country's Farms May 27, 2008)

You are where there are few. Everybody is preoccupied with the ongoing global financial turbulence while ignoring or giving precious little ink to the other challenges faced by humanity. The issue of food and water shortages will not just go away.

While a recession may ease pressure somewhat, it will not last forever. We are going to have to come to grips with the fact that our stewardship of global resources has been fraught with irresponsibility. The lack of foresight is unfathomable.

Even those in the recession camp seem to think that everything is blue sky in the aftermath. I beg to differ. Unless shortages of vital resources and crumbling infrastructure are addressed effectively there will eventually be a shock from which the systems upon which developed civilization depends cannot recover. The answer imposed by a remorseless nature will be one of population reduction.

As you have noticed, increasing planting and harvesting more food requires more energy, and so the spiral continues.

Climate change has always been a constant. We may find that cooling or warming is irrelevant. There appears to be a narrow climate band in which enough food can be produced to support a given population. The earth has certainly been much warmer than it is currently and it has been much cooler. What those in the warming camp seem to ignore is that the historical record shows that life has flourished during periods of warming.

Regardless, we need to move forward accepting that climate change is a constant and there is little we can do about it. Just as we build earthquake tolerant structures we must build systems upon which civilization depends with tolerance to rapid change.

What organizations develop as a result of the current challenge makes for interesting speculation and may very well shape human interaction going forward. But we are where no good pilot wants to be -- behind his/her aircraft. Policy for resource management on a global scale is non-existent (actually it has been grab it by force (war)). This is unacceptable and it is why we are behind our aircraft. We are low and slow. We cannot trade altitude for airspeed or airspeed for altitude, thus we find ourselves out of airspeed, altitude and ideas. This condition usually precedes an uncontrolled landing resulting in the destruction of property and severe injury or loss of life.

There are always answers, just some less palatable than others. Our lack of foresight means that our choices are now dramatically limited. The longer we dawdle and allow our leadership to dawdle the more severe the consequences will be.

"Will work for food" signs may become more common than which we are comfortable. As you, I am not completely convinced that people will react passively to starvation.

Harun I.

Ambient Induced Investing (RE: Sleepwalking Into Recession June 2, 2008)

A broad measure of the market, SP 500 is up 53%, nominally, since the first bottom in 2002. However, against gold it is down 46% for a total gain of 7% or 1.16% annualized for 6 years. Once you add in fees and commissions an investor's returns would be net negative.

Only someone who is asleep would accept this. But since the masses involved in this seem lucid I assume they must be on Ambient and just appear to be lucid. I bet a few people, coming down off their Ambient, looked at their 401K net real returns, saw that they were hopelessly in the red, popped another Ambient, went to the store and charged something really expensive. After all, black helicopters with REBATE written on them were in the neighborhood the other day dropping money.

But Ambient is not just for Main Streeters. Drugs, especially good ones, don't care about from which side of the tracks one comes.

As much as I respect Bill Gross' investing acumen, he too must have taken his free sample of Ambient. I listened to a podcast by him this weekend and I was somewhat amused by his acceptance of an asset based economy (platform economy), (we think, they sweat economy).

While he apparently accepts this as something that is workable, his investment strategy is to is benefit from its failure, all the while saying that in order for this to succeed we must not have asset deflation and the government must do everything to prevent it.

At first this was puzzling but sure enough your missive this morning provided the answer:

Mr. Gross has to be on Ambient.

Surely such an accomplished investor and money manager knows (when conscious) that globalization is forcing wage arbitrage, which means people in the US will earn less and that in order for Main St. to continue consumption prices must fall to clearing levels. There is no stopping this process unless we are to invite deep and prolonged suffering.

But Mr. Gross, like the rest of Wall St. and those in government service are apparently enjoying their Ambient experience: Prices can forever rise, wages can fall or stagnate, consumers and corporations can expand the liability side their balance sheet ad infinitum and it will never cause a problem as long as the government "does something".

What a wonderful dream. They all seem to be having so much fun I will send them my free sample. Besides, can you imagine how awkward it will be trying to explain the scars and quills should they wake? That while they were suffering the side effects of Ambient (sleep walking), lucidly dreaming they were getting wealthy and had found the secret to creating all the money they ever wanted (legally), those of us who were not (on Ambient) were dealing with reality: desperately trying to thwart their constant attempts to fornicate with porcupines.

Hard to protect the little creatures.

Paul M.

