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Published Sep 10 2011 by Transition Milwaukee (http://www.transitionmilwaukee.org) , Archived Sep 10 2011

Why infrastructure spending won't work: A "progressive" perspective


by Erik Lindberg
For mainstream Keynesian Democrats who have not yet become troubled about resource depletion and its rather intimate relationship with the economy, infrastructure spending makes obvious sense. It represents investment in the economy of the future and in this sense will be self-liquidating or dividend-paying. But that this belief is not the main motivating factor for infrastructure spending is in itself telling about economic assumptions. The main reason for infrastructure spending, of course, is to create jobs and the much anticipated multiplier effect. With the multiplier effect, the construction workers who build a new bridge, for instance, will spend money at local restaurants and bars, the owners of which will be able to hire more people and perhaps finally buy that new car . This in turn will help the carsalesman build a new house, creating construction jobs, while also helping factory jobs in Detroit (maybe). Working its way down the line, economic activity multiplies itself, spurring more and more economic activity. Except for the existence of an important factor in the economy that I will mention shortly, this sort of bootstrapping would seem uncannily similar to the voodoo economics that Reagan inflicted upon us over 30 years ago, from which these same mainstream Keynesian Democrats assume we are still suffering from (theyre not entirely wrong). This factor in the economy that ensures that the notion of the multiplier effect not entirely a case of magical thinking has to do with a very real part of the economy that is based on consumer confidence and consumer spending. Consumer spending is so important to advanced economies because unless something keeps the money moving, the system of exchange and trade will freeze up. Consumers, in a market economy, are the best source of sustainable spending that weve managed to come up with. This is precisely what happened during The Great Depression. The productive capacity of American workers was fine, but owing to a lack of sufficient wages and ultimately a financial meltdown, which is a fancy way of saying a complete loss of confidence in the system which, it turns out, depends largely upon belief, the economic system seized up. Think of the financial system as a circulatory system. If its arteries get clogged with plaque, the body shuts down. Not entirely unlike exercise, which we might loosely say pumps blood through the system and unclogs the arteries, infrastructure spending pumps money through a clogged system and frees it up, so that trade and commerce will recommence and our happy, energetic, newly confident patient will have more energy, some of which might be used on even more exercise. The problem with this is a fundamental failure on these economists and politicians to distinguish between a necessary condition and a sufficient condition. Just because sluggish economic activity can send an economy spiraling into recession or depression, thus making a certain level of confidence and spending a necessary condition, does nothing to prove that the economy cant seize up for entirely other reasons, just as our patients heart might stop for reasons having nothing to do with plaque in the arteries. What passes as a good economy may need a good circulatory system, but thats not all it needs. To the extent that its main benefit is the multiplier effect of its ability to get the economy moving as they say, infrastructure spending may not fix what ails the economy. Because it is so basic and has enjoyed a 200 year run without any problems, economists seem relatively oblivious to another aspect of the economyone we might refer to as the real economy. Economic activity, it is largely forgotten today, is a matter of turning natural resources into usable goods and services. The economic growth that spending, whether on infrastructure or anything else, is supposed to spur, is at root a matter of turning more natural resources into more stuff, either by having more people do it, or by doing it more efficiently. It is in this way that infrastructure spending might help the real economy. Having roads, bridges, highways, internets, libraries, schools, canals, scientific discoveries, good ports, and so on is of course necessary and helpful for this process of making more stuff. As Democrats correctly point out, massive expenditures by the government in infrastructure has, as they suggest, paid dividends. Thus not only did the projects of the Great Depression put millions of workers back to work, it created the foundation for 40 years or so of economic growth. Why wont this work now? One could use the terms increasingly common among post carbon thinkers about the peaking of oil and other resources, as well as the collateral damage that were causing to the planet and simply note that the natural resources we tend to turn into usable stuff, as well as the energy used to fuel the machines, is no longer available, or soon wont be, in the easily accessible quantities necessary to economic growth. I am suggesting more or less the same thing, though by focusing on infrastructure, we might further illustrate some of the dynamics of a post-peak economy. We might, in this vein, make a distinction between pre-peak infrastructure and post-peak infrastructure. Lets start with the latter. Most infrastructure programs are designed to repair older, disintegrating infrastructure. If it is allowed to continue on its current path to decay, as liberal minded people are likely (or more likely) to note, it will cause great economic damage down the road, making it impossible to maintain our high level of economic activity. This is true. For those parts of our infrastructure that will still be useful in a post-peak economy, I am all for taking some our decreasing national treasure and spending it on their upkeep. But the crucial point is that failing to maintain our roads and bridges will kill economic activity, which is different from the conditions that our pre-peak ancestors and forbearers confronted. Then, infrastructure spending was not just a matter of preventing future decline, it was still capable of increasing future activity. Because our country and much of the planet is so well (or overly) developed at this point, repair wont EXPAND our economic realm, as they may have done at earlier points in our history. With an empty frontier at the beginning of our history the creation of navigable waterways, for instance, opened up incalculable realms in which natural resources could be gathered to make more stuff. The creation of an Interstate Highway system after the war didnt necessarily bring roads to new places. But it did greatly increase the speed of travel (and thus not only of trade, but more importantly of production). Thus the multiplier effect. By making it possible for people to access new frontiers of production and of natural resource extraction, they could create the conditions for even more access and production. All that was needed was the spur of a good system of loans, a push in the right direction with big projects like railroads that would trouble finding sufficient private investment, and an influx of government spending when aversion to risk grew larger than the perceived rewards of setting out towards new frontiers of commerce. There are of course exceptions, but the infrastructure spending proposed these days will not open up new realms or greatly increase the efficiency of current communication or educational systems. At best, we can slow the rate at which they fall apart. Instead of a multiplier effect, it is more like an addition effectbut only to the extent that adding to a negative number may only decrease the rate of subtraction.
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Because our economic system, especially the financial section of it, does not benefit all that much from a slower rate of contraction, infrastructure spending will be ineffective from the standpoint of spurring economic growth or of maintaining it into the future. To put this in terms of the multiplier effect, infrastructure spending, as we discovered after its last round, creates temporary jobs and a great big debt, rather than permanent growth, dividends, and increased and self-sustaining economic growth. The reason is that the multiplier effect works when there is an overabundance of real-economic potentialnatural resources waiting to be turned into useful stuff, especially the sort of stuff that might make future production even more efficient. In this case a clogged circulatory system may in fact be the only thing preventing economic growth. Without this abundance laying in wait, the notion that a stimulus will cause the money invested in the system to multiply, rather than just be added in, has in fact been a form of voodoo economics. The current and widespread economic confusion, I think, is largely caused because the condition in which there is an overabundance of real economic potential has become accepted as natural and inevitable fact by economists, to the point that they are not good at recognizing a the fact that this condition may no longer exist. This is not even a factor which is put into the equations, at least as they are popularly presented. Until they are, expect disappointing programs and a conservative element that has at its disposal increasing evidence of the failure of government spending. Unfortunately, their belief that the only thing standing between us and economic growth is government interference is even more naive, though from a political standpoint, when it fails, and it will or would, there is not an obvious politician responsible for the wasted money or the failed jobs program. Original article available here (http://www.transitionmilwaukee.org)

