Thursday, February 5, 2009

Grown-up ideas not so shiny but very sensible

I had guessed that I would be pleased with the maturity level of the Obama administration, but I finally knew for sure when Jon Stewart lampooned the new president for emphasizing in TV interviews that weatherization schemes were a good Keynesian stimulus. Apparently weatherization is a but too mundane for New York city's chattering classes.

This is a great example of how weak-minded people can be in these days of spin and junk. Apart from the fact that progressive economics, and especially political economy, was driven to the margins by the 28 or so years of spin-control and half-hearted analysis we've had since the Reagan revolution, and so we've more or less lost the ability to debate Keynesian programs on their merits because only a tiny group actually knows what Keynesianism really is, we have also seemingly lost the ability to be plain-spoken and sensible, and to appreciate the mundane when it's truly important.

Try sitting in a cold house in Maine without a job with $3 a gallon heat oil instead. If only the idiots who are responsible for the stupid policies, and the stupid chatter about the stupid policies, and the inability to correctly understand and apply theory and calculations about the stupid chatter and the stupid policies, were the ones freezing their tushes off!

Jon Stewart is funny and I watch him all the time but he's paid to be a clown. Of course weatherization is right out of the Keynesian playbook, and in large enough scale and with some kind of means-test or at least basic screening for applicants, an excellent use of government resources in a recession.

Basic weatherization, essentially sealing and caulking houses, requires only a brief training. With two months of winter left here in Maine, and three or more in Minnesota, increasing the funds available to get some of this work done is a great idea, but we'd better get on it for this year. We've been doing this work in our neighborhood with volunteers, but you'll get a lot more houses done if you hire crews.

The next step is beyond weatherization, which is usually taken to mean a day or two's relatively unskilled work with plastic sheeting and spray foam and caulking guns on a single house. Next comes new insulation and building envelopes, replacement windows and doors, new roofing, old fridge replacement, new on-demand and other efficient hot water tanks,and even some of that new-fangled renewable tech, most likely the solar hot water systems, which are generally a good payback.

So in addition to weatherization, another policy that would achieve much the same only through different means for different beneficiaries would be, say, a 75 - 95% tax credit on approved insulation, window-and-door replacement, solar hot water systems, and the like, boosting the current scheme even more.

Or a block grant to organizations like Maine Housing so they can do the same kinds of stuff for people who don't really have much of a tax return.

Or all three policies. How about all three?

Actually, it all sounds very much like what Maine Housing has been doing for years, in cooperation with Efficiency Maine and the CAPs.

Want to put some folks back to work in Maine? Just call up Maine Housing today and tell Dale McCormick she has more funds right now to do what they've been doing for years.

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