Where are the trillions? I don't know. We can all guess, and perhaps sometime next week the Administration will give us an answer. But until then, and for a long time after, the stink is going to follow the Inspector General of the Federal Reserve. She's worse than Brownie. And it's just this sort of incompetence that I expect from the minders in government. I myself provide a good example.
Cobb readers know that by profession I am a data architect / management consultant. I build the systems that corporations use to keep track of their money. What I can tell you is that I have the capacity to make very very transparent systems. I can also tell you that it's not in everybody's interest to have transparent systems. But that's not the thrust of my argument. You see there are also goofs and errors and blindspots. There are certain things that can be done that are not done in the business of watching the money of a business and there are lots of reasons. Now because of my personality, I tend to see those gaps in terms of laziness and incompetence. It makes me seem more prickly than I am. But I just behave that way because if it were my money...
But it's not my money. So while I'm responsible for building the systems that allow every penny to be tracked, I know that I'm not always required to do so. And it's not my money so I don't have to care. You see, having about 20 years of experience in this business, I could figure out in a week or so, given the right conversations with the right people, exactly how to set up a sophisticated system that would pay for itself in terms of analytic value...
But it's not my money and I don't get paid on that basis. I get paid on time and materials, not percentage of ROA improvements.
Two years ago I wrote Monetizing Carbon and introduced the concept of Big Air. Big Air is what will happen if markets are established (even if they are just tax credit markets) for CO2. I think it's a bad idea to monetize carbon. Why? Because it's not going to be the money of the scientists who actually know global warming, if there is such a thing. It's going to be the business of the money minders, like the accountants and systems folks who design that thing that looks after the money of the business. Those systems will only be as good as a few people want them to be. And we already know that the corporations who will suffer will make their compromises and the corporations who will benefit will make their inputs and the system that emerges will create a new inefficient dynamic. Why? Because the thing that enables it will be anchored in the cement of law, but tethered to accountability by the rubber leash of regulation. In other words, Big Air will do pretty much what they want to do for a long time before the entire system evolves into something of long-standing value.
The fundamental question that I think gets below a great deal of the back and forth here is how capable do we really believe our government to be? Are we really good at commoditizing and making that commodity do what we want it to do? How good are we with water, for example? How good are we with land? How about trees? And what is the cost of not?
I heard somebody say the other day that our children have been taught to be afraid of salt and sugar. I gave my Spock eyebrow to that notion and noticed the extra attention my kids have on it. We have a salt and sugar economy and we know that too much is bad for us, so how are we doing on that? There are large acts of faith being pushed into our proxy democracy. I think we should sober up.
Hands off the air.
Now I'm going to suggest something else, another way to achieve certain ends. It's cynical and snide, a modest proposal if you will. But before I go all the way there, I'll set up the precedent. You see what I think is going to keep the Administration in line and tame their ambitions is that somebody somehow is going to communicate clearly to the American people, before it's too late, the cost of these trillions of stimulus and life preservers. And because of that the people are going to be sensitive to other things drowning. It's going to have to take a communications miracle because taxes, unlike prices, take a while to kick in. We didn't need anyone to tell us that crude oil prices were going to affect all of us, it was made manifest quickly in something we do every week. But every week we don't pay for big mistakes in government. But by the time the big moves that the current political majority voted for with regard to free health care and free prep school and free alternative energy and free clean air, the wrecks in the economy will help them to understand it's their money.
But maybe what we really need is a war. War is always the answer to every question, because in the end when humans don't get what they want, they rage. And once they've burned down the house they don't care about the crackers in the bedsheets any longer. The problem is solved. It goes something like this. nag nag nag nag nag nag nag nag Nag Nag Nag Nag Nag Nag Nag Nag Nag Nag Nag Nag NAG NAG NAG NAG NAG NAG NAG NAG NAG NAG NAG NAG NAG
And then all the nagging stops. Like you don't hear any complaints about traffic problems in New Orleans any more do you? Nobody complains about the lousy PATH train service to the World Trade Center. Everybody has forgotten about the horrid misdeeds of April Glaspie. The poor room service at the Hotel Rwanda? Not a problem. This is, by the way, how people are going to forget about Netanyahu, Hezbollah will get much bigger bombs. And so finally the way people will forget about global warming is that suddenly there will be a much more immediate crisis. I don't think it will take a very large war. Maybe something brief with Mexico. Or maybe a nice civil war in China. My money is on the latter. And when China has their civil war, when Pakistan collapses, when Egypt and Syria go at each other, somebody will realize that there are suddenly fewer human beings and that their economies don't go towards wasteful consumer products.
How do I reconcile this with my Christianity? I'm not sure. What I know is that people aren't serious until they are and the distance between 'ought' and 'must' is farther than we think. I don't trust the public 'ought' because this is where it has lead us.