Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Economy is Tanking; We Are Degrading our Universities and Colleges. Just What Are Our Priorities?

The jobs picture in the US is deplorable.  Realistically, unemployment stands a 16% including those who've given up the job search or who are part-time seeking full-time work.

That means, we are moving ever closer to a two-tier society with a small number of people at the top levels of the economy, for whom there never was a Recession and is none now, and the rest of us, who's income has not kept pace with our undeclared inflation.  We are building a high-speed luxury train system in California.  For whom?

In California, we persist in pursuing high-speed rail in the face of draconian budget cuts to our university system.  We are thereby eating our seed-corn.  Let me put it this way.  California has massive problems to solve.  Where do we expect our problem solvers to come from if not our university system?

The pro-rail people constantly promise that the construction and operation of their HSR will generate tens of thousands of jobs -- around a million total in California -- both for construction, which will be state sponsored work-fare, and ostensibly private sector permanent jobs.  It's really hard to see how that can be true, since high-speed rail is not public mass transit for commuters, it's a luxury train for the affluent.

Also, high-speed rail can't be built exclusively by Californian unemployed construction workers.  That promise would make no sense at all. This state has no HSR experience whatsoever.  So, what does that say about the promised HSR generated employment picture?

And, a great deal of manufactured material -- if not all of it -- must come from overseas.  That means that this particular part of employment will also take place overseas. And, the profits from the construction cycle will also go overseas. (Parsons Brinckerhoff, for example, is based in the UK)  So all that federal dollar investment into California's economy, that the Democrats are so determined to obtain, may do far less to bolster the state economy than anticipated.

Part of the California jobs picture suggests that it is permanent, particularly for each job that has gone off-shore to less expensive job markets. Realistically, we might consider that California's "Golden Age" is behind us.  All the more reason to understand how irrational the building of a high-speed rail system has become.

In some of the now neglected, once major cities deep within the Brazilian Amazon basin we can find grandiose opera houses, since long ago no longer used, sagging with decay and abandonment. (See: Manaus)  Is this what we are setting out to build?

Given these circumstances, what are our priorities?  Where should we be putting our highly limited, and borrowed resources?  If you raise questions about needing to stimulate an economy, create a new job sector (like Silicon Valley), and bring more new jobs into California, would building a high-speed train be the first response to such a problem?  Or would we create a priority list which does not even include high-speed trains?

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