My $.02 on the recommendations in todays post:

*1. Rescind all Bush-era restrictions on civil liberties. *


*2. Ban the use of torture.* It doesn't work anyway; just ask the interrogators from World war II before they pass on. Ditto Korean War and Vietnam War military interrogators.


*3. Pledge no new taxes on wages/earnings between $25,000 and $150,000.* Low wage earners already pay virtually no Federal taxes other than the 7.65% FICA (Social Security) and high wage earners already pay the lion's share of taxes. Announce that we're not going to "tax and spend" our way out of recession.


*4. Overhaul the Alternative Minimum Tax to its original purposes,* i.e. ensure those with incomes (from all sources) in the top 1% bracket pay some tax.


*5. Outlaw tax shelters and prosecute bankers and accountants who have gamed the system to benefit multi-millionaire clients.* Double or triple the number of Federal prosecutors as needed; enforce the Rule of Law not just on the petty criminals but on the white-collar criminals.

OK. And what exactly justifies the mortgage interest deduction, again? Would the poor and/or the substantial population of non-homeowners agree?

*6. Announce that the U.S. is not "borrowing and spending" its way out of recession.* Explain that the Federal government and the nation have become addicted to credit, borrowing trillions even in so-called "prosperity"; the solution is "cold turkey," i.e. sizing expenditures to match revenues.

Actually, borrowing is OK, if the loan proceeds are devoted to infrastructure and energy independence. These, in effect, are capital assets, which are a very prudent use of borrowed funds.

*7. Slash Federal spending by the estimated deficit: $500 billion.* Congress controlls the spending, but just keep vetoing every spending bill, even if you have to shut down the government to force an end to "borrow and spend." Target $100 billion from the Pentagon, $100 billion from the Iraq occupation, $100 billion from Medicare, abolish Homeland Security, and go from there.

OK, but................I still don't see the point of cutting Medicare, which has a very low administrative load, when private health insurers provide so little, and "earn" so much of the health-care dollar. Indeed, simply removing the words "over 65" from the present Medicare law immediately provides single-payer universal health care and permits more powerful negotiating leverage over pricing. You might also agree with me that, overall, the patent monopoly provided by current law to Pharma unfairly costs citizens and does not, overall, get better drugs to market.

*8. Rescind the Farm Price Support Bill.* Use all those vaunted Executive Orders if you have to, but finally finally finally wean the nation from "let's tax you and give the money to wealthy farming corporations". Stop paying farmers not to grow crops.

OK. Your idea of OGEC probably trumps this fix, since a cartel usually will control production and pricing without much government interference. But then you have to contend with the fact that OGEC is a "trust" in the classic, and perjorative, sense.

*9. Cancel the bloated Pentagon weapons programs and overhaul procurement to follow NASA's "faster better cheaper."* Use the F-16 fighter development as a guideline. (What that means requires a lot of explanation, but basically the next generation fighter aircraft, the Joint Strike Fighter, will cost at least $300 million each. That is insane. The F-16 was designed by "fighter jocks" outside the usual decades-long procurement system and was better, cheaper and faster to production.)


*10. Hire a small army of auditors and strip-mine the Pentagon budget.* While you're at it, announce a 30% reduction in headcount in the Pentagon/civilian side of the Military.

OK. Why only 30%?

*11. Abolish the Department of Homeland Security.* Replace that bloated waste of money with a small liaison committee comprised of the heads of the CIA, NSA, DIA, FBI, FAA, etc. Inform the heads of each agency they are personally responsible for ensuring the liaison is effective and timely. Fire freely and from the top down if bureaucratic infighting/jostling for power limits the committee's effectiveness.


*12. Dismantle the Federal Reserve.* It's the problem, not the solution.

OK. One of the Ron Paul ideas I can support.

*13. Launch a National Energy Independence Initiative.* Mandate conservation via the "low hanging fruit" of higher mileage vehicles, energy-efficient standby circuitry (recall that 5% of the nation's electricity is wasted on inefficient appliance/electronics standby), etc.

Follow the model of the 1970s which effectively reduced energy consumption at modest governmental and consumer cost. It costs almost nothing to mandate improved energy efficiency and despite howls of protest the consumer never even noticed the supposedly "crushing" increase in cost. Did you stop buying a refrigerator because it was 40% more energy-efficient? Did the cost double or triple? No. You never even noticed the cost, which was smaller than the retail and wholesale markups.

