Friday, September 05, 2008

Parisian Style Housing/Politics

City planners often promote "high density housing." It is usually a flop because it brings to mind massive failures (you say "high density housing" I hear "instant slum.")

What they should call the idea is "Parisian Style Housing." Paris is nothing but twenty million people's worth of high density living environment, but the one thing it is not remembered as is a slum. I've talked to a number of professionals over the years about how they need to change the term. Finally thought I would blog about it (especially as things like blogs exist now).

Paris may be incredibly dense, but it is charming and livable. Much of that comes from well groomed green spaces, building housing on transit lines (well, almost all of Paris seems to be on transit lines, but that is another story) and wonderful public places.

Switching gears to politics, the national budget is mostly:
  1. Entitlements
  2. Interest on the debt
  3. Military Spending
  4. Miscellaneous Other
In about that order now.

2004 ... $21,671 per household
  • Social Security and Medicare: $7,165
  • Low-income programs: $3,479 (together these make up entitlements)
  • Defense: $4,240
  • Interest on the federal debt: $1,460

The federal government spent a bit less than $2.7 trillion in fiscal year 2006
  • Social Security: 21 percent of the budget
  • Medicare, Medicaid, and SCHIP: 19 percent of the budget
  • Safety Net program: 9%
  • Interest on the debt: 9%
  • Defense and security: 21 percent of the budget
  • Everything else: 21 %
The bottom line?

Mandatory spending accounts for two-thirds of federal spending and is authorized by permanent laws, not by the 13 annual appropriations bills. These include entitlements, such as Social Security, Medicare, veterans' benefits, and Food Stamps.

The military takes another 21%

67% + 21% = 88%.

Toss in interest on the debt, which has started to grow, and you are to 97% or more.

That leaves 3% for earmarks and other programs.

I should note, from a long background in simulations, if I were looking at national security and going to spend two or three trillion dollars, rather than a pre-emptive strike on Iraq, I would have:
  1. Spent a trillon dollars on geothermal energy. Would there have been a lot of waste? Surely, but after all the money was spent on research and pump priming projects, there would have been a lot of energy.
  2. Spent five hundred billion on bio diesel, especially plankton based bio diesel.
  3. Put the rest towards the national debt. Oh, since it would have all come from debt anyway, I would have gone into less debt to begin with.
The real problem is that tax money is not free, only relatively free. If the government sends me a thousand dollars, and spreads the cost around, it costs everyone else on a fraction of a cent each. But, to give everyone a thousand dollars, the government has to collect a thousand dollars from each person.

Some things, like the gas tax, which goes directly to building and maintaining highways, are pretty much pay as you go (and part of that fixed spending). Given how we are falling behind on roads, we really need to increase the gas tax. I still admire Senator Obama for opposing a gas tax holiday as a dangerous gimmick.

But how often do you look a traffic congestion or a pot hole and think: "they really need to raise gas prices and the gas tax!"? Until people do that, until they are ready to hear that, we are not ready for any real politics or any real solutions.

That is my two bits on politics.

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