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jaggedben
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It is not infrastructure spending that won't work. It is infrastructure spending that assumes that the energetic and technological basis for economic activity and growth will stay the same. Adding more lanes to highways won't work. But adding rail transport options where there are none will work. Building new single-family homes even farther away from city centers than the last wave won't work. Weatherizing homes will work. Of course, by 'working' I mean providing an economic benefit, employing jobless people, and paying for itself in the long run from the taxpayer's perspective. Nothing will 'work' to restore overall growth in GDP. But government spending on new infrastructure that will actually be needed in a post-peak economy can help 'fix' the economy in the short term by employing people, and in the long term by reducing the economic vulnerabilities of the population.
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Bart_at_EB
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This is not the time to argue against government spending on infrastructure. People are out of work, and an argument like this will not win allies. I understand Erik's point about the multiplier effect not being as strong now as it used to be. In the long long term, he's right, but in the short-term, who really knows? There are a great many infrastructure investments that would be productive. Some would be productive in conventional economic terms -- for example, my European friends and family members are shocked at the run-down state of public buildings and services in the US. It is going to be hard to be competitive if we continue to let these things continue to decay. From an environmental perspective, there are tons of projects that would make us more sustainable, more prepared for post-peak life. Renewable energy is an obvious field to start with. Which countries are going to do better as oil becomes more expensive -- those who have made the switch to a non-oil infrastructure, or those who haven't. How about walkable cities? Sustainable agriculture? Low-energy, resilient, low-waste technology? Right now, it is going to be hard get approval to fund these investments in sustainability. What we can do, however, is make a start. If we are not able to come up with good projects and persuasive arguments, the money WILL be spent anyway -- but it will be spent on the military and bailing out the financial institutions, rather than on anything prodcutive.

