Not a Society for Walking

No WalkingRain brings out the worst in drivers. It’s curious. You would think it would be otherwise. They are, after all, inside warm and dry cars. And the roads are slippery. So it is the time when drivers should slow down and take it easy. But they do just the opposite. They drive faster — more recklessly. A storm is the worst time to be walking around — because the drivers are so awful.

It isn’t a news flash that we live in a society designed for cars. But unless you spend a little time walking around, you will no see just how bad it is. Watching drivers as they often literally tap their fingers waiting for you to cross the street, you would get the impression that they are the ones being pelted with rain as they move down the road at three miles per hour. Really: I live roughly a half hour’s walk from the nearest store. It takes roughly two minutes to drive there. But most drivers are deeply annoyed that they can’t cut it down to a minute and a half.

Walking Near Construction

In downtown Santa Rosa, Court House Square is completely fenced off — apparently being remodeled or something. Today, I was doing some Christmas shopping and this required that I make my way to the bank in that area. But absolutely no concern was given to walking. I found myself in what was very much like the worst maze ever designed. In addition to endless unmarked dead-ends, there were numerous areas where I had to backtrack because a sidewalk simply ended on a busy street without a crosswalk.[1] In order to walk two blocks, I ended up walking at least eight.

I run into this kind of thing quite a lot. When construction is going on, little if any thought is given to how it will affect those walking. If a car has to go around the block, big deal. But today, what would normally have taken me three minutes to walk took more like a half hour — just to get from where the bus dropped me off to the bank that used to be two blocks away but that is now blocked by the post-apocalyptic no man’s land of “Coming soon!” urban renewal.

The Speed of a Worthless Life

The other issue is the speed of life. I just don’t have hours and hours to run errands. We’ve created a society that is the worst that it can be. No one has any time. And everything takes forever because our lives are designed around the idea that oil companies need to make a lot of money. So it’s not surprising that in addition to things being designed to be bad for walking, they are even worse when any construction goes on.

This is no way to live a life. But it probably does explain why I avoid going outside most days.

[1] I never jaywalk for two reasons. First: I always assume that drivers are trying to kill me because they are. Second, I don’t want to give some psychopathic police officer a reason to harass me.

The Liberals Are Enemy of World’s Poor Myth

Rigged - World's Poor - Dean BakerIn winter 2016, near the peak of Bernie Sanders’ bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, a new line became popular among the nation’s policy elite: Bernie Sanders is the enemy of the world’s poor. Their argument was that Sanders, by pushing trade policies to help US workers, specifically manufacturing workers, risked undermining the well-being of the world’s poor because exporting manufactured goods to the United States and other wealthy countries is their path out of poverty. The role model was China, which by exporting has largely eliminated extreme poverty and drastically reduced poverty among its population. Sanders and his supporters would block the rest of the developing world from following the same course.

This line, in its Sanders-bashing permutation, appeared early on in Vox, the millennial-oriented media upstart, and was quickly picked up elsewhere. After all, it was pretty irresistible. The ally of the downtrodden and enemy of the rich was pushing policies that would condemn much of the world to poverty.

The story made a nice contribution to preserving the status quo, but it was less valuable if you respect honesty in public debate. The problem in the logic of this argument should be apparent to anyone who has taken an introductory economics course. It assumes that the basic problem of manufacturing workers in the developing world is the need for someone who will buy their stuff. If people in the United States don’t buy it, then the workers will be out on the street and growth in the developing world will grind to a halt.

In this story, the problem is that we don’t have enough people in the world to buy stuff. In other words, there is a shortage of demand. But is it really true that no one else in the world would buy the stuff produced by manufacturing workers in the developing world if they couldn’t sell it to consumers in the United States? Suppose people in the developing world bought the stuff they produced raising their living standards by
raising their own consumption.

That is how the economics is supposed to work. In the standard theory, general shortages of demand are not a problem. Economists have traditionally assumed that economies tended toward full employment. The basic economic constraint was a lack of supply. The problem was that we couldn’t produce enough goods and services, not that we were producing too much and couldn’t find anyone to buy them. In fact, this is why all the standard models used to analyze trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership assume trade doesn’t affect total employment. Economies adjust so that shortages of demand are not a problem.

In this standard story (and the Sanders critics are people who care about textbook economics), capital flows from slow-growing rich countries, where it is relatively plentiful and so gets a low rate of return, to fast-growing poor countries, where it is scarce and gets a high rate of return.

So the United States, Japan, and the European Union should be running large trade surpluses, which is what an outflow of capital means. Rich countries like ours should be lending money to developing countries, providing them with the means to build up their capital stock and infrastructure while they use their own resources to meet their people’s basic needs.

–Dean Baker
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