As part of the Initiative, mandate a fast-track Federal Agency approval for new solar, wind and other renewable power facilities. Again, the cost of this is minimal; basically, just get the government out of the way of private investment in alt. energy.

Order Federal agencies to "take another regulatory look" at next-generation nuclear and offshore drilling. Can these be done safely, with robust safety redundancy? If not, why not?

OK. Or at least legislate tax credits for periods longer than two (2) years, which limitation currently inhibits alternative investment. Level the playing field by removing oil, gas, coal and nuclear subsidies, commit the same tax dollars to alternative energy infrastructure, and maybe the energy/climate crisis can begin to abate.

*14. Prepare for shortages of gasoline, diesel and electricity.* Prepare the nation for the 1970s-era "odd and even" days to buy gas; refuse any and all notions of price controls.

OK. Whatever promotes conservation and alternative energy.

*15. Prepare the nation for Depression-era "bread lines."* If food shortages occur, be prepared to distribute supplies of grain via existing agencies/retail outlets. Rationing worked in World War II; give the nation a history lesson. If "the market" leads to hunger-driven riots, it isn't working.

NO. A "food shortage" in the U.S. is akin to an "oil shortage" in Iraq. Clearly a consequence of poor political and economic decisions. Citizens should expect to pay a higher proportion of incomes for food, but I can't see that as a result of shortage in commodities from a OGEC member state.

*16. Overhaul the Department of Agriculture to strip out agri-business and prepared-food corporate influence.* Require that the nutritional labeling of food and fast food be printed in large, easily readable text; require the the fat and high-fructose corn sugar ingredients be printed in even larger font.


*17. Hire more auditors for the IRS and Federal oversight agencies (FDIC, etc.) and enforce the regulations which are already on the books for banks, lenders, accounting firms, etc.* Teddy Roosevelt was considered a "traitor to his class" by busting monopolies/trusts. The need for oversight did not vanish in 1903.

OK. To me, there remains a substantial question why corporations have historically been treated as "persons", and given most of the rights of "persons", but are put to so few responsibilities. As a real "person", I object.

*18. Abolish Sarbanes-Oxley as a waste of effort/time.* How about simply enforcing the regulations which were already on the books?

NO. The old regs prescribed corporate misconduct, but they did not require individual disclosure of corporate misconduct, thereby keeping it hidden and immunizing individuals from accountability.

*19. Reform Social Security to eliminate all payments to people who didn't pay FICA taxes for 25 years.* No more bringing Mom and Dad into the U.S. and signing them up for Social Security; tighten "crazy money" to the truly impaired, etc. Announce that Social Security will no longer be a welfare agency.

OK. But the savings will be paltry.

*20. Abolish Medicare.* Explain that the program in its current incarnation will shortly bankrupt the nation. Explain that there simply isn't enough money for the government to provide care for the nation's exploding population of elderly.

NO. See above comment on creating universal, single-payer health care.

*21. Announce that your primary goal is to leave a nation that is fiscally and environmentally sound for future generations.* We as a nation must live within our means, and the new ethos is sacrifice for the future. Victimhood and entitlement are morally corrupting; call it what it is.


*22. Restore the gold backing to the U.S. dollar.* While there isn't enough gold in Fort Knox to back up all the trillions in circulation at the current price of gold, there will be at some price ($10,000 per ounce? Just a wild guess). Let's get it over with and restore the value of the U.S. currency.

Oops. Now I can see how the bread lines start. A big NO.

*23. Veto every bill from Congress which contains "spending earmarks" until they finally catch on that the era of "earmark pork" is over.* Shut down the government if it comes to that; draw a line in the sand and make Congress cave in. To expect the drug addict to keep the drugs under lock and key is insane.

OK. A "political will" question, however.

*24. Legalize marijuana and other drugs except for meta-amphetamines ("ice").* Issue an Executive Order to buy up the entire cocaine (coca leaves) and heroin (poppy) crops at the sources; instruct all addicts to register at clinics for low-cost service of their addictions. Offer counseling but don't insist on it; just give existing addicts enough to eliminate the drug trade and the crime that goes with it.

Will we really miss the Mexican Mafia, the Russian Mafia, et al.? I don't think so.

OK. The counseling industry will grow exponentially (not necessarily a bad thing), but factor in the price of paying them at least what teachers make, and assume they will all be government employees, as part of a truly universal health care system.

