5 Best Monday Columns

On fiscal procrastination, union abuse, and tools extending the brain

This article is from the archive of our partner .
  • Fareed Zakaria on 'Procrastination Economics'  Politicians, economists, and pundits always have an excuse for not raising taxes: the economy is too "fragile," the recovery is "halting," it will be better in "a few years." The Washington Post columnist wonders when the the "right time" will ever come to get the government's fiscal house in order. "If we cannot inflict a little pain now, who will impose a lot of pain later?" he asks. Although President Obama's compromise plan will do some "short-term" good by extending unemployment insurance, cutting payroll taxes, and "perhaps" providing tax credits for business, this comes at a "long-term" cost. In their first act of power, Republicans have added a trillion dollars to the deficit in an act that "doesn't make much sense for the long-term growth" of the economy. "The basic problem in the U.S. economy is that for a generation now, we have been consuming more and saving and investing less," Zakaria figures. "China has a different theory of how to get long-term, sustained growth. The Chinese have doubled their spending on education--with stunning results--and continue to build the world's best infrastructure."
  • Tim Pawlenty on 'Government Unions vs. Taxpayers'  Earlier in the 20th century, labor unions stood up for "hard-working but vulnerable families, protecting them from physical and economic exploitation," writes the Republican Minnesota governor in The Wall Street Journal. But "much has changed" since then, he argues. Now the majority of union members work for the government, where they receive an average of $123,049 annually in pay and benefits, twice the average of the private sector. These unions "contribute mightily" to help get liberal politicians elected, and those politicians vote to increase pay for these workers. The result is that some states are approaching default because of decades of fiscal malpractice. Pawlenty prescribes three principles for reforming these overreaching unions. 1) "Bring public employee compensation back in line with the private sector and reduce the overall size of the federal civilian work force." 2) Ensure that the government uses the "same established accounting standards that private businesses are required to use, so we can accurately assess unfunded liabilities." 3) "End defined-benefit retirement plans for government employees. Defined-benefit systems have created a financial albatross for taxpayers."
  • Tony Haymet and Andrew Dickson on the Vulnerable Ocean  "The oceans have absorbed 30% of the carbon dioxide that humans have ever produced," but yet they are rarely at the political center of the climate change debate, note the two oceanography professors in the Los Angeles Times. Humanity's addiction to burning fossil fuels is changing the composition of the ocean and rapidly increasing our oceans acidity levels (the authors predict that acidity will double by the end of the century). Ocean acidification can wreak havoc on the development of marine organisms, affecting massive coral reefs and smaller beings like clown fish and krill. While marine life can adapt to changes in seawater chemistry, "never before in history have they been asked to do this so quickly." Now is not the time for more research, say Haymet and Dickson. Nor can we rely on geo-engineering ("deliberately modifying the oceans' microbial cycles of carbon and oxygen") to continue our fossil fuel addiction. "We have a clear and attainable alternative: making electricity without releasing carbon dioxide," they write. "It's time we put oceans front and center in the political climate debate. And it's past time we stopped pouring carbon dioxide into our air and seas."

  • Andy Clark on Thinking Outside of the Brain  How often do we think without our brains? According The New York Times' Andy Clark, the brain is not the only tool active in one's thought process. Clark proposes the idea that everyday technological tools used to gather information, such as iPhones, Blackberries, and laptops, are becoming extensions of our brains. Clark argues that we use more than just our brains in order to think. Some people, he points out, use their hands, not to create emphasis, but to enable their thought process. He compares such gadgets to prosthetic limbs which, after a while, can become almost a natural extension of the body. "As our information-processing technologies improve and become better and better adapted to fit the niche provided by the biological brain, they become more like cognitive prosthetics: non-biological circuits that come to function as parts of the material underpinnings of minds like ours," he explains.
  • Alan Abramowitz on Congressional Compromise  Don't get too excited about the promise of coming bipartisan compromise in the new Congress. Though members of Congress from both parties describe the recent tax cut agreement as an preview of the bipartisan successes to come, Salon's Alan Abramowitz has done the math and isn't convinced. Abramowitz points out that, with 242 seats in the House, the Republicans have the largest majority in Congress since 1947-49. Using liberal-conservative ratings from the 111th Congress and then assigning "every newly elected member a liberal-conservative rating based on the average rating of members of their party from the same state" or a neighboring state, Abramowitz calculated just how conservative the next Congress will actually be. He is led to the conclusion that "what's much more likely is that the tax cut agreement will turn out to be a one-time deviation from the internecine partisan warfare that has characterized Washington in recent years. In fact, it is very likely that partisan conflict will only intensify over the next two years."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.