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longnow
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I don't think Erik is arguing against spending on infrastructure. He sees that spending as necessary to slow down future contraction. He is cautioning against false expectations of economic growth as a result of that spending.
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Erik Lindberg
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Exactly. I should have been more clear. I'm all for taxing the snot out of those who have plenty and using it to create the sorts of things Bart nicely articulates. I'm against pretending it will have economic effects that it won't (I'm also against having spending programs blamed for not doing what I believe they can't but what the closest thing to an ally in the mainstream is both promising and fervently believes they can). My article was about why it won't work, not why--or that--we shouldn't do it. A subtle distinction that goes to Bart's comment about "this is not the time." I agree in being somewhat strategic in our words. We don't share all truths at all times with all people. But I consider EB not a place where I'm looking for new allies, but where we can work to refine our ideas with our allies, most of who I trust to appreciate fine distinctions. And finally, since our greatest future struggle, I believe, will be the necessary revolution of expectations, nothing is more pressing than refining a language of new expectations.
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longnow
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"Nothing is more pressing than refining a language of new expectations." Yup. Unfortunately, our politicians are all about "pretending it will have economic effects that it won't", and postponing the "necessary revolution of expectations" as long as possible. I can't think of a better recipe for civil unrest.
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Cdresearch
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"I can't think of a better recipe for civil unrest" Yes, that's what I think. But that's why it's very important to begin building and organizing a mass resistance movement made up primarily of ordinary citizen's so the "unrest" can be deployed in constructive political activity as opposed to developing into chaos and anarchy. It must start locally in several communities and then begin to network at the state and national level. Huge global problems will not be solved by piecemeal local action alone.
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This article raises a few important issues/questions, some of which are addressed, and some of which are not: (1) The changing prospects for stimulating sufficient and sustainable economic growth that will support "full" employment. (2) If the government were to continue with periodic injections of fiscal stimulus, does it even matter "what" we spend the money on? If it does, on what and why? (3) Where does the money that the government spends come from? Can we in fact afford massive infrastructure spending? Item #1 is briefly and effectively addressed in this article. It echo's what Heinberg elucidates in much greater detail in his book, "The End of Growth ......". That is, the old models for achieving a thriving economy through sustained periods of economic growth are now obsolete in the dawning era of peak resources (and peak debt). Indeed it would be surprising if U.S. GDP reaches 3% annually ever again. Before long, even if we continue to deliberately try (which we should not) 2% annual GDP will be out of reach, and soon after that 1% will become a major struggle. In the meantime, continued deficit spending will be needed just to hit these deflated GDP numbers. In answering item #2, Keynesian's would say that as long as you spend money, even borrowed money, on things that most potently invoke the "multiplier effect", the impending economic growth and incipient revenue increase will more than make up for the money borrowed over the intermediate term. Unfortunately, this long-standing economic principle does not work anymore (and probably never will again) for two primary reasons: (1) we have hit an interminable period of peaking & declining natural resources that are on a longterm trend of higher prices; and (2) we have eviscerated the manufacturing base in this country over the past 30 years, which has resulted in less workers per capita employed full time, and also at reduced real incomes than in previous years. Both of these factors preclude the ability to stimulate organic and sustainable job growth in the "real" economy, and thus act to significantly depress federal revenues from individual income taxes that supplies almost half of total federal revenues. The resulting pattern of increased federal deficits/debt will continue to act as a significant drag on economic activity. Consequently, "what" we spend the money on is becoming more and more crucial with each passing year. "Spending" money on tax breaks is nonsensical. Doing so either acts as a band-aid put on a hemophilliac, or it puts money into the personal bank accounts of people that don't need the money to comfortably prosper. Alternatively, spending money on a dying infrastructure is like putting money into a bank account that currently pays a small dividend, but is expected to turn terminally negative in the coming years and decades. Thus, virtually all federal stimulus monies should be spent on LONG-TERM projects that put large numbers of people to work at decent
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wages for decades to directly confront the twin problems of a fossil fuel peak and subsequent decline, and global warming/climate
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change. ONLY the most dire "old" infrastructure (e.g., roads, bridges, schools, etc.) should funding, and instead the great Like receive 11 majority should be earmarked for MAJOR rail build-outs, (http://disqus.com/guest/757ad0d489127083e59ae764a758134b/) hybrid bus manufacturing, residential/industrial building efficiency upgrades, renewable energy projects that focus on high EROEI, the redesign of cities so that they are not "car-dependent", etc. I'll be brief on item #3. We can no longer afford as a society (either fiscally, or as a matter of economic justice) to continue to prop up mega rich bankers by sanctioning a "debt-based" money system. We simply cannot feasibly transform the energy infrastructure at the scale necessary, or create the jobs needed for social stability, without totally restructuring our monetary system, otherwise the interest on the debt would become impossibly prohibitive. This may require fundamental reforms at the local, state, national, and global level, and would invariably involve abolishing the private Federal Reserve System. Please read Ellen Brown's book, "The Web of Debt ......" if you require more information on this topic, and/or visit her website: http://www.webofdebt.com/ (http://www.webofdebt.com/) Sorry for the long post!

