Saturday, January 3, 2009

My Predictions for 2009

Everyone goes into a new year with at least a modicum of hope for better things. So do I. And while I hope for better times ahead and believe that we will see our share of improvements, I think we should go into the new year ready to confront the battles that are certain, at least in my opinion, to plague us. Here, in no particular order, are my predictions for 2009:

Financial Crisis: The symptoms of the financial crisis may ease a bit early in the year, but the underlying cause and, therefore, the most dangerous aspects of the crisis will get worse. The fact that our government is deeply in debt and getting more deeply mired in the quicksand every day makes any "solution" so much wishful thinking. I predict that at least one of the big 3 automakers will fail, moving the meter past "crisis" to "emergency" and then on to "impending disaster." If Obama is as good as we hope he is, he'll be able to shoot straight with the public and let us know that massive sacrifices by all citizens are in order. 2009 will not be a good year for the economy, despite some early signs of recovery.

Fuel Prices: I predict that fuel prices will again make a sharp turn north, possibly hitting $4-$5-$6 per gallon or more by the third quarter. While I WISH the government would impose an emergency tax hike on gasoline right now, taking prices back to at least $4 per gallon, I doubt that will happen. My reason for wanting to see that is to see the tax revenue available for some desperately important investments, like mandatory public transportation infrastructure all over the country, alternative fuel, and worklife adjustments that would require businesses to allow employees to work from home when practical. What I want and what I get are different, though. I believe today's artificially low gas prices are where they are, in part, because OPEC and domestic exploration and refining companies became terrified that high prices could permanently alter demand. So, they changed public behavior by slashing prices. They know now, though, that the public will respond and so they will jack up prices again, but they will be more careful and will watch consumer behavior more carefully. Watch; by the third quarter, we'll be paying far more per gallon than we are today. Unfortunately, that increase will not be going into government coffers to fund needed research into alternative transportation.

Political Parties: The Democratic Party will demonstrate that, when given the opportunity, it will give the Republicans all the tools they need to club Democrats to death over things like sex scandals, skimming of funds, etc., etc., etc. Like the Republicans, Democrats will squander large majorities in Congress and even control of the White House by behaving the way politicians do: like drunken thieves in an unlocked liquor store. Neither party will behave in ways that will make any of us proud. Instead, they will give us yet more reasons to want to throw the lot of them out; unfortunately, the public apparently does not have the stomach for revolutionary change. By the end of 2009, Democrats will have lost significant clout; Republicans will have gained clout, but will not have figured out that powerplays are not the stuff of public appreciation. In a nutshell, nothing of any positive consequence will get done, and the country will suffer because of it. I predict that Democratic power will wane quickly and Republican power will rebound just as quickly in 2009.

Good Things: Despite all the gloom and doom in the paragraphs above, I believe we will see a huge outpouring of support if and when there is a major catastrophe of any kind, whether domestic or international, during the year. The people most likely to give, and give big, will be people who can least afford it, though. Many people who can most afford to give will give, as usual, but their gifts will too often be the obligatory "charity" rather than the hearfelt desire to help others. As these two cultures of social responsibility clash in their approach to giving, I predict there will be a growing movement to engage all people of even modest means to become part of a "giving society." The challenge will be to adjust both conservatives' and liberals' perspectives about who qualifies as "deserving" of help. The "giving society" will emerge from a consensus about the quid pro quo required of recipients of aid. I think the attitudes of conservatives and liberals toward charity are closer, fundamentally, than it might appear on the surface. I hope so.

3 comments:

Jarrett said...

Bravo.

As a public transit planner, may offer a subtle adjustment to your vision of "mandatory" transit investment "all over the country." One reason why transport investments are so wasteful is that it's often politically hard to focus these investments where they do the most good -- which in the case of transit is the dense parts of big cities. What's needed are appropriate investments for the transport needs of each kind of place. In big cities that means transit, but in rural areas it means roads.

Springer Kneeblood said...

Jarrett, thanks for your comments. I agree with your point about strategically placed transportation systems. By "all over," I meant all over the U.S. (in cities well-suited for public transportation. A first-class public transportation system in Waco, Texas would be wasteful, indeed...today. My inclination is to force city planners to respond to density and not to let them make it easy to create sprawl by building roads to chase the population. If I had it all to do over again, urban planning and transportation planning, in particular, would be very high on my list of professional pursuits. Thanks, again, for stopping by. I stop by your place from time to time...and I will try to make it more frequent.

KathyR said...

Yeah. I live in the world capital of urban sprawl and our public transit isn't worth a damn. But how could it be?

Agree that gas prices haven't yet been high enough.

Hope you're right about the giving thing.