It's time to panic

It's time to panic June 4, 2011

Brad DeLong notes that this week’s employment figures are cause for panic. What he suggests, actually, isn’t merely panic, but “PANIC!!”

But given our current employment crisis, I think a third exclamation point may be required.

We’ve got 13.9 million Americans who can’t find work. That’s cause for alarm — cause for all out panic and the kind of try-everything-possible-right-now response that panic inspires.

Panic is sometimes not a bad thing. It’s often underrated. Because sometimes panic works.

Think of President Bill Clinton and the foiled millennium bomb plot. Clinton and his administration don’t get enough credit for preventing that massive attack. That’s probably partly because, before 9/11, we didn’t really appreciate what it was that had been avoided. And it’s probably also partly because an attack that doesn’t happen seems like a non-event and, therefore, not news.

But part of the reason also that Clinton doesn’t get appropriate credit for averting that attack is that he and his administration didn’t succeed because of a brilliant strategy, an effective program or a winning plan.

They succeeded because they panicked. They were, in Richard Clarke’s memorable phrase, “running around with their hair on fire.” They didn’t know what to do so they did everything they possibly could, all at once. That can be inefficient.  It’s better to have a plan or a program or a strategy or a focused approach.

But in the absence of those, panic.

When the consequences of inaction are intolerable, panic is appropriate and necessary.

We’ve got an employment crisis. We’ve got 13.9 million Americans who can’t find work and our economy only added a measly 54,000 jobs in May.

It’s time to panic. It’s probably even time to PANIC!!!

The following aren’t my best ideas for job creation. Those would be things like repairing our roads and bridges, upgrading our energy infrastructure, attending to our national deferred maintenance and front-loading our preparations for the future.

But these seven ideas would also work. Probably. Maybe. They would put people to work.

They may sound goofy, and they probably are goofy. But none of them is as goofy as the status quo. None of them is as goofy as the current situation in which 13.9 million Americans can’t find work and our political leaders are more concerned with deficits than with the unemployment inflating those deficits. In the midst of an employment crisis, politicians are arguing about budget cutting.

That’s cruelly absurd. My ideas here are merely eccentric.

1. Sunday Mail Delivery

Yes, I know, the U.S. Postal Service is currently planning to phase out Saturday delivery. That’s a reasonable cost-cutting step given the reduction in physical postage due to the increasing use of the Internet. But it’s a completely unreasonable idea right now, with nearly 14 million jobless Americans. With 9 percent unemployment we should be hiring more letter carriers, not planning to lay off any of the ones we’ve already got.

And if anybody gripes about “Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy,” just remind them that that commandment also says “six days shalt thou labor.” They can’t pretend to care about that commandment if they’re complicit in and complacent about forcing millions of their neighbors to violate it.

2. Major League Baseball Expansion

The National League Central has six teams. Four of the other divisions have only five, and the American League West only four. It seems to me we need six more teams.

That would mean another 486 home games a year in stadiums that will need to be built and staffed. Then there’s the 30-player roster for each team (I’m adding five players to the current 25-man roster — job creation is the goal here), coaching staffs, trainers, etc., all multiplied again by the teams at the various levels of the farm system.

Baseball fans will, rightly, point out that big-league talent is already stretched pretty thin. If there isn’t enough middle-relief pitching to go around for 30 teams, how ugly would it get with 36?

They have a point. Which is why this can only happen once the U.S. ends economic sanctions against Cuba — the key factor in this proposal. That would likely provide an economic boost in other ways as well (for both countries), but our immediate concern here is that some of the world’s greatest untapped baseball talent is sitting there, 90 miles from Florida, just waiting for the politicians to get out of the way.

And anyway this seemed more practical than my other plan to address the employment crisis through sports: The USQL professional arena quidditch league.

3. Urban Rooftops

We’ll start this project in 30 major cities, selected on the basis of: 1) high unemployment, and 2) high average temperature.

Commercial buildings and residential buildings over a certain size threshhold will be given two choices for their roofs: Paint or plants? If they choose the former, then a team of our newly hired roof-painters will show up to paint their roof white. If they choose the latter, then a team of our newly hired roofscapers will show up to plant a rooftop garden.

