Paul Krugman, raising an alarum, today talks about how we need an additional stimulus program. He says that because of yesterday’s lousy unemployment numbers (and the PBS News Hour helpfully did a report yesterday on how the numbers should be higher). Now, I happen to think that a long term recovery should be looked at in a long term manner. So maybe we need a few more signs that things aren’t picking up. But that said, what would be the harm in the government encouraging the economy “too much”? I mean, we would add to the debt (a bad thing), but if the economy emerges out of the recession with new infrastructure in green areas, such a smarter, more robust grid, more green power in the form of solar, wind and yes, (agreeing with, erg, Jack Kelly) gasified coal that pollutes much less, then we will be in position to grow without damaging the environment. And it’s worth noting that the sustainable energy sources (wind and solar) do not require continuous inputs such as coal, natural gas or oil to run. So in the long run they really are free, or as near as to make little difference. So the return to the economy may be even greater than traditional power plant infrastructure investment.
Now, I happen to think that Obama thinks, but has not said, that our health insurance system is a drag on our economy. Every other industrialized nation has a single payer, national health insurance system. So their doctors aren’t paid as much as ours, and they may not have the star doctors that we do. But their systems work better and cost less in the aggregate, healing more people enough. Sure, the ultra rich may come from all over the world for our doctors and best hospitals. But the price we pay for that is that the majority of doctors, working in managed care settings, see patients for just a few minutes, and give inadequate care. And that’s for people who work in companies that offer health insurance, for everyone else, private health insurance is expensive to obtain, and virtually out of reach if you might actually need it. Or if you do find a low cost alternative, the benefits are usually inadequate unless you manage to avoid using it very much.
So I suspect Obama views his health care plan as a partial stimulus. Or at least I do. If we transition to a single payer plan, we will lower the burden of health care costs on the economy. Sure there might be new taxes, but companies would no longer be paying private health insurance companies, nor we workers be paying them. There would be a certain balance (offset) there. And hospitals would stop charging every patient the additional money to cover those who can’t or won’t pay. Maybe under single payer we could get doctors, nurses and hospital visitors to wash their hands more, and bring down hospital infection rates.
But I don’t think that a portion of free energy or more efficient health care will be enough to stimulate the economy. Those factors will only bring us up to the level of, say, Sweden (we can’t even hope for the level of Denmark, the happiest place on earth). So again I wonder, what would be the danger of over-stimulating the economy? Denmark?