The Semantics of the Crisis

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4 Responses

  1. A.J. Sutter says:

    By ‘semantics,’ I suppose you mean the style of the argument rather than the substance of it. But semantics actually refers to meaning — in which case perhaps more focus on semantics is needed. Apropos of that, this post is a bit of a rant, particularly against spending on infrastructure, without any concrete affirmative recommendation. What is your suggestion?

  2. Michelle Harner says:

    A.J.: Thank you for the comment. I actually did not intend for the post to be a rant; rather, I was just hoping to spark some dialogue and creative thinking about the issues. With respect to the term “semantics,” I was using it in the vein of phrasing and meaning. With respect to a solution, I really wish I had the answers. I don’t. But what I will say is that I think this recovery needs a different type of solution. In addition to spending on infrastructure, which I acknowledge can create jobs and enhance community value, I think we need to explore other alternatives. For example, we could try to create incentives for banks to lend directly to consumers and businesses on reasonable terms. (Banks have starting lending again, but primarily to hedge funds and private equity firms, which they believe are safer bets.) We also could do more to encourage outdated industries to modernize, but we would need the fortitude to let them close if they are not up to the task. We also could invest more in retraining people and working to bring new opportunities to their communities. Now, I recognize that it is much easier to propose ideas than it is to actually implement them. I would just like people to discuss the issues in real terms and not worry so much about labels and spin. Thanks again, Michelle.

  3. A.J. Sutter says:

    Thanks for your reply. It sounds as if your ideas for dealing with the surge of individual bankruptcies include (i) giving banks incentives, (ii) assisting companies, and (iii) retraining people instead of giving them jobs. On the other hand, infrastructure spending could act more directly, creating new orders for companies and new jobs for some people, especially in the less highly-skilled sectors; cf. the New Deal’s WPA. Maybe your objection to “more government spending” is itself a rhetorical trope (a/k/a ‘semantics’), and more ideological than practical?

  4. Michelle Harner says:

    A.J.: I understand your point on infrastructure spending and its role in the Great Depression; I do see the value it can add. But I think our economy is different than it was in the 1930s and, consequently, additional or different steps might be necessary. Also, with respect to infrastructure spending, my understanding is that much of the first stimulus has yet to be spent (it was not a front-loaded package), so why not allow those funds to work and focus on alternative strategies? I think unlocking capital; helping companies preserve and create jobs; and preparing our workforce for the future are reasonable and necessary steps in our recovery. Thanks for the dialogue, Michelle.