Thursday, April 17, 2014
Alan Caron's insightful commentary in the Jan. 31 Press Herald ("Economy must reflect a blend of both views of government") strikes a refreshing and significant balance in the divided and sometimes heated debate about revenues, services and expenditures.
A reader praises a recent column about Maine’s economy and cites a proposal by Gov. Paul LePage, above, to reduce state revenue sharing as an example of “political process leadership.”
2013 File Photo/Gabe Souza
He points out the inevitability of government as a needed check and a redistributor to the society and the importance of maintaining a rational level of borrowing and indebtedness.
Each and every program we can afford is a worthwhile goal. The discipline to balance our ability to dream of a better life for all with the real ability to pay for it is the crux of the matter.
Offering fleeting relief, as was recently done with the Social Security tax deferment, generally skews expectations and heightens disappointment. Working toward a robust economy supported by a competent "save-to-invest" strategy has real merit.
There is no doubt that our public institutions have grown to a size that is unsustainable. We must adopt a more modest approach to leveraging the future, much like the private businesses that became overbuilt in the '90s and have had to downsize.
The hard work of rightsizing and prioritizing must continue. The private sector adjusts to the forces of supply and demand. The public sector adjusts to the heat of argument and political process.
Thus, the shifting of these decisions back to the local community, as demonstrated in Gov. LePage's recent proposal to reduce state aid to municipalities, is political process leadership that puts the responsibility to make the hard decisions in the right places.
As said earlier, all programs are good as long as they are paid for.
As technology advances, employment, pay decline
Our job creators have been changing the landscape of work in America. How? Faster, more advanced software, computerized inventory control and robotics, to name just a few advances that require fewer humans.
Payrolls have remained flat while technology investment increased by 25 percent.
Half the 7.5 million U.S. jobs lost in recent years paid middle-class wages. Of the 3.5 million jobs gained, only 2 percent do, while 70 percent are in low-paying industries, according to The Associated Press ("All over the world, technology replacing employees," Jan. 23).
David Schepp writes in AOLJobs.com, "The reasons that employers have given for mass layoffs have ranged from a change in business strategy to bankruptcy. ... layoffs have occurred across a wide spectrum of industries, from retail to manufacturing to financial services. But what most have shared: extraordinary generosity to the corporate titans at the top."
The best job-cutting reason: Murray Energy cut 150 jobs because Obama won. Hewlett-Packard cut 27,000 jobs. Citibank cut 11,000. American Airlines, 14,000. American Express, 5,400. MetLife, 4,300. J.C. Penney, 4,700. BAE announced 300 job cuts in Maine. And this is only a partial list of companies. Who benefits? CEOs, directors and shareholders.
Homeless shelters include a record number of older men with physical ailments ("Baby boomers with no place to call home," Jan. 6). Older people have the most difficulty finding new jobs once they are out of work.
Did you know that a company can advertise that "only applicants who are currently employed may apply"? Moshe Vardi, a computer scientist at Rice University, asks, "Are we prepared for an economy in which 50 percent of people aren't working?"
Throughout history, from Rome to Venice to Jamestown, Va., nations have crumbled each time the wealthiest among us has squeezed out the rest of its citizenry. The poor didn't dream up poverty because it's a great way to live.
Privately owned stores sell liquor at lower price
I have a simple question that I wish someone would answer: Why are liquor prices in Florida (where I spend a few winter months) 30 percent lower than in Maine?
Florida has a 100 percent private system. The state collects its liquor taxes, and that's it. Private businesses sell the liquor and set the prices.
Let's focus our energy on renewables, not tar sands
Tar sands oil has produced a tremendous economic boom in Alberta, Canada. Ten years ago, this was not possible because conventional oil supplies were too plentiful, resulting in a low commodity price that could not support the extraordinary costs of tar sands extraction.
It's expensive because massive diesel excavators scrape oil-laden sand from the earth and into diesel dump trucks that transport the sticky mixture to a refinery that uses natural gas to heat it up and liquefy the oil. Each day the process requires enough natural gas to heat 3 million Canadian homes.
When you factor in the gas and diesel needed for extraction, a barrel of tar sands oil contains three times more CO2 than a barrel of conventional oil.
When you consider that Maine already has the highest per capita CO2 emissions in New England, as well as the unfortunate distinction of the highest per capita oil consumption in the region, every Mainer should be questioning whether it makes sense to start bringing tar sands oil down through our state.
Maine has abundant renewable resources in the form of biomass, tidal, solar and wind energy. As the cost and consequences of burning fossil fuels go up every day, the return on investment from renewables improves proportionally.
We are now building homes in Maine that require almost zero fossil fuel energy, and we are retrofitting older homes to significantly reduce fuel consumption.
Let's say "no thank you" to tar sands oil and redouble our efforts to wean ourselves off the fossil fuels that gobble up more than $5 billion per year from our local economy.
Investing just one-fifth of the state's annual fossil fuel tab in renewables each year could have us racing toward energy independence. Bringing tar sands down from Canada will have us racing in the opposite direction.