A tiring day indeed. I flew in from Jacksonville, Florida, last night, took a car to Santa Clara, California, and checked into a spartan but perfectly fine Hilton. This morning, I spoke to and with my pal Ray Lucia and his friends about the economy.
The economy is getting to be a depressing subject. This is a feeble recovery indeed, and I would not be at all surprised to see either flat growth or negative “growth” in 2012.
Basically, this recession has been going on since 2008. This is a uniquely long postwar recession. A mood of discouragement is settling in around the nation, as far as I can tell.
Just for me, I see no way around a major league default by the U.S. Treasury at some future date. I do not know when. But the debt is so large and growing so fast that we simply cannot pay it off without wrenching changes in entitlements and taxes. Is the nation ready for such changes? We had better be. Otherwise, if we get to default, it will not be pretty.
After the speech, I went up to San Mateo to visit my dear pals, Al and Sally Burton and their lovely daughter, Jenny. Al and Sally have been incredibly encouraging, supportive friends since 1975. They are more than friends. They are saints. Truly saints. Among many other kindnesses, Al invented “Win Ben Stein’s Money.” It was life changing. As I said, they are saints.
Then, I went to SFO to get my Virgin America flight to LAX. What a shock! The terminal for Virgin and for American has been totally redone. It is spacious, light, enticing, with bewitching restaurants and shops. The Admirals’ Club is as open and bright and welcoming as any space I have ever been in. It was a miracle of design.
The terminal where the Virgin flight took off was as welcoming as most waiting areas are barren and gloomy. A charming check in agent talked to me as if I were person, not a superannuated number.
The flight itself had lush leather appointments and smoked glass and a space age purple light. The seats were roomy and firm. It was the best looking airplane I have ever been on.
What geniuses designed this terminal? What geniuses designed this airplane’s interior?
What a difference actually giving a damn about one’s passengers can mean.
I am out here in this very hot desert in Rancho Mirage. The news about the economy continues to worsen. “Are you better off now than you were 4 years ago?” Not for most of us. For most of us, Mr. Obama has added about many thousands per person of national debt. The unemployment rate is still horrific. We have a crumbling stock market and a moribund real estate market. As I said above, the national mood is awful.
Naturally, I have a few ideas, which I am putting together as “A Positive Program for a Lasting Recovery.” Borrowing lavishly from my father and others, I have three preliminary ideas:
1.) Taxation to produce a budget balanced over the business cycle. Taxes cut automatically when unemployment reaches uncomfortable levels. That would yield a deficit and government spending to stimulate demand. Taxes raised to create a surplus when (and if) there is ever a frothy recovery. That would take money out of the system and retard demand. And taxes unchanged in (what we used to think was) normal prosperity. This is the full employment budgeting and taxing model. My father thought it up. He willed it to me and my sister.
2.) An educational system that makes sure that every graduate, whether planning to be a physicist or a dropout, knows a useful trade — plumbing, electrician, roofer, TV repairman, power steering specialist, landscaper, picture framer — a trade that will yield an actual job in case the graduate needs one.
3.) Cable TV and Internet channels teaching skills needed in the workplace around the clock.
4.) A prison system where our nearly 2 million prisoners will each have a trade and a skill he can use for a job when he gets out.
5.) A matching system that hooks up young people with retirees with useful skills and connections as teachers and mentors….
More to come. This Positive Program will be a mixture of public policy and private responsibility.
We have to try something. I know we can do it.