After finishing every roof in those first 30 cities, the project will move north until we hit Bar Harbor or full employment, whichever comes first.

4. The National Shakespeare Traveling Companies

Any school with more than, say, a third of its students qualifying for the federal school lunch program will also qualify for up to three performances a year from one of the National Shakespeare Traveling Companies touring the nation. One comedy, one tragedy, one history. (I’m thinking “Twelfth Night,” “Hamlet” and “Henry V” for the first season, but that’s negotiable.)

Granted, this won’t directly create tens of thousands of jobs — although with cast, crew and support teams for 100 separate companies, it will create thousands of them. And hundreds of those jobs will be for actors — actors who will be hitting the road and leaving behind a job opening in retail or the restaurant business, allowing those businesses, in turn, to hire others to replace them.

Plus all those kids would get to see some quality Shakespeare. I’m not really sure how that would help with our employment crisis, but what the heck, it can’t hurt.

5. Hammer of the Gods

Every couple of weeks I hear yet another guest on Coast to Coast AM going on about some “ancient astronaut” theory that a superior race of aliens must have built the pyramids of ancient Egypt because we humans couldn’t possibly have done so on our own with the technology we had at the time.

One way to put an end to such nonsense, it seems to me, would be to go all Thor Heyerdahl and actually build a bona fide pyramid using only the materials and technologies that ancient Egyptians had at their disposal. From what I understand, this project should employ tens of thousands of people.

I figure the desert outside of Las Vegas, Nev., would be ideal. There’s plenty of cheap housing available for newly hired rock-haulers and stone masons. And there’d be a built-in tourist market ready to go for the pyramid itself once its completed. (Yes, Vegas already has a pyramid, but not an authentic one.) The accompanying reality TV show should also employ a few dozen more people and could even help to defray the expense.

(Geologists: Is the requisite stone available anywhere near Vegas?)

6. The No Lines at the DMV Law

No one likes going to their state’s Department of Motor Vehicles. The lines are long, the service is glacially slow, the experience is tedious and unpleasant. (Growing up, I used to think this was only true in New Jersey. I’ve since learned it’s true everywhere — it’s just worse in Jersey.)

So let’s change that. The goal is simple and could even prove popular: No more than a 10-minute wait at any DMV office. And it should be a pleasant, enjoyable 10 minutes.

What would that require in terms of hiring new staff? Double the current staffing levels? Triple?

With nearly 14 million people in need of employment ASAP, it’s best to err on the side of extravagance. And after all, this is the No Lines at the DMV Law, not the Making Sure No DMV Clerk Is Ever Idle for Five Minutes Law.

I’m guessing this would mean jobs for tens of thousands of people nationwide. And that’s just the DMV clerks, I’m not even counting the barristas and live DJs. (Not all the time, of course. DMV offices could employ a live DJ on, say, Mondays and Wednesdays. The rest of the week they could play recorded tracks from the new National Musicians Corps.)

7. Music and Art Classes in Public Schools

Under this plan, every school from kindergarten through 12th grade would be required to teach students art and music. That would require every school to hire, at a minimum, an art teacher and a music teacher.

Those of you who are older may remember that American public schools used to have art teachers and music teachers, back before most American public schools laid them off due to budget cuts and to the theory that art and music were just fads and wouldn’t really be of practical use for young people who were being trained to grow up to be the kind of cramped, self-centered jackwagons who vote against every referendum, forcing schools to cut their budgets and lay off art and music teachers.

For school districts reluctant to embrace the revival of art and music programs and the rehiring of art and music staff I have a two-pronged strategy of political persuasion. The first step is to demagogue all sorts of heated post-hoc arguments, like the school prayer people do, blaming everything bad that has ever happened since on the elimination of art and music programs. The second step involves hidden speakers and a nonstop tape loop playing the audio from Mr. Holland’s Opus.

Those are my ideas. You probably have some better ones.

Sadly, however, our elected officials say they don’t. They say there’s nothing they can do about our employment crisis and nothing to be done.

Nearly 14 million Americans unable to work is regrettable, they say, but there’s no need to panic.

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