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Thank you for your long, perceptively and cognitively accurate post.
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"The Web of Debt"...interesting that you mention this book and author. It is what got me started trying to understand economics and money (banking and debt structure). Ms. Brown writes regularly for many different sites and mostly about state owned banks and how they function to facilitate activities necessary for the smooth running of society in general. A simple Google search with her name...Ellen Brown...will yield a lot of provocative information. "The Web of Debt" is also a useful history book about how the financial industry came about and the efforts of various people to control the abuses. To some extent Ms.Brown makes the point that a multiplier effect does exist...it is based on keeping monies as local as feasible, she brings local to a state level but I think we could do this even more locally by counties or cities if the city is large enough. One of my classmates worked for a local bank in a town of about 260,000 and the town itself had approximately $3m routinely (daily) on deposit in that bank. That is enough money to make a difference in what can be done at the local level, particularly if it is leveraged as money in state owned banks can be (as laid out by Ms. Brown). This would be a prime example of keeping money in circulation locally. Check out Ms. Brown's discussions about the bank of North Dakota for how this can and does work. That particular entity has been around since 1919 and was established specificially to deal with the east coast bankers who were ignoring the needs of farmers at that time. Woody Tasch of Slow Money fame is another good resource for ideas on how to invest in things that matter to average people. The Rudolf Steiner Foundation is another entity working to build local resilience. Both of these groups focus heavily on food/agriculture projects.
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If I understand Bart_at_EB correctly? The suggestion is that funding on infrastructure is good, as long as it is infrastructure that supports the post oil economy that we are headed for. The problem I see is, how do we sell infrastructure funding for (say) cycle lanes, to the general public, when they are expecting a fourth lane on the highway?

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Bart_at_EB
Exactly, I agree, indigoboy. The challenge is that our culture hasn't accepted the limits to growth and has only begun to think about what changes to the infrastructure will be necessary. We're trying to turn around about 100 years of social conditioning, so at first glance it seems impossible. On the other hand, history is full of examples of societies that made drastic changes. In my lifetime, attitudes about race and women have turned around completely. In the last 15 years, the way we communicate has been revolutionized by the Internet. I'm encouraged by all the projects at the local level. Right now I think that's what the action is. We're developing ideas, trying things out, working out the kinks (for example in permaculture). At a certain point, policymakers will be desperate for new ideas
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and we will have them ready.