*25. Overhaul the Civil Service benefits.* Gold-plated medical coverage is out; everyone pays a percentage of their health insurance and every visit to a doctor/clinic costs $50--what "the rest of us in the self-employed private sector" pay. The idea that government service means you're disconnected from the true costs of healthcare is out.

OK. See comments immediately above, however. Somehow, I don't see a recovering addict as capable of coming up with the $50.00 per day or per session, or any amount, for the detox and continuing care he needs to turn it around. If quitting were easy, most drug addicts and alcoholics would readily sign up, and would achieve great success the first time around. It doesn't work that way in real life, so be prepared for spending at least as much much money on prevention and treatment, as is spent on the law enforcement focused, so-called "war on drugs".

*26. Re-institute the Kennedy-era "Fitness for America" programs in publicly funded schools.* Make nutrition, health and fitness classes part of every curriculum, public and private. Announce the era of obesity, poor health and chronic preventable disease is over.

OK. Part of the "prevention" program. But as a practical matter, the "classes" are only effective if the _parents_ enroll. How does this happen?

How successful were the Kennedy-era programs, in hindsight?

*27. "Trust-bust" major media corporations and put some teeth back into the FCC.* Recognize that the monopoly to bust is no longer the Rockefeller oil trust but the media trust of corporate control by a handful of global behemoths.

OK. See above comment on corporations as "persons", and double-check the Constitution to see how our so-called "strict-constructionist" judges still manage to read in rights of persons that are not granted by the Constitution to these entities.

*28. Reform Immigration.* It doesn't work; it's too slow and arduous for the people who we want as citizens, and as a result it has spawned a vast illegal "black market" in immigration. It's Kafkaesque in every sense of the word.

OK. But U.S. policy is only as irrational as its citizens' attitudes.

Michael Goodfellow

Whenever I see one of these lists, I think of a Monty Python bit, where a caller to a radio program says "I would like to ask the panel what they would do if they were Hitler?"

Here's my reactions, dashed off as quickly as I think your list was... :-)

1. Rescind all Bush-era restrictions on civil liberties.

The problem here is the spying. NSA has the capability, and that's not going away. The phone companies and ISPs clearly know they have to allow the feds to spy with their network, or face all kinds of trouble. The public isn't nearly concerned enough to put a stop to this. If people will line up like sheep in airports, they'll give up their civil liberties in other areas as well. Roll back the laws if you like, but it's going to be difficult to keep the defense establishment from using these capabilities. In case of another terrorist incident, the rollback will seem like a bad idea, even if it had nothing to do with stopping terrorism in the first place.

2. Ban the use of torture.

It's a mistake to rely on ineffectiveness as an argument. People think that torture works, because they can't imagine going through it and not talking. Plus, there's a "24" mentality out there that thinks toughness means torturing your enemies. You'd need a few TV series and movies where the interrogators just talk information out of detainees. Of course, even if it were perfectly true, a lot of people still would consider it unbelievable.

3. Pledge no new taxes on wages/earnings between $25,000 and $150,000.

General tax simplification and a flat tax would put money back into the economy (at the cost of unemployment for tax preparers), without any hit on the treasury. Unfortunately, you are not going to eliminate the home mortgage interest deduction during a housing downturn. Lobbyists will fight simplification tooth and nail if it means losing a deduction for their group during a recession.

4. Overhaul the Alternative Minimum Tax to its original purposes,

Better to simplify the tax code and get rid of tax shelters that cause low tax rates for the very rich in the first place. You are just layering another kludge on top of the mess that's already there.

5. Outlaw tax shelters and prosecute bankers and accountants who have gamed the system to benefit multi-millionaire clients.

Again, you don't fix a messed up, overly complex system by adding more rules and sanctions. Simplify it and then enforce the simpler rules.

6. Announce that the U.S. is not "borrowing and spending" its way out of recession.

The markets will probably enforce discipline at some point or other. Any sudden attack of fiscal discipline risks putting the economy into a tailspin. Cutting spending during a recession is supposedly not the right thing to do. It just reinforces the downturn. The problem is that we don't cut spending during booms, and don't spend on long-term investments that would yield a return during a downturn. Instead we spend it all on consumption.

7. Slash Federal spending by the estimated deficit: $500 billion.

Same comment as above. It might be worth doing, and might feel virtuous, but the ranks of the unemployed will surge. Political suicide as well. Too many people are already dependent on government.

