Thursday, October 9, 2008

Planning Talk

"A national clean-energy policy would also be a salutary ideological reversal, for it would require us to resurrect the virtuous practice of economic planning."

Robert Kuttner,Obama's Challenge: America's Economic Crisis and the Power of a Transformative Presidency

This is one of those sentences that's hard to get your mind around. Ideology, resurrection, and virtue -- all related to economic planning? Frederick Hayek of The Road to Serfdom is certainly rolling over.

"...[E]very time government enacts a tax credit or contracts for a technology, it is a form of unacknowledged planning."

So now almost any type of government action is planning. Like the recent $700 bailout of the financial sector that hasn't quite worked yet. That's not what Kuttner really means. The reason I belabor this point is that Kuttner is quite savvy about how an Obama presidency could incrementally build a constituency for transformative federal policy change. The economic planning of the early Roosevelt administration, especially the NRA, probably isn't the "virtuous practice" we want to invoke.

On the other hand, Kuttner is absolutely right that a clean-energy policy could be the center of gravity for a bold use and focus of government resources -- including some of the traditional planning tools of goal-setting and defining a roadmap for getting there.

I've recently received two little books containing big plans for the economy: A Plan to Revive the American Economy, from the Agenda for Shared Prosperity (EPI); and Blueprint for American Prosperity: A Window of Opportunity, from the Brookings Institution's Metropolitan Policy Program.

Both documents resort to the blueprint word in their titles or section subtitles -- forgivable planning talk, I suppose. But the plans couldn't be more different, or maybe complementary. EPI's plan, like Kuttner's ideas, is about a renewed role for federal investment in the economy and for the benefit of working Americans. The Brooking's plan wants to "flip the pyramid" and empower metro areas to lead the way in many areas of domestic policy.

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