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Author Topic: How to stop America from turning into a third world kleptocracy
Jack Squat
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quote:
Originally posted by Seriati:
quote:
Originally posted by Pete at Home:
If we spend more money on it, it must be for more infrastructure? No money can be spent to improve the quality of infrastructure? As in, bridges that don't collapse and kill people?

Major bridge collapses are not terribly common, and I suspect will occur no matter how much is spent. But I can't believe that all the differences in cost are quality improvements.

Look at the Tappan Zee Bridge for example. Originally started in 1952, built for $81M. In today's dollar's that's about $580M. It's in need of replacement after 60 years of near constant incredibly heavy traffic. "Expected" cost to replace $5-6 B dollars. That's 10 times the original cost after adjusting for inflation. Most estimate that it will not come in on budget, with a final cost closer to the $12-15 B range. Are we getting a bridge that is really 30 times better than the old one? Or are we paying for something else?

And that's a friendly estimate, Boston's Big Dig was originally estimated to cost around $2.5 B, with some estimates now that it ended up at closer to $25 B with debt service thrown in. Is it even possible that a bridge that worked for 60 years with some of the heaviest traffic flow in the country can be replaced with a bridge that is literally 100 times better? Will it be made out of Adamantite? Last forever? What percentage of major bridges actually fail, will it have a 100 times lower chance - ie go from what? one in a thousand? ten thousand? to one in a million?

I'm sure some of this is about quality, though you'd be hard pressed to convince me that modern construction is built to the same quality standards that were used in the past, there is definite improvement in material used. But these projects have way too much graft, payola and political favors built in.

That's why I advocate a federal top down WPA-style infrastructure project. Cameras rolling. Anyone local tries to make it a graft project, then make them the target of an public expose job.
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scifibum
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I am also worried about corruption in such projects, but I believe we should do them. We might save money by allocating 20% of the budget to oversight measures intended to prevent and punish abuses.
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TomDavidson
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quote:
One might think that modern technology would let you build a safer bridge for the same price
I think you'll find that most civil engineers will tell you that "modern technology" of the concrete and rebar sort does not scale economically in the same way that information technology does. Technology makes some things cheaper, but not all -- and it makes other things more expensive. Nowadays, just shutting down a bridge for three months -- just as an example -- is a lot more expensive than it was in 1950, even adjusted for inflation.
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Pyrtolin
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quote:
I'm sure some of this is about quality, though you'd be hard pressed to convince me that modern construction is built to the same quality standards that were used in the past, there is definite improvement in material used.
Of course they're not built to the same standards- standards and usage levels have increased far beyond what was conceivable 50 years ago. Odds are the new bridges are being targeted to last closer to 100 years than 50, and to handle an exponential increase in traffic over what the original had been built for.

And while this might be overbuilding, the real material use of under-building and being forced to rebuild again on a shorter timeframe would be much higher overall, and it's the real resource availability usage that actually matters at the national level, with the nominal cost just serving to help quantify the level of economic input the job is providing.

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Jack Squat
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quote:
Originally posted by TomDavidson:
quote:
One might think that modern technology would let you build a safer bridge for the same price
I think you'll find that most civil engineers will tell you that "modern technology" of the concrete and rebar sort does not scale economically in the same way that information technology does. Technology makes some things cheaper, but not all -- and it makes other things more expensive. Nowadays, just shutting down a bridge for three months -- just as an example -- is a lot more expensive than it was in 1950, even adjusted for inflation.
Curious what he thinks is less expensive these days. Wood? Concrete? Steel? Labor?
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msquared
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Jack, I think he was saying that tech makes certain things, like computers or TV's etc, cheaper over time, while tech makes other things, like how you build a bridge, more expensive. It might cost the same today to make a bridge, for example, to the same standards as 1950, but technology has raised the standards of what people expect from their bridges. Also, the demands on the bridges may be 3-4 times what was demanded 50 years ago.

msquared

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Jack Squat
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quote:
Originally posted by msquared:
Jack, I think he was saying that tech makes certain things, like computers or TV's etc, cheaper over time, while tech makes other things, like how you build a bridge, more expensive. It might cost the same today to make a bridge, for example, to the same standards as 1950, but technology has raised the standards of what people expect from their bridges. Also, the demands on the bridges may be 3-4 times what was demanded 50 years ago.

msquared

By him I meant Serati. I was adressing TomD, who I agree with. Your restatement of facts is even better. Thank you.
Thanks.

