Monday, January 31, 2011

Will the Egypt riots spread to Cairo, Illinois?

Sharon writes at Casaubon's Book "It all comes back to food" about the riots in Egypt.

I think Dmitri (Club Orlov) called it, when he described the uprising in Egypt as people who had lost faith that their government could do something for them.

That hasn't happened in the US, yet, on any kind of grand scale.

But it could.

I recall the feeling back in 1992, when paperback book prices jumped a dollar. I forget, that might have been when they went to 5.99 or 6.99. I remember the anger of the moment, though all I did was make a pointed and blunt, moderately courteous comment to the B. Dalton store clerk.

I picked up a 2 lb package of Wal-Mart popcorn today. $1.44 isn't bad, and it works decently in my air popper. But I recall a few years back, that package was $0.77. Bread has gone from ninety-some cents to $1.20. Etc. And these are all mild price increases.

Forget worrying about clobbering farm ground with non-productive urban sprawl. Worry that we have designed our cities and workplaces to require the expenditure of cheap energy to get from shelter to work to shopping to recreation to school. You are right, probably the first impact of loss of cheap energy will be food supplies and other essentials - they don't make toilet paper here in Oklahoma, as far as I know, nor enough coffee or peanut butter for the whole state.

But dealing with local food security is probably minor, compared to the hidebound thinking of city planners, housing developers, and business planners. If energy prices rise significantly again, the first steps will be to conserve, share rides, etc. But there are limits to what can be done. Very few businesses participate in planning how much housing nearby is available for their work force, nor whether there is grocery shopping and entertainment nearby.

I don't like government programs for the same reason I don't like dictators. Any mistakes are too horrid to be believed. The cumbersomeness, inefficiency, and extended time it takes for Democracy to accomplish anything means there is a good chance that the best things never happen - but many of the worst things likewise end before starting. If every community addresses a given problem, such as food security, so many things might be tried that surely some approaches will help. When a community notices a mistake, they can be fairly agile in correcting the problem. Correcting a problem in a program at the national level, well, we mostly just have to live with the errors.

And, yes, Obama's stated policy of 'streamlining' regulation and rule making scares me, as it disconnects from much of the apparatus for stopping bad ideas from harming the nation. Recent actions by the EPA, FCC, and other agencies show this stated policy is and has been in force under President Obama.

If Orlov's premise is correct, that only belief that our government can provide assistance is keeping Americans from taking to the streets in protest, then the disregard of Obama and others in government for what is harmful and contrary to the will of the people is particularly scary; President Obama could be in the middle of the process of throwing away all the stability of 200 plus years under the US Constitution.

Ending the unsustainable extended jobless benefits without putting people back to work (you know, drop business taxes, eliminate burdensome business regulations that don't work, and disband intrusive government interventions), that would be a step in eroding confidence that the government could help us. Cutting Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid payments could embitter our elders, and those that have come to depend on government handouts; again, increasing the odds of disaffection for the government.

I expect we will see protests in the street, from those sympathetic to the Egyptian people, and probably also from those that identify with the class differences and lack of government service to those that need it - the poor. I don't think government payments are the best help, or even useful. But the government can assure that the poor have access to jobs, shelter, and that businesses of the poor are able to compete with businesses run from more affluent neighborhoods.

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