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"At a certain point, policymakers will be desperate for new ideas and we will have them ready." That's one thing that I'd have to disagree with you on, Bart. Our entire political system is thoroughly corrupt and run by mega-wealthy interests. Besides, it's really not "ideas" that these elite "policy-makers" are lacking, but instead it's the ability to or interest in "connecting" to other "ordinary" people and nature itself. The elite are truly an arrogant and narcissistic bunch, and by the time they feel "desperate" or perceive themselves in danger things will already be spinning out of control for the great majority of us. They will make more of an effort as things get a little more dicey to fix things for themselves (e.g., electric cars, air travel, etc.), but they will not make the sacrifices necessary to help others to any large extent. Meanwhile, they will use their police/national guard/military to manage the rest of us as they hunker down relatively free for decades from the damages they've wrought. In my view it would be smarter to help cultivate a mass citizen resistance movement, and supply such a movement with your "ideas" to use as demands presented to elites through nonviolent direct action campaigns for the policy/law changes deemed necessary. This is what is meant by the famous quote, originated by the Hopi Elders, and used as a title in a book by Alice Walker: "we are the ones we've been waiting for". It is not the "policy-makers", it is us.
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Goshen
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Yes, I love the idea of a "mass citizen resistance movement", but I just can't see how you think it might play out in time to actually change the system, and avoid... collapse? Everyone here seems to agree on local solutions, grassroots, community etc. But the one distinction that we need to make, is between CHANGING the current system, and BUILDING a new one. We need to get together and start building a new economic system from the ground up, one with truly sustainable principles (permaculture, steady state, etc). As the system starts to fall apart - and reality continues to fail peoples expectations, people will be looking for new ideas. So it's not so much that policy makers will be desperate for new ideas, as the PEOPLE will be deperate for new ideas, and if your community has something alternative, a way that people can participate economically in thier community that doesn't involved the world economic system, then it's these people that will help to create the resilience. Think of it this way - if the current system DOES in fact collapse, then a new system will be build ANYWAY. If we get even a small head start, it will make a difference; but if a large amount of people get involved in the local economy first (and so encourage change), then that's even better. These points have been argued well by Ted Trainer, in an article he wrote about Transition: THE TRANSITION TOWNS MOVEMENT; ITS HUGE SIGNIFICANCE, AND A FRIENDLY CRITICISM. 26.11.09
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Goshen, Ted Trainer's article is very good. I highly recommend it to any of EB's reader's that have not yet seen it. http://www.culturechange.org/c... (http://www.culturechange.org/cms/content/view/605/65/) While Trainer is quite impressed with the Transition Towns Movement (TTM), maintaining that they are the best hope for effectively transitioning into a just and sustainable society, he also describes quite well in some detail a fundamental problem with their strategy. That is, the activities that they engage in are "reformist" in nature, and thus the "movement" essentially operates within the dominant capitalist structure, which will not allow for the type of institutional change necessary to establish a successful transition into a just and sustainable society. Trainer argues that the TTM must take it a major step further by building totally self-sufficient local economies in their entire towns (based on much reduced consumption). On this fundamental point he is exactly right. He also admits that his article was not meant to offer definitive solutions as to how this "selfsufficient" local economy could materialize. And of course, the "how to" strategy is a key stumbling block for any group that intends to bring significant change to a relatively large and diverse population entrenched within a system that has "worked" for most over a long period of time. Where Trainer is wrong in my view is his belief that working to build totally "self-sufficient local economies" is "sufficient" to bring about a just and sustainable society. Let's say that in the next 5 years U.S. citizens could build totally "self-sufficient local economies" in 20 towns throughout the country that average between 10 and 50 thousand people each (not an easy goal to reach by any means). How would this feat (which would in fact be useful and impressive) eventually translate into a just and sustainable society? Perhaps just and sustainable for a remote community of 20 thousand, but as part of a "global renaissance,
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I'm not going to launch into a full-bore critique of Trainer's position in this post, but I'll raise the most (http://disqus.com/guest/757ad0d489127083e59ae764a758134b/)

obvious example: Global Warming. Transition Towns on their own, even if heeding Trainer's advice, are fundamentally incapable of halting the very real prospect of breaching important "tipping points" and setting into motion a LONG term process of killing life on this planet (including eventually the Transition

Towns themselves). Thus, without a major "resistance movement" in the most powerful nation in the world (the U.S.) that directly confronts the dominant institutions that are threatening the very viability of a just and sustainable global society, hundreds of millions of people and the biosphere itself are at risk of premature and miserable death. As activists that truly care about ALL of life in the world, we must come to terms with this, and SOON.