8. Rescind the Farm Price Support Bill.

Again, the time to do these things is during booms, when people can take the hit. Of course, with high prices for farm products, they could probably take the hit now. Do it right away though, before pressure to pander mounts with the next election.

9. Cancel the bloated Pentagon weapons programs and overhaul procurement to follow NASA's "faster better cheaper."

Large, risk-averse, rule bound organizations don't produce cheap products. If you want to change this, you need a new organization. Either a new branch of the existing organization, or a completely new structure. Don't be surprised if the old organization deliberately fouls up the new one though. You'll also have some trouble getting people unless it's obvious the new organization has a future (but that kind of guarantee keeps it from being nimble.) The best way to do this is two competing organizations, both with other business than the government. Aerospace projects are too large and government-specific for this to work well though. In other words, there aren't going to be two Boeings developing two 777's at a time, since it costs too much and the market won't support two of them.

10. Hire a small army of auditors and strip-mine the Pentagon budget.

Political suicide -- there are too many small communities dependent on military spending. Look at the Base Closure committees for an example of that sort of politics at work. It will happen when the choice is between getting out of Iraq or cutting spending.

11. Abolish the Department of Homeland Security.

The question is what new spending came along with the new department. I don't suppose the organizational structure really means all that much. All the component agencies already have layers of management. There needs to be some risk-benefit analysis applied to the spending. Stop turning local police forces into paramilitary units, and stop sniffing shoes at airports. Do something useful with the money.

12. Dismantle the Federal Reserve.

Someone needs to control the money supply. And you have to answer the question "if Bear Stearns failing would have crashed the banking system, what should have been done, if not what they did?"

13. Launch a National Energy Independence Initiative.

Mandates have little short term effect, since people have to replace all their appliances. Run an ad campaign telling people to put all their electronics on a power strip and turn it off when they go to bed. That will get you the bulk of the savings at trivial cost.

The market is already shifting to small cars, probably resulting in the bankruptcy of one or more of the major car companies. Just get out of the way, so you aren't blamed for that.

To most people, high efficiency appliances just mean low-flow toilets and showers that we hate, and fridges/washers/dryers that don't work as well. In any case, there are market solutions. There are tons of small, super-efficient Japanese appliances that could be sold here overnight if there was a market. A $50 savings per year on your electric bill is just not enough to get people to replace appliances that last 10 years.

As for alternative power, just make sure the gains are really positive, not supported by subsidies. Otherwise, you'll get another corn ethanol fiasco. Nukes and oil drilling (also refineries) would be a good idea, but you are not getting them done in California or Alaska. Greenies would probably sabotage plants rather than see that happen. Remember tree sitting and spiking trees to hurt loggers?

14. Prepare for shortages of gasoline, diesel and electricity.

The 70's shortages were caused by price controls as much as anything else, and by panic. If the whole country just fills its gas tank, you get a shortage right there. Just leave this all alone. There would be no shortages if the market were working. Electricity shortages in particular will all be because of government regulation. Don't add to it.

15. Prepare the nation for Depression-era "bread lines."

Food shortages will not occur in the U.S. -- we're a net exporter of food. The third world is where there will be problems. This will be made worse if everyone reacts to worries about shortages by curtailing exports. So stop even talking about it!

16. Overhaul the Department of Agriculture to strip out agri-business and prepared-food corporate influence.

I was watching a bit of some BBC program called "you are what you eat" the other night. The family in question was living on donuts. None of our obesity problems are really due to lack of information, advertising or high-sugar content in meals. It's due to complete lack of exercise, a generally self-indulgent life style, and the greater social acceptance of fat people, even fat kids.

17. Hire more auditors for the IRS and Federal oversight agencies (FDIC, etc.) and enforce the regulations which are already on the books for banks, lenders, accounting firms, etc.

The answer to a failure of the rules is not more rules. It's better, simpler rules.

18. Abolish Sarbanes-Oxley as a waste of effort/time.

Same as above.

19. Reform Social Security to eliminate all payments to people who didn't pay FICA taxes for 25 years.

There is some rule about number of qualifying quarters of income already. I forget how many it takes, but 25 years is too many. That would mean that unless you spent nearly your entire working career as a U.S. citizen, you are screwed, no matter how much you paid into the system. The retirement check should be related to how much you paid, pure and simple. Either that, or a minimum for anyone, regardless of contributions, just to keep people from absolute poverty. I doubt that's possible to administer fairly though, and it would have no political support.

