[NOTE: This is the third in a subset of posts (see the first one here) in a new PeakOilMatters series (which began here). It’s about finding a new and better vision to get to, through, and beyond Peak Oil and its widespread impact on what we produce, how we produce, and how we live. We won’t be falling off a cliff tomorrow, and the full brunt of Peak Oil’s effects won’t be experienced all at once, either. Gas and oil do not have to disappear entirely, nor do gas prices have to rise into the stratosphere before Peak Oil’s impact is felt.
Gradually, but inexorably, changes will be in the offing, however. We need to come to a better understanding of this, and start preparing ourselves now for the lengthy transition and just as lengthy ongoing impact of Peak Oil on all of us. Many issues must of necessity be considered, and I hope to make a contribution to the public dialogue we need to have. I hope you’ll find these objectives enjoyable as well as beneficial. We have more of a voice than we think we do. Finding that voice just might be our best hope.]
In my last post, I cited concerns raised by clearly liberal writers castigating the “vision” for the future offered by the starboard side of the GOP.
Echoing the concerns about budget priorities, Jim DiPeso recently posted a quite reasonable piece in the FrumForum about Republican budgetary cuts. (I don’t usually agree with David Frum’s politics, but I always respect his approach. He’s a conservative whose proffered opinions—and those of most of his contributors—show no signs that his eyes are bulging out of his head as he critiques the Left. I’m confident the only tin foil in his home is found in a kitchen drawer and not on his hat rack. We could use a few hundred more on the Right just like him.) Mr. DiPeso makes the following observations:
“Business heavyweights, think tank thinkers on the right and left, and even climate contrarian Bjorn Lomborg spent the better part of 2010 calling for significant increases in energy research R&D to stir up the fires of technological innovation, drive economic growth, and reduce pollution.
“Now, along come House Republicans, lumbering into the budget china shop and battering the crockery in a ham-handed attempt to appear fiscally responsible.
“Their proposed budget resolution, setting spending levels for the remainder of fiscal year 2011, has knives out for energy science and technology research….
“[E]nergy R&D is long-range tech development that likely would not be picked up by private sector CFOs seeking more near- term returns for their risk capital. Once promising lines of inquiry are bunged up by federal budget politics, innovations that might have spawned new industries and smarter ways to use America’s energy resources would fall by the wayside.” 
How are we supposed to develop any semblance of national strategy, how do we plan for and move into a future with vastly different energy resources and needs, and/or how are industries and businesses expected to plan intelligently beyond the next Election Day if we’re all subjected to a seemingly complete inability of certain “leaders” to think beyond tomorrow afternoon—especially since the thinking they are presently engaged in is so pathetically narrow-minded and often quite heartless? Is there some magic potion that will provide us all with the innovations and definitive solutions we’ll need without the customary years of research and trial-and-error approaches that we’ve relied upon since the dawn on mankind?
“Republican leaders like to claim that the midterms gave them a mandate for sharp cuts in government spending. Some of us believe that the elections were less about spending than they were about persistent high unemployment, but whatever. The key point to understand is that while many voters say that they want lower spending, press the issue a bit further and it turns out that they only want to cut spending on other people. 
I’m guessing that that preference, while appealing in a narrow-minded, self-centered, oblivious-to-the-rest-of-the-world sense, is not likely to fly with all of the “other people.” It sure as hell won’t be doing this nation any good in the long run.
Having said that, I appreciate full well that the complex and expensive propositions bandied about as means of solving the just-as-complex problems confronting us are not as clear-cut as any of their proponents would like. We do have some profound budgetary and deficit considerations that cannot likewise be postponed interminably. There is no “this side is 100% correct and the other side is 100% incorrect” option.
But the basic economic issues we are all contending with seem fairly clear: no one is spending any money because no one (aside from a few well-placed wealthy old white guys, and I exaggerate only a bit) feels all that confident about their own financial future or that of the nation. If no one is spending, then business has no incentive to hire or keep the full staffs they might still have on board. If they aren’t producing or hiring, and instead are shuttering doors or letting workers go, then that means even fewer people are spending money, and it’s easy to see how that spiral works.
Why is this proposition so difficult to understand and act on?:
“Republicans have even submitted a draconian budget that would make deep cuts into the tiny vein that is nonsecurity discretionary spending, cuts that would prove devastating to the poor and working class.
“At the very time that many Americans — and the very country itself — are struggling to emerge from a very deep hole, the Republican proposal would simply throw the dirt in on top of us.” 
Do we cut government spending at a time of critical need of millions, causing them to suffer even more? Does our government spend more and add to the financial burdens of the next generations? It would delight just about all of us if the obvious, one-and-only Answer lent itself to a ten second explanation and one day implementation. As if….
Budget cuts sound nice now and appease a certain segment of the electorate and the politicians bound and determined to pander to them at all costs, but what brilliant solutions will they have at the ready 5, 8, 12 years down the road when financial situations are more dire, our infrastructure is in even greater need of extensive and expensive repair and renovation, transportation costs have risen beyond the tolerable for many owing to a decline in production and thus availability, resources needed to revamp our entire industrial foundation are are less availing, and we’re tripping over ourselves in a mad scramble to try and make good on promises left unfulfilled today? And oh by the way, there will be a lot more of us making increasing demands on a shrinking pie. That is not good math….