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Cdresearch
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"Yes, I love the idea of a "mass citizen resistance movement", but I just can't see how you think it might play out in time to actually change the system, and avoid... collapse?" No one knows with any precision how fast a mass resistance movement could be built to the point where it could conceivably have a meaningful impact in the mitigation of various collapse scenarios. All we can do is get to work on building a resistance group in our own communities to the best of our abilities, and then reach out to other individuals and like-minded groups in other adjacent communities, typically gravitating from most proximal to most distant. The idea is to build solid tiny snowballs that grow into a network of huge and powerful boulders. How long? Best case 10 years before such a movement could begin to extract meaningful concessions from elite powers, and direct action campaigns would need to be serious and ongoing for probably at least two generations to hopefully achieve a significant degree of success. Is it worth it? I think it is, but it takes getting past denial, and it is ultimately an intensely moral decision. What is our alternative? I don't see one, with the prospects so dire and global in nature (e.g., global warming). But just keep in mind that while 10+ years seems like a long time, we also can't predict with any precision how long it will take until the onset of "collapse" or the reaching of critical "tipping points" occurs. All we can say is that it's a race against a clock we know is ticking, but we can't see the numbers or hands on the clock clearly. "But the one distinction that we need to make, is between CHANGING the current system, and BUILDING a new one." Distinction is fine, but these are not either/or endeavors. BOTH must be worked on and supported by all activist parties simultaneously. We cannot "build a new one" piecemeal in tiny little communities scattered across the country, while we simply wait for the "old one" to collapse on its own accord. That is a recipe for decades of chaos and potentially unnecessary hardship, starting with the poor, the unaware, and the uneducated, the very people that did the least to cause the problem. We need millions whose primary goal is to build new institutions starting at the local level (but that can also be expanded later), and we need millions whose primary goal is to force fundamental change in laws/policies that govern the nation that are congruent with the "new institutions" being created at the local level. But BOTH groups should be working as much under a unified grand strategy as possible. And both groups do/should want to achieve similar results in the end, and should therefore be supportive of each other. "As the system starts to fall apart - and reality continues to fail peoples expectations, people will be looking for new ideas." People are going to be rioting and causing chaos. They will be angry, hungry, broke, homeless, for the most part uneducated, and potentially armed. Violent factional battles could very well break out with potentially serious and tragic consequences. Your little scenario is much too neat and convenient to be reasonably plausible. The meager transition town infrastructure will be massively overwhelmed by the demand to even begin to service a fraction of the "desperate". "Think of it this way - if the current system DOES in fact collapse, then a new system will be build ANYWAY." Sure, and then the question is how big a pile of ashes is at the foot of the collapse, and who's in that ash heap?! No offense, but building a "new system" parallel to and within an "old system" that is a ticking time bomb, without attempting to also defuse the bomb, or at least move it to where its explosive effects are less damaging, is a dumb idea. I'll try to get to Ted Trainer's article when I get a chance. I assume I can find it on the web.

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http://energybulletin.net/stories/2011-09-09/why-infrastructure-spending-wont-work-progressive-perspective

1/31/2012

Why infrastructure spending won't work: A "progressive" perspective | Energy Bulletin

