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Thursday, December 4, 2008

STOP, you're freakin' me out!

The Overhead Wire has a nice post linked back to this bit on the Heritage Foundation's website. I couldn't say anything other than, "Holy mackerel, this guy is nuts." Then for a few minutes I got really scared that people would believe this stuff; then I noticed TOW's dismissal of this as fearful ranting. To paraphrase:
Breath easy, they're so far off on a starboard tack and no one's with them - we've got the tiller now, and we're on a broad reach to BRT and lightrail!
But really, shouldn't we still be afraid? The guy who wrote this has a PhD, for goodness sake - people are going to believe him. Remember:
There's no such thing as "global warming," our scientists deserve equal time...
I admit, I'm afraid of junk science. I'm afraid that our populus will be misled and screwed over, again. Why am I afraid? Rob Reich hit it on the head last night:

...the future competitiveness and standard of living of America depend on our peoples' skills, their capacities to communicate and solve problems, and innovate -- not their ability to borrow money.

It's our human capital that's in short supply. And without adequate public funding, the supply will shrink further. I'm not saying funding is everything, but without it we can't attract talented people into teaching, keep classrooms small and give our kids a well-rounded curriculum, and ensure that every qualified young person can go to college.

So why are we bailing out Wall Street and not our nation's public schools and colleges? Partly because the crisis in financial capital is immediate while our human capital crisis is unfolding gradually. But maybe it's also because we don't have a central banker for America's human capital -- someone who warns us as loudly as Ben Bernanke did a few months ago of dire consequences if we don't come up with the dough.

I assume someone is doing the math on this. We should be able to calulate the future earning potential of Americans, and the value of human capital and human capital investment, based on census and immigration fugures, life expectency, and educational and workplace data. How much economic engine-cranking ability will we have in 2010, and in 2020? Who is doing this research? How can I help? Shoot, how much do we have now? So our strategy amounts to asking folks who are down on their luck to spend more money? When was the last time you tried pulling yourself up by your bootstraps? How did it go?
The same math should work for transportation planning and investment. Not perfectly, but well enough. If we're going to recapitalize, lets put the money where it will be most effective.

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