20. Abolish Medicare.

There's already been an effort to shift people onto HMO's, which have a slower growth rate. As you know, everyone hates HMO's and thinks they deserve more health care. Previous attempts to make even minor reforms resulted in senior citizens mobbing legislators. The don't call Social Security and Medicare the "third rail" for nothing. You are going to have to think of something else.

Social Security by itself isn't fatal to the budget. Medicare deficits are projected to be huge due to medical inflation. That $30 trillion figure assumes people are spending a hundred thousand dollars a year on medical care by 20 years from now. If you want to solve that budget crisis, you need to reform medical practice. As you know, I prefer more of a free market, not less.

21. Announce that your primary goal is to leave a nation that is fiscally and environmentally sound for future generations.

These problems will bite us within 10 years, so forget about "future generations." If we can get to 2020, a new system will already be in place.

22. Restore the gold backing to the U.S. dollar.

Money supply needs to grow (and shrink?) with the economy. Gold is a poor substitute for that. It seems to me it also wastes some amount of industrial effort digging up gold just to use as money. And if you suddenly improved the technology (by getting gold from sea water or something), would that mean sudden inflation? I understand the risks of fiat currency, but gold is a relic. You can't set the price arbitrarily at $10,000 an ounce, because gold has industrial uses. All the circuit boards in your computer have gold all over them.

23. Veto every bill from Congress which contains "spending earmarks" until they finally catch on that the era of "earmark pork" is over.

Earmarks are annoying waste, but they are less than a penny on the dollar. If the economy gets as bad as you think, they will all be tossed out of the budget anyway, and it won't make much of a difference. We have bigger problems. Or put another way, in 2011 & 2012 alone, entitlements will grow enough to absorb all the money currently spent on earmarks.

24. Legalize marijuana and other drugs except for meta-amphetamines ("ice").

You'll get crime anyway unless legitimate companies go into the drug business. Marijuana could be produced by lots of home growers, I suppose. In any case, this is the kind of unpopular position that discredits Libertarians with the rest of the public. Better to just steadily reduce penalties/enforcement and look the other way.

25. Overhaul the Civil Service benefits.

Rather than hit this directly, just continue to outsource government functions to private companies that don't pay these kinds of benefits. A lot of that has been done already. As the boomers retire and the civil service hollows out, you have the perfect opportunity to outsource. Just put a hiring freeze in place.

26. Re-institute the Kennedy-era "Fitness for America" programs in publicly funded schools.

This will make no difference, except to torture more fat kids. An hour of gym does not make up for a sedentary lifestyle and lots of rich food. We're not going back to work in factories and farms, and we're not getting so poor we can't afford sugar. Fat is here to stay, until some drug comes along to kill your appetite.

27. "Trust-bust" major media corporations and put some teeth back into the FCC.

The internet has opened the news business to more voices than ever (even yours!) Media consolidation is happening because newspapers, TV and movies aren't as profitable as they were. The problem is on the consumer side, where people just aren't interested in hard news.

28. Reform Immigration.

There are a lot of people who just plain hate how Hispanic the southwest is getting. They feel like foreigners in their own country. They may respect immigrants as individuals, but they just don't want any more. They don't like the idea of preferring educated foreigners either. They will say "what's left for me and my kids, if all the immigrants have Ph.D's? How do I compete with that?" As long as there's a large group of people who feel that way, any immigration reform is going to be a problem.

Paul W.

Thank you for your insightful writings, which I only discovered recently. Regarding your "to-do" list for the next president, I don't really see why it should cause outrage or handwringing. Every item on that list seems sensible to me in light of our financial/energy predicament. The only trouble is, many of them seem to be things that would be efficacious only if they had been enacted/attended to a decade or more ago.

I'm also a bit dubious about item #13. I'm with James Kunstler in believing that most "alternative" energy sources will not scale to meet the needs of American society as it is currently being run. You might want to add a few items to your list from Kunstler's basket, e.g. restoring the national railroad system, planning for urban mass transit, and creating walkable communities that will be more resilient in the face of energy shortages.

Again, thanks for your writing and website, it is truly a valuable resource.


Your list is long and I didn't actually get to the bottom of it, but as far as I got, you left one out. That is, implement policies that change America back to a saving society and away from the debt addicted society that we've become. That would include removing taxes from income on savings. You could actually tax interest paid on consumer debt to really get peoples attention.

Thank you, readers, for such thoughtful contributions.

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