Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Snow on Sehome Hill

Pruned tree near Sehome Hill observation tower on the snowy day of February 23 when I went for a walk. See 10 more of my snow pictures around Sehome Hill and Western Washington University campus. Snow if fairly rare in Bellingham, but when it happens, we go out and take pictures. Then share on social media.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Would Keystone Pipeline be a road away from the minimum wage economy?

"Minimum Wage Economy." A catchy phrase uttered by Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal after a White House Governor's conference. Criticizing Obama's push to increase the minimum wage, this governor feels "we can do better." He said, push for economic growth and build the Keystone Pipeline.

What would building the Keystone Pipeline do to prevent a minimum wage economy? Not much. Not much in middle class jobs as I've heard possibly less than 100 folks would be needed to run it. That's not counting temporary construction jobs, however, but still not much in the way of new job creation. Maybe there would be some government jobs, from local jurisdictions being able to tax what flows through the pipeline, but still not much. Especially not much since I hear that the refining end of the pipeline would be in low tax jurisdictions.

As for harming the environment, maybe Keystone wouldn't even do that much either. If it weren't built, the oil would be shipped another way; like by rail as long as people keep consuming it. So, one should ask, what's the point of fighting?

So many of the things, like Keystone Pipeline, and to some extent even the minimum wage, are red herring issues. Not really the big things we need to be thinking about, but good fodder for our polarizing debates.

Higher minimum wage is another red herring. I basically support it, but I don't know if it would do that much good. It would just push the problem around like so many legislative solutions do. Employers, who tend to pay minimum wage, would just pass the added cost on to consumers and they might also layoff a few workers. It's kind of like trying to solve the problem of not enough affordable housing by imposing rent control. These kind of solutions tend to just push the problems around. Helps some folks lucky enough to hang onto their apartment with artificially lowered rent, but doesn't create the incentive to build more affordable housing.

The minimum wage economy may be just the reality of our economy. Like it our not, our economy creates a lot of low wage jobs regardless of who's in the White House. It seems like the "new normal;" the new normal for the foreseeable future at least.

Government can help in a lot of ways, but the political will to do this is not evident for the moment at least. Higher taxes on rich folks could create more of a sense of fairness between income categories in society. Basically the idea of a graduated income tax which we used to have back in the period from the 1950s to the 1970s. We've gotten away from that policy in recent years. Also government spending on infrastructure can stimulate the economy to possibly create more middle class jobs. Economists like Paul Krugman say that this stimulation would help to jump start the economy so the private sector would eventually create more jobs in the long run. Kind of like priming the pump. In today's political environment, such measures seem unlikely, but politics can change.

In the mean time, here is a coping strategy to deal with our current situation of low wage jobs. We can learn to live with a low wage economy and not only survive, but learn to thrive. Governor Jindal would say that this is "putting up the white flag." Saying we're defeated instead of pushing growth; like, for instance building pipelines.

What are the solutions for a minimum wage economy? Accepting the fact that a lot of jobs are going to be low wage; in the foreseeable future at least, so we need to plan for low wages. Bring down the cost of our living. I realize that bringing down the cost of living could further dampen demand in the economy thus leading to even lower wages overall. Maybe this isn't the best argument, but lowering consumption does have a few good ramifications. Its a strategy for lowering the carbon footprint. Keeping in mind our environmental crisis. Until we develop greener technology, we may need to just consume less on average. Also more simple living offers some positive effects for individuals. Life that's not as much of a rat race. Possibly less obesity. The joys of simplicity.

This is where my kind of solutions come into play. Things like smaller houses. Cottage homes, for example. Even mobile home parks. These cottage home / mobile home / intentional communities can work in smaller cities where there's space.

What about urban areas like San Francisco where mobile homes can't be placed and even studio apartment rents are outrageous?

In urban areas, the solution can be advocating even more density. Building up and infilling. Build more studio apartments and cater to the changing demographic which is becoming less family oriented. Cater more to single people. Seniors, for instance as that portion of the population is growing. You say, what about young people? Well, many young people are less likely to be in large families as well, these days.

You say the central city is already maxed out when it comes to density? OK, we can densify the suburbs around the central city. We can make the suburbs more like the central city with transit, walkable neighborhoods and so forth. Everyone shouldn't have to live in the central city to be able to walk to work, or take transit at least. How about retrofitting the entire metropolitan area around the central city to make it all more sustainable; more affordable and more walkable?

That's what I call planning around a minimum wage economy. Make our living arraignments more affordable. This would have a big impact on transportation also. Make it so people don't have to own a car. Yes, bicycling, walking and public transit. Also better for one's health.

Speaking of health, don't we, Americans, spend way too much on health? Lots of unnecessary tests, procedures and medicines. Maybe we can rethink how we are dealing with our health also? Save lots of money here.

There are many examples of how we can live better and plan our environments with lowering the footprint in mind.

Some say, this concept of more sustainable living is putting up the white flag. Well, I can sort of understand that. I'm not necessarily against prosperity and yes, I might surprise folks in saying that I do think technology can fix a lot of problems. As much of a fan of the bicycle that I am, I also look forward to cars that run on hydrogen fuel which could come from solar power. Even, maybe, nuclear power. I'm also a fan of the self driving Google Car. I believe the Google self driving car could significantly cut down of a terrible scourge in current society - the highway traffic death toll. Part of the reason why I'm not into driving, today, is the over 30,000 highway deaths per year, that the automobile creates in it's present form. Yes, in the future, I believe we can do better, with technology. Self driving hydrogen powered cars and so forth.

In the meantime, as the panacea of technology is still on its way, we can do better by also learning to live more sustainably. Living a lower and healthier footprint. A more peaceful life with less rat race; hopefully.

The long term solution to our environmental / economic woes is going to be both smarter living and also new, less fossil fuel dependent, technology. We can do better, but we all, both us and our governments, corporations and institutions have to learn to do it a bit differently.