Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Day 21 June 4, 2012

We had two adventures today. In the morning, we went to Jon Hus Presbyterian Church for volunteer work.  A little background on the church.  It is 3 blocks from us.  About 20 years ago, our former pastor (Heidi Vardeman)served as its pastor.  When we were here in June, 2011, Al and Amy visited the church (never expecting that within a year, we would be living 3 blocks away). At that time, membership had declined to 20-30 people, and the church had been transformed into primarily serving as a building for several social service programs.  There is a pre-school in the sanctuary (the pews have been removed), and there are other programs throughout the building.  One of the programs is collecting clothing from local folks and operating a free clothing store for homeless people.

Two things about the clothing service.  First, this is an affluent neighborhood- so the clothing is wonderful.  I did not see anything from Target or Kmart.  Second, the amount of clothing that was waiting for us amazed me.

Our task was to sort it, put it in size categories, and put it out in the shop for the clients. Five of us spent 2 hours working steadily to complete the work.  

In the evening, we went to a talk and book signing with Paul Krugman. I am a big fan of Krugman.  He won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2008, writes a column in the New York Times, and appears on This Week every Sunday morning.  He just wrote a book titled End this Depression Now!.

Assuming that many other New Yorkers (is it permissible to call oneself a New Yorker after three weeks, and still be a Minnesotan) would be as excited as me to see him, we arrived two hours early!
We were the second people there, and got front row seats (by 6:30, all the seats were filled, with people standing in the back). Fortunately, there is always a Starbucks in a Barnes and Noble store, and we are content to sit with a cup of coffee and a book. (Motherly wisdom I passed on to Amy was- Always bring a book- By the time her children are old enough to read,she will probably tell - Always bring an ipad or kindle. No, Amy does not have children. I am assuming that she will someday).

Krugman repeated much of what I had heard from him before, but it was fun to hear in person, and to get his book signed. He is short- which I expected-and wore stereotypical professor clothing- tweed sports coat and slacks).  He gave thoughtful answers to some rather silly questions.  (One thing I really appreciated from the person who introduced him. She announced  before his talk that people needed to ask a question, not give a speech.  After the first questioner started to do just that, the audience spontaneously said "What's your question"?  )

A few tidbits from his talk- He believes that we are in a depression because there has been no period since the Great Depression when over 24 million people have been out of work for over a year.  Government's reaction was to cut spending, which has resulted in lots of layoffs of government workers.  The stimulus was inadequate, and therefore, people say it didn't work. He pointed out that he had said it was inadequate at the time it was passed.  He proposes more government spending.  The federal government can and should borrow funds to do so.  We will need to pay it back in the long run- but the alternative of doing nothing now is worse.  The lack of employment and underemployment of young people will have long term effects on their lifetime incomes.  If asked most young people would prefer to have employment now and pay more taxes over their lifetimes. A simple thing that Congress could do is to restore state and local government aid- which would have the result of re-hiring teachers, fixing infrastructure and providing construction jobs, more firefighters and police, etc.  Congress probably will not do this.  He mentioned two things that will make this unlikely to happen in our current political climate.  First, we have a two party system and one of the parties is insane.  Second, when asked about the possibility of a revenue neutral bill passing congress; he responded that that would only work if the republicans really believed in deficit reduction.  He says that they only use it as a club, but have no real plan for deficient reduction.  They propose reducing taxes and reducing government spending on support education, the poor, and unemployed.  These are the expenditures that would advance our economy.  Without those expenditures, future productivity will be reduced and overall prosperity will be reduced.  Also, reduced spending on infrastructure will lead to long term harm to the economy.

Something to think about and discuss.  I find discussions about the economy discouraging- the issue is quite overwhelming,  the Republicans are unwilling to discuss raising taxes, and the Democrats are very hesitant to discuss reductions. 

Here are pictures of us working at the church and Mr. Krugman.


I want to add to the Krugman part of this entry.  Just as example, think about our roads.  They are deteriorating.  They are not as smooth as they should be.  This roughness increases friction and leads to higher gas consumption.  It increases wear on suspension and can cause tire damage.  Wouldn't it be better economics to pay a little more in taxes and have better roads rather than sending money out of country for oil and spending time and money with our cars in the repair shop.   Just an example of how we pay for a poor infrastructure.  Make no mistake about it, we pay; it is only a matter of how we pay. 


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