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Seriati
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quote:
Originally posted by TomDavidson:
quote:
One might think that modern technology would let you build a safer bridge for the same price
I think you'll find that most civil engineers will tell you that "modern technology" of the concrete and rebar sort does not scale economically in the same way that information technology does.
I'm sure it varies material to material with some being far more expensive. Can your friend answer a question about whether the proportion of materials costs versus labor costs has increased or decreased over time. Other materials though are cheaper to manufacture today than they were. Even still this is a facts based question, if the materials portion of these budets has vastly increased, you'd have a good argument, if however the ratio has not dramatically changed in favor of the materials your argument falters.

Most of the budgets I find refuse to spearately disclose materials costs and labor costs. It is evident that incidental costs are far greater than they used to be.

Pyrtolin, I'm not disputing that the new bridges are built safer, and for more capacity (though often only marginally more), and intended to last longer. I'm disputing that we're getting good value with improvements in most cases can be measure in small percentages, versus cost increases that are over a thousand percent.

My preference would be to maximize our ability to replace lots of infrasctruture reasonably, rather than a few pieces perfectly.

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Pyrtolin
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quote:
My preference would be to maximize our ability to replace lots of infrasctruture reasonably, rather than a few pieces perfectly.
Are you suggesting that we cannot produce enough steel or concrete to replace them all perfectly? That we don't have enough workers to do so? We don't have enough architects and engineers to properly design them? On what _real_ basis are you asserting that we can't do the job right and have to ration our efforts by imposing fiscal limitations to prevent making such investments?
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Pyrtolin
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Also, the demand on the bridges tends to be exponentially higher- handling thousands if not tens of thousands of trucks and cars when they were designed to handle hundreds as we increased not just population and individual vehicle ownership, but switched from a local, urban culture to a suburban/commuter culture.
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LetterRip
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Interesting sheet for estimating bridge creation pricing.

http://www.dot.ca.gov/hq/esc/estimates/COMP_BR_COSTS_2011-eng.pdf

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TomDavidson
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quote:
Can your friend answer a question about whether the proportion of materials costs versus labor costs has increased or decreased over time.
His first question was: compared to which time? Apparently a huge number of bridges were built under the WPA, which historically distorts the labor cost of those bridges. Would it be okay to start from the '50s?
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Seriati
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quote:
Originally posted by TomDavidson:
quote:
Can your friend answer a question about whether the proportion of materials costs versus labor costs has increased or decreased over time.
His first question was: compared to which time? Apparently a huge number of bridges were built under the WPA, which historically distorts the labor cost of those bridges. Would it be okay to start from the '50s?
That's a really fair question, as much as I'm inclined to believe that labor costs are distorted upwards these days, he'd be absolutely correct the would have been distorted down in those days.

Maybe instead of a "gotcha" question, he'd be willing to just give us his thoughts on it?
quote:
Originally posted by Prytolin:
Are you suggesting that we cannot produce enough steel or concrete to replace them all perfectly?

Yes. I'm suggesting that we can not produce enough steel and concrete and replace them all perfectly without diverting far more of our resources to these projects than would be truly efficient. I'm also specifically disputing that if we go with perfect replacements that we'll do an adequate number of them to keep the infrastructure up to date.
quote:
That we don't have enough workers to do so?
Presumably you need more workers to do more bridges do you not? Is this just part of a rote response?
quote:
We don't have enough architects and engineers to properly design them?
Again more bridges would need more of these right?
quote:
On what _real_ basis are you asserting that we can't do the job right and have to ration our efforts by imposing fiscal limitations to prevent making such investments?
On the basis that we don't live in magic fairy land where anyone agrees you can spend unlimited funds on everything and still have a meaningfull economic system - you know one that uses money to allocate resources.

So far you think we should buy everyone new top of the line bridges, pay every teacher what ever they seem to want (I assume the other unions as well) and give anyone who doesn't have a job enough that they aren't forced to take a job that they wouldn't want simply to survive. That's just a Star Trek economy in a pretty theory wrapper.

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LetterRip
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Seriati,

the new bridge is planned for double the lifetime, that requires at least double the cost, probably triple the cost.

I expect that it would also be engineered for double the capacity. So that is a 6 fold increase right there.

Next, as stated WPA had labor costs that were well below historical rates, so double the labor costs. Assume labor is say 30% initially, and double the labor cost percentage makes it (30+30)/130 versus 30/100 -> so a 15% in labor share of costs.

Environmental and safety requirements probably have at least a 30% increase in costs.

Additional testing costs probably another 10%.

