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Clinton Plan - Barokong

The WSJ asked me to review the Hillary Clinton economic plan, motivated by her August 11 speech introducing it.The Op-Ed is here.

I read a good deal of the "plan" on What I discovered is that there is so much plan that there really isn't any plan at all.

For example, follow me down to theFact sheet at the bottom of the website to figure out just what the "infrastructure" plan is about.  Some snippets:

Clinton will make smart, targeted, and coordinated investments to increase capacity, improve road quality, and reduce congestion
Clinton will prioritize and increase investments in public transit to connect Americans to jobs, spur economic growth, and improve quality of life in our communities. And she will encourage local governments to work with low-income communities to ensure that these investments are creating transit options that connect the unemployed and underemployed to the jobs they need. She will also support bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure
Clinton will make smart, coordinated investments that upgrade our aging rail tunnels and bridges, expand congested highway corridors, eliminate dangerous at-grade railway crossings, and build deeper port channels to accommodate the newest and largest cargo ships. Clinton will also focus on vital “intermodal” transfer points between trucks, rail, and ships—including the “last-mile connectors” between different modes, like the local roads that connect highways to ports. She is committed to initiating upgrades of at least the 25 most costly freight bottlenecks by the end of her first term. (bold italics in the original)
The Federal Aviation Administration is currently pursuing a “NextGen” upgrade program... But these efforts have fallen chronically behind schedule and well short of expectations. Clinton will get this crucial program back on track and ensure that it is managed effectively and with accountability.
Clinton will also invest in building world-class American airports...with reliable and efficient connections to mass transit. ...
committing that by 2020, 100 percent of households in America will have access to affordable broadband that delivers world-class speeds sufficient to meet families’ needs.
A wide-ranging system of advanced energy fueling stations for the 21st century fleet. A network of roadway sensors capable of alerting drivers to a dangerous icy patch a mile ahead.
Clinton will invest in creating a world-leading passenger rail system to meet rapidly growing demand and build a more mobile America.
...Clinton’s plan will modernize our pipeline system, increase rail safety, and enhance grid security. It will also build new infrastructure to power our economic future and capture America’s clean energy potential. ...
We need a bold agenda to revitalize our aging water infrastructure and make it more sustainable and energy efficient. Clinton will work to harness both public and private resources to support these efforts.
Modernizing our dams and levees ...our efforts to maintain these critical structures are haphazard and under-resourced ...We need to substantially increase funding to inspect these structures, bring them into good repair, and remove them where appropriate. ...
Clinton will support efforts to increase dams’ capacity to deliver affordable and reliable electricity while reducing carbon pollution.
And it goes on like this.

The positive view of all this is  that someone running the vast American bureacracy should have a detailed plan for what they want that bureuacracy to do.  Well, there is plenty of detail here, and it's a good bet that Donald Trump has never thought about traffic jams at intermodal transfer facilities.

So how can I say there is no "plan?"

The other job of an Administration is to set priorities, which means something has to come second. This is what Clinton will propose in her first 100 days, and what she will accomplish in 5 years, with $50 billion a year? You must be kidding. Turning Amtrak alone into a "world-leading passenger rail system" would swallow her $275 billion

There are no numbers here anywhere. The $275 billion is clearly just a made up number that sounds sortof big but not so big as to attract tax-and-spend criticism. Because that is the last number in the whole document. In my rough calculation, she blew $275 billion by the first paragraph. As a consequence,  analysts who calculate how many "jobs" the "Clinton plan" will create are just making it up too.

There is no timeline or process The President of the US is not a King or dictator who waves her hands and upgrades at intermodal transfer facilities just happen. The president appoints cabinet secretaries, who oversee a bureaucracy, which must, by law conducts proper cost benefit analysis, follow the Administrative Procedures Act,  submit plans for EPA review, and so on.

The job of an Administration is also to understand and figure out how to surmount the institutional barriers that have stopped all of these fine and very old ideas from happening before. If Governor Brown and President Obama have not been able to lay a foot of high-speed track in 8 years, how is she going to do so much better?

As I mentioned in the oped, it fails to ask, why are these things problems in the first place? Apparently, traffic jams where trucks unload trains happen when the President is not, herself, there to run things. It's an implicitly damning condemnation of her predecessor -- he was either not studious enough to do his homework to this detail, or insufficiently "committed to initiating upgrades""at  costly freight bottlenecks"

In my world, things go wrong when markets go wrong, or the structures of government fail. In this world, things happen only on the will and attention of the President, including traffic jams. The people in charge now are either idiots, Republicans blocking progress, or just insufficiently guided by the great leader on top.  One need do not analysis of why things are going wrong, just "fight" to fix them.