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Goshen
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We are talking here about the darkest and scariest aspects of sudden energy descent. I agree that it could certainly be that bad, but it's not a given. And I do mostly agree that attempting to change the system does in fact need to happen at the same time as building a new one (our Transition Group is in fact trying to talk to local council). Ted is a little bit one sided in this regard, but I think still a valid way to look at it.
4 months ago
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longnow
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They are going to keep building those fourth lanes until it is physically or economically impossible to do so. Then they will have their moment of "revolution of expectations" (to borrow Erik's term). Trying to redirect the choices of the general public is a fool's game. Working towards wiser choices and actions in your local community is the best option, especially if it is a small rural community.
4 months ago
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Luanetodd
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Look at the fourth lane this way...the time may come when that is the ready made bike lane or carriage/cart lane...sort of like in Amish country where people are warned to look out for horse drawn vehicles.
4 months ago
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Tom
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I don't know to what extent the multiplier effect still applies, but if we are going to spend government funds, it should be on those projects that are consistent with future resource constraints and that make it more feasible to reduce our need for resources. Our cities and towns need to be restructured to maximize walking, biking, and very low energy vehicles like golf carts to get people around. In addition, the restructuring needs to be done so that the need for mobility is minimized. Emphasis on long distance roads and concomitant bridges is a misallocation of limited resources. Like peak oil, we will probably not know that we have reached true limits to growth until after the limits have been passed.
4 months ago
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Bart_at_EB
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Thanks for clarifying, Erik. BTW, I don't think Keynes relied on the concept of "multiplier effects." He said that as far as the economy was concerned, it didn't matter what the money was spent on. He cited pyramids and digging holes & filling them up again, as projects that would get the economy moving again. He added however, that some projects had greater social utility than others. About tailoring one's message ... I dunno, it just struck me that your same argument could be made in a way that would be much more appealing. Developing our insights into a viable political program is not easy, but is necessary if we're to be more than Voices Crying in the Wilderness. I notice that Caroline Lucas, head of the UK Green Party reads, had an excellent way of putting it: " It was a mistake to make growth an economic objective, she added, saying: "Growth is a side issue. The end goal is about prosperity in terms of greater wellbeing, in terms of greater equality, in terms of having a cleaner environment, in terms of having more security for your kids in the future." "But she stressed that giving up growth as a policy goal needed to be accompanied by many other social changes. "If you simply said let's throw growth out of the window, and didn't change anything else, then you would see unemployment rise and you would see some chaos ensue." http://www.guardian.co.uk/poli... (http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2011/sep/09/caroline-lucas-interview-andrew-sparrow?INTCMP=SRCH)
4 months ago
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James
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We've already built enough roads to every forest, mineral deposit, oil well, gas well and forest. We don't need more infrastructure for puttering around to big box stores in our soon to be extinct automobiles. In a way, military expenditure used to insure access other peoples energy makes more sense although it's morally odorous. But then again, we're a morally odorous species, aren't we? This is what we get for letting lawyers and politicians from our most prestoogus institutions run our lives.
4 months ago
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mmckinl

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http://energybulletin.net/stories/2011-09-09/why-infrastructure-spending-wont-work-progressive-perspective

1/31/2012

Why infrastructure spending won't work: A "progressive" perspective | Energy Bulletin

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There is a huge difference between new infrastructure and maintenance of the old infrastructure. Like 11 New infrastructure allowed suburbs and the dispersal of economics. Repairing old infrastructure merely maintains the status quo. (http://disqus.com/mmckinl/) In order for the smoothest possible transition between cornucopian and sustainable economies these infrastructures must be maintained for the public good until it is clear that they represent a liability. Without these public goods transition will be even more chaotic. So even if these Keynesian economists are wrong about the multiplier effect in creating more jobs these projects will save jobs and reduce stress on the economy. At this point in our economy we must still enable, as much as we can, productive endeavor such as transportation and education ...
4 months ago
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Sadler Billy
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If you have lived in a major city, you will have seen long lines of cars commuting into the city each day. These commutes often occur at a slower pace than walking. The amount of lost time and fuel to support this is a large part of the problem. So I contend the current system of transportation is a liability and trying to maintain it is counter productive.
4 months ago
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John
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All excellent points worth discussing, both in the article and the comments. However, the entire concept of government stimulus spending is flawed. Every dollar that goes to whatever whiz-bang program the bureaucrats conjure up has to be first taken from somewhere else first. It's like taking money from your left pocket and putting it into your right, and saying you made money. The only difference is that regular people spend their money where they think it will benefit themselves.... and so do politicians. If you think any "infrastructure" stimulus won't turn into a giant slush fund to buy further political influence, then you have been living under a rock for the last 10,000 years.
4 months ago
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Joe Neri (http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1229562185)