So, 3 * 2 * 1.15 * 1.3 * 1.1 = 9.87

which is most of your 10 fold price increase.

Toss in insurance and liability increases and I'm thinking we are well over the 10 fold mark.

[ June 03, 2014, 02:38 PM: Message edited by: LetterRip ]

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Pyrtolin
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quote:
Originally posted by Seriati:
quote:
Originally posted by Prytolin:
Are you suggesting that we cannot produce enough steel or concrete to replace them all perfectly?

Yes. I'm suggesting that we can not produce enough steel and concrete and replace them all perfectly without diverting far more of our resources to these projects than would be truly efficient.

On what basis. The morning news today pointed out another two steel mills in the US closing, effectively because we aren't using steel at a rate high enough to absorb their output. How is letting them closed and letting even more people become unemployed more efficient than keeping them operating at capacity and hopefully pushing them to absorb at least some of our current resource slack?


quote:
quote:
That we don't have enough workers to do so?
Presumably you need more workers to do more bridges do you not? Is this just part of a rote response?
quote:
We don't have enough architects and engineers to properly design them?
Again more bridges would need more of these right?
Indeed you do need more, and that's the point. Rightnow we have plenty more, sitting around unemployed because we're not putting forth the investment needed to put them to work. How is them being unemployed, even if we didn't offer a baseline level of benefits to prevent that from effectively being a fatal condition as it was in the past, more efficient than pushing through enough projects to keep them working until the private sector finds something for them to do?

quote:
quote:
On what _real_ basis are you asserting that we can't do the job right and have to ration our efforts by imposing fiscal limitations to prevent making such investments?
On the basis that we don't live in magic fairy land where anyone agrees you can spend unlimited funds on everything and still have a meaningfull economic system - you know one that uses money to allocate resources.
So you have no actual real bais- just vague assertions and ideology that says we should let factories close and leave large numbers of people unemployed because we have to enforce artificial scarcity on ourselves in the name of "efficiency"?
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Seriati
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quote:
Originally posted by LetterRip:
the new bridge is planned for double the lifetime, that requires at least double the cost, probably triple the cost.

Anything more than double the cost is non-efficient, as it would be better to build a second bridge. Also it's doubtfull that it's a straight line consideration.
quote:
I expect that it would also be engineered for double the capacity. So that is a 6 fold increase right there.
The example I gave was 8 lanes versus seven (or about 15% increased capacity - though it's less because lane 4 could go either way based on traffic - and probably more because of design improvements). With a maximum on the first consideration fo 2X, you're up to 2.3 fold increase.
quote:
Next, as stated WPA had labor costs that were well below historical rates, so double the labor costs. Assume labor is say 30% initially, and double the labor cost percentage makes it (30+30)/130 versus 30/100 -> so a 15% in labor share of costs.
I'm not accepting any assumptions on labor cost. That's why I asked for clarity from Tom.
quote:
Environmental and safety requirements probably have at least a 30% increase in costs.
Much of which is actually already reflected in your labor costs. To the extent it's materials, again we need actaul data.
quote:
Additional testing costs probably another 10%.

So, 3 * 2 * 1.15 * 1.3 * 1.1 = 9.87

which is most of your 10 fold price increase.

The 10 fold increase was inflation adjusted. And if you start with 2.3 instead of your erroneous 6, you only get 3.78 even using every one of the rest of your assumptions.

Now if the process comes in at 100times the original cost? Is it remotely worth it? Even at 10 times - inflation adjusted - it's questionable.
[qutoe]Toss in insurance and liability increases and I'm thinking we are well over the 10 fold mark. [/QUOTE]I'm not incapable of math. I'm asserting that this build up reflects waste and unnecessary levels of protection.

It would be interesting to know what the cost of rebuilding the exact same bridge without any modifications would be for comparison.

[ June 03, 2014, 03:37 PM: Message edited by: Seriati ]

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scifibum
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I imagine there's a lot of complexity and cost added to the project if they are trying to maintain traffic flow over the bridge during the project, even if at a reduced rate. Replacing a bridge is always going to be a lot more expensive than building the first one, if you are trying to allow the bridge traffic to keep going over it during the project.
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Seriati
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quote:
Originally posted by Pyrtolin:
On what basis. The morning news today pointed out another two steel mills in the US closing, effectively because we aren't using steel at a rate high enough to absorb their output. How is letting them closed and letting even more people become unemployed more efficient than keeping them operating at capacity and hopefully pushing them to absorb at least some of our current resource slack?