This "plan" implies a stinging rebuke of her predecessor, when you think about it. If all it takes is the force of Hllary's will to accomplish all this in 5 years for $275 billion, just why did he fail in 8 years with about $10 trillion? Maybe, just maybe, President Obama was trying darn hard, using the same methods, and came up short for a reason?

There is, literally, no plan. I looked hard through the website, and this "fact sheet" is the bottom level for infrastructure. Yet it keeps referring to what "the plan" will do, with no citations or links. That's all over the website. Thousands of pages talk about the plan, but no pages are, grammatically the plan itself.

Lost in detailsAnd this is just one fact sheet, 6 levels deep in the website.  You get here from (click on bold)


2) About / Act /Issues/ Shop / More / EspaƱol / Donate

3) All Issues /Economy and jobs / Education / Environment / Health / Justice and equality / National security

4) A fair tax system / Jobs and Wages /  Paid family and medical leave .../Fixing America's infrastructure / ... (17 boxes in all)

5) As president, Hillary will:

  • Repair and expand our roads and bridges....
  • Lower transportation costs and unlock economic opportunity by expanding public transit options. ...
  • Connect all Americans to the internet....
  • Invest in building world-class American airports and modernize our national airspace system. ..
  • Build energy infrastructure for the 21st century. ..
(Looking over all 17 tabs of the "Economy and Jobs" tab, I lost count at 139 such bullet points.)

And finally thisFact sheet.Transport is actually one of the best thought out of all the tabs.

The point, if each such fact sheet promises that Mrs. Clinton is "committed" to details as fine as solving intermodal freight bottlenecks (the bold italics really got to me), across all 17 tabs of economic policy x 7 tabs of policy areas, she and her administration will get nothing done.

In sum, I think the picture I painted is unavoidable. Clinton and her team are well meaning, but this document (the website) displays an unbelievable naivete about how American government works. Every possible "policy solution" to every perceived problem in America got thrown in, with no thought of where the problems came from, no acknowledgement that good people have been trying hard for years, and that American government has an important set of checks and balances and a policy process. No, she will wave her hand and all will be well.

Perhaps she and her team are wiser, and this is just a campaign document designed to please media analysts and voters. But if that is the case, it displays an unbelievable disdain for the intelligence of the media and voters she wishes to attract.

Red Tape

The thousands of pages of the website do address how Mrs. Clinton will succeed where President Obama failed: She will "break through washington gridlock" and get rid of "red tape." Period.

This had me guffawing. Really? That's all it takes? Too bad President Obama never had that idea! (He did, and had an office devoted to the project. With little success.)

Her speech made some progress on just how she will break through "gridlock":

What we need is serious, steady leadership that can find common ground and build on it based on hard but respectful bargaining.
Leadership that rises above personal attacks and name calling, not revels in it....
ogether, we'll make full use of the White House's power to convene. We'll get everyone at the table – not just Republicans and Democrats, but business and labor leaders...academics and experts... and, most importantly, all of you. I want working people to have a real say in your government again.
That means we have to get unaccountable money out of our politics, overturn Citizens United, and expand voting rights, not restrict them.
Starting even before the election, we will bring together leaders from across our economy and our communities for meetings on jobs, American competitiveness, and working families.

I omitted the, well, "personal attacks" on Donald Trump, so we can think about just how plausible this is once he's off the stage. And then it's just roll-your-eyes funny. The major proposal is... more Town Hall meetings and "listening" tours?  I would think, given current scandals, she'd be a little circumspect about "money in politics," and if you want to show your "listening" abilities, perhaps those who think Citizens United was a good idea might be a place to start.

If Mrs. Clinton wants to listen, and reach out to Republicans, she doesn't need to "convene" everyone at the table. And least of all, she doesn't need more policy-wonks stuffing her campaign website with every little idea that public policy schools and liberal think tanks dream up. Paul Ryan's "a better way" plan is right there on the internet. She should get a good glass of wine, sit down with that plan, pick 5 things she can live with, and go with them or see how to meet them half way.

This should be taken as constructive and nonpartisan criticism. Do not mistakenly imply anything about Mr. Trump in here.  Mrs. Clinton is daily more likely to be our next president. I hope dearly that she could make some progress in coming to compromise on some of the simple and obvious steps that our country needs to take, steps pretty much every bipartisan commission agrees on -- tax and immigration reform, yes, infrastructure, reform of much regulatory process, and so on. She doesn't have to agree on policy, but an approach much more like the famous Shultz memo to Reagan -- written in November! -- is much more likely to succeed.

Sadly, though, this seems like a road to four more years of gridlock.

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