What kind of a nation do we want to be in the days ahead? What kind of a future do we want for ourselves, our children, and those generations beyond?
Legitimate criticisms of government spending cannot be cavalierly tossed aside in every instance. There are no magic financial formulas that can or will address the burdens such spending potentially imposes on our collective future.
But do we permit the well-to-do and the secure leadership in Congress to eliminate the very strategies and efforts we’ll need in a changing future while simultaneously casting out millions more, and announce that if budget cuts cause more harm, then “so be it”? (Thanks Mr. Speaker!)
As Paul Krugman noted in the same essay cited above:
“How can we expect voters to appreciate fiscal reality when politicians consistently misrepresent that reality…?
“The new House majority promised to deliver $100 billion in spending cuts — and its members face the prospect of Tea Party primary challenges if they fail to deliver big cuts. Yet the public opposes cuts in programs it likes — and it likes almost everything. What’s a politician to do?
“The answer, once you think about it, is obvious: sacrifice the future. Focus the cuts on programs whose benefits aren’t immediate; basically, eat America’s seed corn. There will be a huge price to pay, eventually — but for now, you can keep the base happy….
“Once you understand the imperatives Republicans face, however, it all makes sense. By slashing future-oriented programs, they can deliver the instant spending cuts Tea Partiers demand, without imposing too much immediate pain on voters. And as for the future costs — a population damaged by childhood malnutrition, an increased chance of terrorist attacks, a revenue system undermined by widespread tax evasion — well, tomorrow is another day.”
He’s right, of course. Tomorrow is another day, and if political leadership can pass along responsibility for the genuine hard work we’ll need for years to come to some other leaders years down the road, well … that strategy probably ensures a restful night’s sleep at least. Campaign funds will still flow and the loudest if most short-sighted supporters will be happy that today we’ve avoided adding to at least one problem. We can all just worry about the future we’re sacrificing until … you know … later.
Meanwhile, of course, the lingering consequences of this Great Recession will remain largely unchecked, the problems of declining oil production will surely and steadily create additional woes for many years to come to both individuals and industry, the massive income inequality that so undermines the dreams of millions will expand even more, and a lessening and cheapening of the very traits (educational prowess, technological innovations, etc., etc) that have long made this fabulous country the envy of the world will continue their unabated march downward, dragging a substantial majority of us down with it, now and for years to come. What a cheery thought!
But we are not powerless, and although the choices may be daunting now (and will surely be exponentially more daunting the longer we wait to start having grown-up conversations), opportunities remain to restore this magnificent nation to its predominant perch on the world stage—with its own attendant benefits. We own the choices, and we embrace them by first understanding the options we have and then begin to make decisions about what kind of a nation and a people we want to be.
Do we—can we—recognize that spurring demand through government intervention will aid production and hiring, which in turn leads to more spending on the part of those being hired and growing at least somewhat more secure about their financial prospects (and oh-by-the-way, pumping more revenue back into the government’s coffers to help pay down that deficit and maintain at least a modicum of compassion and care for the truly needy)? Can we appreciate that circumstances remain such that our federal government must lead, for there are no other viable options? Yes, that path carries its own risks and consequences as well. None of this is free or easy … I get that, too.
Are the budgetary “solutions” now being offered really the best way forward? Is it even possible for any of our leaders to consider our well-being beyond 2012? Can they begin to deal with the facts confronting us and the challenges to be faced in a world soon enough to be far different than the one in which we now find ourselves?
A crystal ball would be nice. On the assumption that that option is probably not forthcoming, our choices will be guided by a collective decision that the prospects for a better future are best met and addressed by decisions to create more opportunities now, or to restrict them now in the hopes that the sacrifices to be made (by all but the wealthiest, it must be noted) will in time produce a reinvigorated industrial and economic foundation.
To me, the choice (not without considerable risk and its own set of burdens) is clear:
A warming planet that will no longer have the same levels and quantities and quality of energy resources needed to at least sustain us at comparable levels of well-being, coupled with an increase in demand from millions of additional consumers, mandates that we make difficult but doable choices now to re-build our nation so that we continue to serve as a beacon for progress and prosperity. Tearing more of it down is a curious strategy, since all that’s left is a giant hope that things won’t get worse in the interim. Good luck!
In the end, as is usually the case, we may get exactly what we deserve. We might want to start thinking about that….
More still to come….
 http://www.frumforum.com/gop-cuts-target-clean-energy; GOP Cuts Target Clean Energy by Jim DiPeso – February 16, 2011
 http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/14/opinion/14krugman.html?_r=1&partner=rss&emc=rss; Eat the Future By PAUL KRUGMAN – February 14, 2011
 http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/19/opinion/19blow.html; Empire at the End of Decadence By CHARLES M. BLOW – February 19, 2011