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Week in Review

The essays this week continued our look at what the looming energy bonanza due to technological advances might mean for America, both domestically and in terms of its foreign policy.

Foreign relations-wise, the effects could be profound. An age of energy abundance will act both as a lubricant and a salve for the international system, greasing the wheels of trade while palliating ugly nationalist sentiments by ensuring the most disruptive international players feel more economically secure. America has always been a lazy hegemon—not terribly keen on throwing its weight around to promote a liberal, capitalist, predominantly democratic world order. If the energy predictions turn out to be true, our job will have gotten much easier.

At home, it means a booming economy with ample jobs, probably centered on the Middle West. Of the many knock-on effects, the effect it’ll have on national politics may be most profound:

Overall, the new energy geography points toward a revival of the Mississippi-Ohio-Missouri river system as the axis of American growth. That’s likely among other things to be good for America’s political climate; the Midwest has traditionally been something of a swing region — less liberal than the coastal northeast and less aggressively conservative than Dixie. Middle Westerners have tended to be pragmatic optimists over time, and it would be interesting to see how a revival of this political tendency would work out in our politics today.

But those days are not here yet, and a national consensus on how to tackle our most difficult problems is far from at hand. A new, high profile report by a bipartisan group of experts chaired by former Fed chief Paul Volcker and Former New York Lieutenant Gov. Richard Ravitch, shows that state finances are much worse than many believe—mostly due to pension liabilities and Medicaid—and that massive adjustments are coming our way. And as if to underline the point, this week Scranton joined several California cities in the agonies of bankruptcy, and California’s biggest pension fund reported a measly 1 percent return on its investments last year, marking the third time in five years that the pension fund has failed to reach the benchmark 7.5 percent it needs to fulfill its obligations. Yet many still wring their hands over declining union membership, even as others notice that Wisconsin’s crackdown on public sector unions is in fact saving the state millions in health care costs alone. Via Meadia’s boring, practical take: the sooner you make your peace with arithmetic, the less it’s going to hurt.

Speaking of basic arithmetic, investing in higher education is looking worse and worse to most Americans as this recession winds on. And it’s not just the bum economy. Today’s prospective student can look around and see that many people in their 40s and 50s are still drowning in student debt. It’s no surprise, then, that many are in fact choosing to spend less. And some universities are feeling it, with the University of Missouri being the latest school to shutter its university press due to cost concerns. Other schools are being more proactive, and are enthusiastically getting on the online education bandwagon (which, studies show, can be just as effective as traditional education).

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  • PapayaSF

    Is there any independent confirmation that the Damascus bombing was a suicide bombing? Not that it would be unlikely, just that it seems like the sort of thing the Assad regime would lie about to try to make themselves look less incompetent and more like victims.

  • thibaud

    “… it means a booming economy with ample jobs, probably centered on the Middle West. … the new energy geography points toward a revival of the Mississippi-Ohio-Missouri river system as the axis of American growth”

    Someone needs a copy editor. An “axis” doesn’t run in four directions, and in any case, the majority of the states abutting that wide Missouruh aren’t in the Midwest. Nearly half the states adjoining the Mississippi are indeed in Dixie. If the nat gas surplus ends up being liquified, much of that will happen in Louisiana, which last I checked was in Dixie.

    In any case, Mead should exercise a bit more caution before mindlessly parroting jobs growth numbers like the 600k Citigroup estimate. Even if that very high estimate were to come to pass, and even if the API’s own estimate of a 3x multiplier were used, there would still be fewer than 2 million jobs created due to the tight oil and unconventional gas.

    In other words, at its highest, this would account for only about one-tenth of job growth overall, and barely one-third of BLS’s recent projections for expected increases in what is by far the largest employment growth sector, health care and social assistance.

    In fact, the BLS expects that by 2020, this country will add more jobs in each of three health care job categories ALONE than are envisaged in the entire, wildly optimistic case for fracing jobs growth:

    – registered nurses (712,000 new jobs)
    – health aides (706,000)
    – personal care aides (607,000).

    Or maybe Mr Mead expects the majority of those home assistants and nurses and aides to roll away across the wide Missourah and the (midwestern portions of the) Big Muddy?

  • Alex Weiner

    70 people were also shot at a movie theater at some point last week.

  • thibaud

    Alex W – were they shot in decadent old Europe? We’re all over it. Colorado? Never mind.

  • thibaud

    The silence on this blog as elsewhere illustrates Adam Gopnik’s sad observation:

    “The truth is made worse by the reality that no one—really no one—anywhere on the political spectrum has the courage to speak out about the madness of unleashed guns and what they do to American life.”

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