It's always nice to meet with neighbors over a barbecue and listen to them express their opinions on how we can solve some of our country's biggest problems. They aren't economists and since most of them work for other people they aren't confined by managerial mistakes.
What's interesting is that they can quickly seize upon solutions that make sense to them without getting bogged down in the details of how to execute them.
The first issue we tackled was a domestic one: how to create jobs while providing basic necessities to those in need. The group concluded that as a society we'll have to suffer the short-term discomfort of unemployment until many businesses can get back on their feet financially and begin hiring again.
Not everyone felt that jobs would be created quickly enough, however, so the group decided that a job corps would be worthwhile. Stipulations included a limit on length of participation. In addition, they felt that it should be administered at the local level whenever possible. Further funding of these local initiatives would be provided only for programs that could demonstrate success.
In other words, if you want development funds from some larger pool such as the federal government, you must earn them. The rationale offered was that the success of the local effort would provide managerial skills and employee initiative that would translate into returns on future investment. The group also felt that limiting the amount and duration of the funding would help ensure that the money would be used to create jobs.
I found this solution to job creation attractive since it allows for limited outside support and local assignment of priorities that could realistically be sustained. But lo and behold, I discovered we already have a number of these programs in place — all with various disguises, legal requirements and mentoring based on who you know. Unfortunately, politicians often have a way of taking a good idea and turning it to something that's mediocre, at best.
Aware that government coffers aren't limitless, people felt they couldn't be as generous as they'd like in addressing unemployment because there's another important issue that needs federal funding — the war on terrorism.
A foreign affairs issue elicited a similar response from the group. The consensus was to give Afghanistan all the equipment and technical assistance it needs to build dams, schools and hospitals — but nothing else.
Let the schools train agrarians to use the water from the dams to feed the population. In addition, train equipment operators, food processing personnel, and general trades, such as plumbers, carpenters, electricians, and medical support staffs. Do not provide funds for developing public institutions, let them evolve on their own.
The key element in both backyard proposals is to provide the tools to develop local resources without overstaying the federal government's welcome or establishing a system that doesn't work in the local environment.
Realistically, however, we all know that “give and take” among politicians prevents things from happening this way. Ironically, whether or not such programs actually get off the ground is under the control of the politicians.
The solutions seem so simple to this group of concerned citizens. But we don't really expect any progress, since we've solved other great problems — at least to our backyard satisfaction — with no evidence that the rest of the world has caught on.