Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Cost

In the last couple of days, I've come across a number of sites and news broadcasts that list how many of (x) item we could buy for $700,000,000,000 - or the projected current cost of the US Financial Sector bailout.

- Jeff Jarvis on Buzz Machine talks about how we could Wi-Max the whole country and give damned near everybody in the world a laptop and Internet access, or provide a decent college education for a hell of a lot of folks.

- Tongue firmly in cheek, Gary Robbins at OCregister mentions that we could get breast implants for 70 million women (I'm assuming that Gary meant 140 actual implants, vice creating 70 million lopsided women, though I didn't actually do the math).

- The SunSentinel says they could get 21 new Marlin Stadiums for each county in the state of Florida.

- The generic blond bimbo on Headline News this morning mentioned that we could buy ourselves seven International space stations for $700 billion, though I'm not sure she wasn't talking about the space between her pretty ears.

And so on and so forth. The suggestions are many and varied, some silly and some less so - like say paying off the national debt or paying for the Bush Doctrine (which may actually be one and the same). However, all of these suggestions depend on the basic assumption that we actually have $700,000,000,000 stuffed under the Fed's mattress - which, of course, we don't.

We're going to have to borrow it, which means we're going to have to pay it back.

Now, the Fed is able to get a fairly decent interest rate, around two to four percent depending on a number of factors (and which actually turns out to be considerably higher when you start to factor in things like the dollar's decreasing value compared to foreign currency over time, the slipping GDP, and the transfer of our industrial base overseas, and etc). Just like anybody else, when we borrow money, we have to pay it back and that means we're going to have a lot less discretionary funds to spend on other things.

We're going to have to give some stuff up.

When an individual gets in over his or her head they've got two choices, 1) go bankrupt, file Chapter 11, and these days likely end up homeless - or 2) tighten the belt, buy carefully and make every dollar count, sell off the things they don't actually need, cancel cable and the paper and the magazine subscriptions, sell the SUV and buy a small cheap old car, and give up thoughts of home improvement and that vacation to Jamaica Mon, get a second job, and so on.

And that's the same choice we face as a nation. We can either go bankrupt (don't think that can happen to a Super Power? You didn't watch the USSR implode, did you?), or we can suck it up, take out the loan, and find the funds to pay it off from programs we really like but can no longer afford.

And I suspect that's exactly what we'll try to do.

So what's this bailout really going to cost us? What did the arrogant greedy bastards with multi-million dollar salaries and even higher bonuses saddle us and our children with?

I'm not clairvoyant, but I've been around enough to make some pretty good guesses.

First I'd say it's going to cost us The Pillars of Creation.

From Stonekettle Station

See, two days ago the primary data channel on the Hubble Space Telescope failed, which means the scope is basically dead in orbit. The scope still works, but the information it collects can't be downloaded to Earth. There's a backup channel, and NASA is going to try and reactivate it later this week, but if that doesn't work, or if the backup fails, the Hubble is lost. Now, NASA was supposed to launch a final repair and refurbishment mission next month. But with the sudden failure of the primary data transmitter, that's been put on hold until next year. Want to bet that it doesn't fly?

And speaking of being a space faring nation, NASA has pushed back, yet again, the launch date for the Aries/Orion shuttle replacement. The shuttle goes out of service in 2010 and Aries/Orion will not fly prior to 2015 at the earliest, want to bet that date slips right and right and right again as the budget dries up? We were supposed to return to the moon in 2022 and then go on to Mars. Anybody want to bet that when we get there, if we get there, it'll be as passengers on a Chinese Moon ship? Think I'm being an alarmist? Starting in 2010 we'll be riding to our own space station onboard Russian built spacecraft, if we can afford them that is.

Space is a luxury we likely will no longer be able to afford.

As is education, big science, national infrastructure, military strength, housing and assistance for the poor, environmental protection and enforcement, energy research, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, and expensive wars in foreign lands. Look carefully at all the things the Federal government pays for routinely, then ask yourself which ones are most likely to be cut when people start to grow desperate.

It is very likely that this disaster and the price of the bailout will not only cost us our position in the world, but the very stars themselves.

I hope to hell it was worth it.

I doubt our children will think so.


  1. Jim,this post nearly made me cry.
    I weep for our future.

  2. Hang in there, Cindi, I have an idea.

    Ilya took me to task for not having a solution, that made me think - and as I said I have an idea - give me a couple hours to do some basic research and to think about why it wouldn't work while I'm in the shop.

  3. There goes my cushy fish job. :(

  4. Entirely possible.

    When people begin to grow hungry and desperate - science is often the first thing to go, and we are not very far from it. And some things will have to go, if we are to fix this correctly. Borrowing and continuing to spend only moves the problem further out and allows it to grow until it truly is the end.

    But it can be fixed, and it doesn't have to be all doom and gloom. America is often at its very best when challenged - and this is one of the largest challenges we've faced in a long time.

  5. Cindi, this post nearly made me cry, too. The thought that science, which already feels as if it's being marginalized, will be one of the things to go is incredibly sad. Not to mention that it hits me where I live. Literally.

    Truth is, though I work for JPL, I'm not too worried about my job. I'm secretary to someone who is very high on the food chain and to whom the big dogs turn to get things done. My boss likes my work and as long as I don't fuck up, I feel relatively secure. Nothing's guaranteed, but I'm not freaking out. Yet.

    But this does mean that lay-offs are on the horizon, as happened in 2005 - I was affected by those lay-offs because I was a temp-to-perm employee whose position was cut. No one has talked about it yet, but I have a strong feeling that projects will have their funding slashed or pulled and many fantastic engineers, scientists and support staff will be let go. Including, I fear, some people I know.

    I think I will cry.

  6. Here's an idea far fetched but an idea none the less. Let's funnel the money raised by both Presidential campaigns (notably record breaking amounts) and dump it into the national treasury. As the RNC was put on hold to concentrate on hurricane IKE what happened to all the money they saved on goofy hats and refreshments? As McCain secured his ads during the initial days of the financial meltdown what happened to the money refunded by the networks and local stations? And don't think the Dems are immune either. Let's say take the money raised during dinner with Streisand and put it in the coffers too. With all that doe floating around there should be something that either party can do to give a little back.

  7. Well, I was thinking more along the lines of magazine subscriptions and a bake sale on the National Mall, but yeah, Beastly, that would work too.

  8. Beastly, I'm afraid the presidential campaigns collectively raised just about $1.5Bln - far short of what we'd need. But every little things helps, no doubt.

    Jim, as an idle aside to your reference of the USSR, I believe the term "superpower" had primarily military - and subsequent-to-that political - connotations when applied to Soviet Union. I doubt that the USSR could ever be considered an economic superpower. Totalitarian socialist economies are just not set up for that.

  9. *perks up*

    Bake sale on the National Mall? I'm so there! Maybe we can sell used books too. And Janiece's apple butter should bring in a pretty penny, as should your bowls, Jim!

    By gum, we can turn this nation around!

    (Sorry, today's the day I have to laugh so I don't cry.)


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