They didn't close because we can't use their steel. They closed because it's inefficient to produce steel in this country.

Propping up inefficient businesses is again the opposite of efficiency. There may be social policy reasons to do it, but your arguments seem to disdain that rationale.
quote:
Indeed you do need more, and that's the point. Rightnow we have plenty more, sitting around unemployed because we're not putting forth the investment needed to put them to work.
We have a glut of bridge engineers sitting around without work? Is that really your argument? And that given a choice between producing lots of good bridge bridges versus a few high quality ones we will employ more engineers (and workers) by building less bridges?
quote:
How is them being unemployed, even if we didn't offer a baseline level of benefits to prevent that from effectively being a fatal condition as it was in the past, more efficient than pushing through enough projects to keep them working until the private sector finds something for them to do?
Who said it was. But the real choice is between them finding usefull employment elsewhere, preferrably in the private sector and us artificially diverting all resources into over built bridges. Central planning arguments like you're making are always premised on some piece of fundemntal non-sense, here its that the choice is between something and nothing, rather than something and something better.
quote:
quote:
quote:
On what _real_ basis are you asserting that we can't do the job right and have to ration our efforts by imposing fiscal limitations to prevent making such investments?
On the basis that we don't live in magic fairy land where anyone agrees you can spend unlimited funds on everything and still have a meaningfull economic system - you know one that uses money to allocate resources.
So you have no actual real bais- just vague assertions and ideology that says we should let factories close and leave large numbers of people unemployed because we have to enforce artificial scarcity on ourselves in the name of "efficiency"?
Yes its so absolutely vague to acknowledge that every single government on earth produces a budget and rationally connects their spending to that budget, and absolutely not a "real basis" to acknowledge that not a single one has adopted the idea that it can spend unlimited amounts on every project that crosses its desk.
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LetterRip
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Perhaps the biggest difference is that the cost you are quoting probably includes all debt servicing for the new bridge, whereas none of the debt servicing is included in the price for the old bridge.

Also the old bridge probably has had a huge number of upgrades over its lifetime (retrofitting to handle earthquakes, etc.) that probably cost a substantial percentage of the bridges cost, that will be in the upfront cost of the new bridge.

Ie this retrofit in 1991,

http://www.championfiberglass.com/index.php?id=35

[ June 03, 2014, 04:21 PM: Message edited by: LetterRip ]

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Jack Squat
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Are you adjusting for humanitarian considerations? In 1910, you just expected a certain number of workers to die building the bridge. Today, that's a more expensive proposition.
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Pyrtolin
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quote:
They didn't close because we can't use their steel. They closed because it's inefficient to produce steel in this country.
Not even remotely. That's not even a good random ideological stab at the problem; all it does is show that you're speaking off the cuff instead of actually having any familiarity with real issues.

Regardless- they closed not because of efficiency, but because demand isn't high enough to keep prices at an operationally useful level when faced with subsidized foreign competition and dumping tactics. If demand was at a higher level, those wouldn't be an issue and the factories would still be open. Now, instead, we have idle factories and idle workers, neither of which can be absorbed by our already over-crowded market, effectively representing infinite inefficiency, because the time that they're idle can't be stored and used at a later date; it's a 100% loss.

quote:
We have a glut of bridge engineers sitting around without work? Is that really your argument? And that given a choice between producing lots of good bridge bridges versus a few high quality ones we will employ more engineers (and workers) by building less bridges?
We have high unemployment levels in almost all fields and more graduates every year pouring into a slack market that can't find appropriate work, that includes civil engineers that could be designing bridges but are instead fighting over McDonald's jobs.

quote:
Who said it was. But the real choice is between them finding usefull employment elsewhere, preferrably in the private sector and us artificially diverting all resources into over built bridges. Central planning arguments like you're making are always premised on some piece of fundemntal non-sense, here its that the choice is between something and nothing, rather than something and something better.
If the private sector had jobs for them, they wouldn't be unemployed. A fundamental part of the problem is that there isn't enough private sector work to go around- in fact the private sector is exceptionally inefficient when it comes to providing employment in quantities on scale with out overall needs. The need for public employment arises specifically because the private sector has already failed to produce enough work, and it won't produce enough work until they're employed and spending enough money to create alternative jobs to move into.

quote:
Yes its so absolutely vague to acknowledge that every single government on earth produces a budget and rationally connects their spending to that budget, and absolutely not a "real basis" to acknowledge that not a single one has adopted the idea that it can spend unlimited amounts on every project that crosses its desk.
And it's also true that no one has advocated for that position, so trying to misdirect along that line is not productive.