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As long as we replace 'natural resources' with the by-products of waste that industrial civilization creates, in order to create 'useful stuff' (whatever that may be), the multiplier effect still holds. But it is no longer a multiplier of economic activity; rather, it has a multiplier effect upon the improving health of the planet.
4 months ago
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Simply Put
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More simply put, replacing a broken railroad trestle leading to a depleted mine will not bring new resources to the economy.
4 months ago
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Realpra1
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You forget that the program will use most of its funds on tax cuts, not infrastructure spending. That last part is just Obama propaganda to make the US buy into another lie.
4 months ago
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Erik Lindberg
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Many of our strategic discussions may pivot around how this question is answered: Do you believe:1) That the body politic will not be moved in meaningful directions until the following premise is widely accepted: the middle class lifestyle is not sustainable--and "sustainable" does not mean "good for the earth" or "green" or (chest puffed out) "don't blame me, I drive a prius." In this case our primary goal must be to see that this premise becomes widely accepted (and therefore that finding allies who haven't entertained and do not accept this premise may not be all that important) or,2) That lots of meaningful and valuable work can be done while this premise remains widely unaccepted (not to mention not even entertained).
4 months ago
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Cdresearch
I'm not sure how you define the "body politic", but the following definition from Merriam-Webster works for me: "..... a group of persons politically organized under a single governmental authority".... In the case of the United States, the "group of persons" means the citizen's of the country, and the "governmental authority" means the elected decision-makers as representatives of the people. Thus the governed and the governor's comprise the nation's political system, or the "body politic". Hence, the U.S. "body politic" cannot be "moved in a meaningful direction" because its principle components are essentially apathetic (the governed) and corrupt (the governor's). The great majority of citizens are either oblivious to or ill-informed about the great issues affecting their country, and they do not even have a common understanding of their responsibility to self106 Online

governance, or that the governor's must abide by the explicit "consent" of the governed. The elected representatives exploit this Translate Random Share 0

http://energybulletin.net/stories/2011-09-09/why-infrastructure-spending-wont-work-progressive-perspective

1/31/2012

Why infrastructure spending won't work: A "progressive" perspective | Energy Bulletin

Page 9 of 9

weakness in the citizenry to pass laws and policies that benefit themselves and the other members of the upper-class at the expense of 90+% of their constituents. Thus they (http://disqus.com/guest/757ad0d489127083e59ae764a758134b/) are not representatives "of the people", but in fact are representatives of just a tiny fraction of the people; the wealthy elite. Our political system has moved from a base Democratic Republic to a Plutocracy (some might call it a Corporatocracy).

In short, the "body politic" cannot be "moved in a meaningful direction" because of an apathetic public and a corrupt government whether the premise ---- "the middle class lifestyle is not sustainable" ---- is widely accepted or not (part 1 of your question), because accepting the premise does not address or solve some of our deepest political problems and burgeoning social instabilities (e.g., income/wealth inequality). In fact the governing elite portion of the body politic (the most dominant part) wouldn't really have a big problem accepting the premise, and as a result would probably push the body politic in an even "less meaningful direction". If one is in agreement with Part 2 of your question, it simply means that "valuable" work can be done without wide acceptance of the premise. Even if that is true, on what scale are we talking about in relation to the size of our "collective" problems as a global society? Does this "valuable" work mainly mean that which affects individuals and relatively small groups in local communities? Or, does this "valuable" work effectively move the "body politic" in a meaningful direction? In light of the size of the problems that we face as a planet, is moving the body politic necessary to best mitigate these problems?

4 months ago

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cancelli
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There is reason to be even more cautious about the effects of current infrastructural spending. Money will flow into BAU projects and it may not be enough after all to make a difference. Spending on infrastructure helped employment during the Great Depression but it was not enough to end the depression. Land and Lease (preparing for war) and WWII finally ended the depression. So, not a cheerful history lesson.
4 months ago
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