Saturday, August 20, 2011

The short term and the long term

Once again Matt Yglesias puts his finger on an important issue: "The inability to even keep long-term and short-term issues straight in a conversation is mind-boggling." This is the problem I have with a lot of my fellow transit advocates who keep harping on the debt, like Chuck Marohn and Jim Kunstler. I don't want to insult them the way Yglesias is insulting the Republicans, because I think it's a bit more excusable for Marohn and Kunstler, but it's still frustrating.

Yes, it's true that we're facing the peak oil crisis and the climate change crisis, and Marohn is quite right that we have an additional crisis of overbuilt infrastructure that we don't have the financial ability to maintain. We may not even have the "real" ability to maintain it, in terms of resources like manpower, asphalt and energy, while still feeding ourselves and producing goods for export.

The fact is that those are all three long term problems. There are similar-looking short-term problems, but the solution to a short-term problem is not always the same as the first step of solving a similar long-term problem. For example, if it's cold in my apartment one day, I may want to turn on a space heater. If it's cold in my apartment all winter, I may want to replace my weatherstripping. The first step to replacing weatherstripping is to see if the hardware store is open, but that won't make my apartment any warmer in the short term. I may want to turn on the space heater and see if the hardware store is open. It may be a bit wasteful to run the space heater with leaky windows, but for a day it's not that big a deal.

This is what I think Marohn and Kunstler are missing when it comes to Paul Krugman, Matt Yglesias and their calls for Keynesian stimulus. Marohn and Kunstler criticize Krugman for not realizing the severity of the situation. Krugman may or may not realize the severity of the situation, but he knows that the economy has the short-term capacity to put most people back to work and bring tax revenues back up, if the government were willing to tolerate some inflation.

There are medium-term problems, and I'll discuss them in a future post. But they're not what many people think they are.


Charles Marohn said...


This is good work. Glad to have you as part of this discussion. We don't necessarily disagree on this. I'm interested to read the next installments. Keep it up.

-Chuck Marohn

Cap'n Transit said...

Thanks, Chuck! I'm really glad that you're taking this constructively. I've got a new post up, and would love to hear your thoughts.