The Federal budget should be shaped by the amount of spending it would take to fully utilize all no-recoverable resources (such as labor) that the private sector is leaving slack, not based on effectively inventing an arbitrary number and then declaring, post hoc, that it's good that any people left unemployed or other similar form of waste are justified because it's not "efficient" to provide them with a slice of public work that needs to be done.

Your disingenuous claims of "unlimited" are still disingenuous. The assertion is that the amount that we spend should be based on the need to take up inefficient slack and keep the economy from naturally collapsing under its own weight, as it would do without public support.

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Seriati
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quote:
Originally posted by Pyrtolin:
[QB]
quote:
They didn't close because we can't use their steel. They closed because it's inefficient to produce steel in this country.
Not even remotely. That's not even a good random ideological stab at the problem; all it does is show that you're speaking off the cuff instead of actually having any familiarity with real issues.
It's off the cuff, yet you immediately talk about how they can't compete against cheep foreign steel:
quote:
Regardless- they closed not because of efficiency, but because demand isn't high enough to keep prices at an operationally useful level when faced with subsidized foreign competition and dumping tactics.
I get you think it's because of unfair competetion, but even without subsidization, they'd out compete on cost, because their wages are dramatically lower and the nonsense application of environmental regs imposes burdens on developed economies but largely exempts high polluting developing ones.
quote:
If demand was at a higher level, those wouldn't be an issue and the factories would still be open.
You'd just see more foreign steel purchased.
quote:
quote:
We have a glut of bridge engineers sitting around without work? Is that really your argument? And that given a choice between producing lots of good bridge bridges versus a few high quality ones we will employ more engineers (and workers) by building less bridges?
We have high unemployment levels in almost all fields and more graduates every year pouring into a slack market that can't find appropriate work, that includes civil engineers that could be designing bridges but are instead fighting over McDonald's jobs.
Which is nonresponsive. Which makes more jobs, more bridges or less bridges?
quote:
If the private sector had jobs for them, they wouldn't be unemployed.
They would if they didn't have an incentive to take the jobs available. Since that's what you like to advocate, this one is more at your feet than mine.
quote:
A fundamental part of the problem is that there isn't enough private sector work to go around- in fact the private sector is exceptionally inefficient when it comes to providing employment in quantities on scale with out overall needs.
A problem that has been overwhelming increased by easy money policies that you favor that make it plausible to survive without working, and make rent seeking a viable alternative to productive work.
quote:
The need for public employment arises specifically because the private sector has already failed to produce enough work, and it won't produce enough work until they're employed and spending enough money to create alternative jobs to move into.
Nothing about your policies, normally results in more work, only in more efficient payments to the wealthy and overallocation of resources to the consumer goods that do this. Here at least you're arguing in favor of creating some jobs, though you're arguing it's better to have less jobs than more.
quote:
quote:
Yes its so absolutely vague to acknowledge that every single government on earth produces a budget and rationally connects their spending to that budget, and absolutely not a "real basis" to acknowledge that not a single one has adopted the idea that it can spend unlimited amounts on every project that crosses its desk.
And it's also true that no one has advocated for that position, so trying to misdirect along that line is not productive.
Whatever, it's all you ever talk about.
quote:
The Federal budget should be shaped by the amount of spending it would take to fully utilize all no-recoverable resources (such as labor) that the private sector is leaving slack, not based on effectively inventing an arbitrary number and then declaring, post hoc, that it's good that any people left unemployed or other similar form of waste are justified because it's not "efficient" to provide them with a slice of public work that needs to be done.
That's a giant compound sentence that does nothing but create a false equivalence to an even faultier premise.

What you suggest, creating money to spend at the federal level to fill every spending desire would fundementally undermine the existence of an economy, make money's essitence worthless. Effectively you'd convert dollars from currency to nothing but company scrip. They'd have next to no meaning for individual transcations and people would stop holding them for investment and stop using if for debts private. But this would all be a great idea in your head.

It is not the responsibility of the issuer of currency to ensure employment by anyone.
quote:
Your disingenuous claims of "unlimited" are still disingenuous.
I haven't said anything disingenous, I just don't agree that your essentially religious arguments have validity.
quote:
The assertion is that the amount that we spend should be based on the need to take up inefficient slack and keep the economy from naturally collapsing under its own weight, as it would do without public support.
Which is a religious conviction of yours not a fact.
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