By Guest Columnist DAVID KYLER, executive director of the Center for a Sustainable Coast in Saint Simons Island
In recent years we’ve witnessed increasing failures in political institutions brought by a reckless trend in the devotion to absolute positions that have little, if any, factual basis.
Moreover, these positions often work to undermine the well-being of the same people who promote them. Voters elect candidates who serve the special interests of groups that few belong to, and long-disproven claims about economic remedies continue to motivate political decisions, with disastrous results.
Consider some ironic and self-defeating examples of these irrational trends:
• Government regulations are opposed on principle by conservative voters, but when regulations are weakened or removed, the ‘free market” runs recklessly rampant – as it did on Wall Street, culminating in the crash of 2007/2008 and bringing related bank failures. Note that Georgia had some of the nation’s highest failure rates, caused by the pro-speculation, anti-regulation mind-set of state leadership.
• Public services supporting the environment, elderly, disabled, impoverished, and children are routinely condemned by many of the same voters and politicians who directly benefit from government programs such as Social Security, Medicare, small business loans, corporate tax credits, and farm subsidies.
• Many leading politicians persist in claiming that government spending is ruining the economy and that it has no role in U.S. job creation, yet the most recent employment data clearly shows that loss of jobs in the public sector caused by government budget cut-backs is the only reason why new employment fell short of projections.
Anyone having doubt that government can play an essential role in job creation should ask those who live in the many southern communities benefitting from military, research, and other federal facilities.
Limited success of past stimulus spending in creating jobs was primarily due to expenditures being cut short by those who are prejudiced against government economic programs – producing self-prophesized failure by limiting action.
It is clear that we don’t need smaller government, but rather better-managed public programs and agencies, based on objective assessment of needs, impacts, and performance.
To compete successfully in the global economy of the 21st century, America needs smart government, not small government. Every economically advanced country worldwide has a vibrant government sector that supports an array of services enhancing the lives of its citizens.
Here are a few examples of how to improve public programs to help our state and nation:
• Instead of subsidizing businesses that are already thriving, shift government expenditures to emerging markets where innovations will benefit both investors and the general public.
Foremost among such markets are green technologies in solar, wind, and tidal energy that can, over time, replace polluting and high-risk conventional forms of power generation (coal, oil, gas, and nuclear), which have been lavishly subsidized by the U.S. government over much of the past century.
Highly qualified energy planners have set forth a detailed program for completely replacing fossil-fuel based power with renewable energy by 2030 – if reasonable reforms of government programs are adopted to support this transition.
• Rather than denying climate change that’s been incontrovertibly documented, while continuing subsidies for polluting industries, use government spending to induce consumers and businesses to make smarter choices.
Energy users are burdened by higher cooling costs over the longer and hotter periods brought by climate change, yet Georgians and other Americans continue promoting facilities using coal and oil – which compounds the trend in higher temperatures by adding to greenhouse gas emissions.
Adopting aggressive government incentives for installing energy-efficient equipment, converting to fuel-efficient vehicles, and building or upgrading to better-insulated, energy-efficient structures (commercial, residential and industrial) would be far wiser than subsidizing exploration for oil and gas.
• As we struggle for economic recovery and a more secure future, government programs should be coordinated to consistently achieve desired outcomes.
For instance, despite Georgia’s long-established and widely publicized disputes over water supply to meet the unrelenting demands of Atlanta’s growth, state energy policies continue supporting construction and expansion of power plants that are among the worst water wasters — by using cooling towers that evaporate about 40 percent of the water they take from Georgia water supplies instead of returning it to the source.
Combined, existing Georgia power plants evaporate several hundred million gallons of water daily, which could be conserved to support millions of new residents. Why not reform public policies to promote the use of water-wise energy equipment and renewable power sources?
Programs for diverting some of Atlanta’s growth to other parts of Georgia would also improve water management, reduce pollution, and advance a host of quality-of-life factors.
The interests of our state and nation cannot be served unless we use rational approaches to solving these problems instead of allowing political dogma to dictate.
Click here for more information on the Center for a Sustainable Coast.