Nation Building at Home: Adding Up the Numbers

Friday, June 24, 2011

President Obama is selling his plan to pull troops out of Afghanistan by describing it as an opportunity to refocus on the domestic health of America. His term, "nation building at home" recalls the great American eras like the industrial and gilded ages. They eventually led to new railroads and highways, the infrastructure that powered us into the boom time of the 1950s.


But with our national debt looming, are we up for a new age of expansion and innovation, even if we end up saving money from a troop withdrawal out of Afghanistan?

Todd Buchholz, former White House economist and author of "Rush: Why You Need and Love the Rat Race" adds up the numbers for us.


Todd Buchholz

Produced by:

Jen Poyant

Comments [18]

SpecKK from Salt Lake City

That's weird. Obama stole one of Ron Paul's major campaign phrases. What else will he grab from those competing for his job?
Granted Paul wants Americans to spend their own money rather than having elected politicians handing out contracts to the folks who funded their campaigns.

Jan. 26 2012 02:05 AM
a Nonymous from somewhere

My suggestion would be to offer a national debt transfer for individuals with student loans and terminal degrees. Allowing an individual with a terminal degree to swap the amount of debt that they have in student loans (often over $100,000) and to put it toward securing a home mortgage would help to secure housing markets and incentivize completing one's education. Student debt saddles this group of educated Americans and is sometimes the only obstacle that individuals face in their efforts to own a home. It's possible, that statutorily, Congress could authorize this transition in order to stabilize today's currently plummeting housing market.

Jun. 28 2011 08:15 AM
Leslie Bravo from Bel Air, Maryland

Pay down the debt. As many people have learned in the mortgage debt crisis, it is not good for anyone to have a high debt ceiling. Only when we put our nation in good economic order can we begin to make smart choices about how to spend our money.
And to think Obama is asking them to raise the debt ceiling yet again. He is going to single-handedly destroy our United States.

Jun. 27 2011 03:22 PM
Stan Green from West Long Branch, NJ

No more electricity or heating bills!

Ten billion dollars will solarize 200,000 homes that cover all electricity costs, including heating, thereby saving each homeowner a minimum of $5000 per year. Here is the simple math:

$100,000 pays for a solar panel system that produces 15 kw's - enough for a 2500 square foot home's electricity and heat. (Different multiples can be applied: We installed a 10kw system for our 2000 sq foot house)

Multiply by 200,000 homes and consumers save $5billion dollars and produce 3 million kw's.
Do this for a year and 1.2 homes save 60 billion dollars and produce 36 million kw's. This stabilitzes the grid and markedly decreases the number of coal, oil and nuclear electricity plants

And think of the jobs this creates in building and installing the solar panels.

The technology is simple, the political will to take the power from the power companies and their lobbyists and distribute it to the people is all that is missing.

As Ralph Nader has said: "Exxon (fill-in any power company) will support solar energy when it can find a way to own a piece of the sun."

Jun. 25 2011 10:34 AM

"Nation building at home"
Stop wasting money abroad to build democracy and start wasting money domestically to undermine democracy.

Jun. 25 2011 09:15 AM
giovanna from miami

you want nation building in the US? address poverty, poverty, poverty.

Jun. 25 2011 01:38 AM
thomas smith from New York

Nation Building, America 1st, digest Satellite Image Forecast as the
new 21st century energy recovery systems paradigm for oil recovery,
in particular @ $25-$35 brl profits included, slams the door on Big
Oil's pricing structure, SIF curtails deep-water drilling catastrophe’s
@ astronomical cost, eliminates Fracking, drastically reduces or
eliminates foreign oil imports, establishes energy security reservoir
databases via "Tapped & Capped Instant Oil" 90 days re-activation of
exhausted oil wells production @ volume levels exceeding oil wells
original maximum production capacity output, plus harvesting SIF'S
abundant new oil reserves supplies detected in NV/CO regions
preliminary analysis provides sustainable oil production levels into
distant future, re-affirms America's Financial Leadership position,
and restores "The American Dream" of Prosperity.

Jun. 24 2011 05:20 PM
Mandatory PUBLIC DOMAIN videos by grant recipients from a way to improve research and teaching

Details (ctd from prev post)

Corresponding slide presentations (using Powerpoint or its open source equivalent) would also be made available.

The videos could be made using university or lab facilities, or alternatively,
researchers could use local facilities provided by the department of education or at libraries in their cities.

***Teachers and lecturers could cut and paste freely from these videos to supplement their lectures to their students. ****

Any member of the general public could use these videos to learn more about an area, or to cut and paste into new works.

The added expense in time, money and effort is minimal to the researchers, since they typically prepare similar presentations anyway for conferences, for their undergraduate and graduate lectures and for investor briefings.

This would overtime become a wonderful public domain tool for educators
everywhere, and would give remote researchers (as well as those at major institutions) access to the latest ideas of researchers everywhere, explained in their own words.

Jun. 24 2011 03:29 PM
Mandatory online videos by all grant recipients from Rebuilding the American Dream.

IDEA : Mandatory Online video presentations by all public research Grant recipients and applicants - a free educational resource and research tool .


To expand access to the most recent research for students, researchers, teachers and the broader public for minimal additional cost.

Concept Summary :

1) Require all grant applications to include video presentations by their researchers.

2) Require all grant recipients to produce video presentations of their results.

3) These videos would become public domain and be available for free online
as an educational tool. This would allow students, teachers, researchers
and the general public to see the most recent research (and eventually
important past research ) explained and discussed directly by it's researchers.

***4) In a sense, this also creates a virtually free conference presentation readily available to all from any publicly funded research project.

Details :

It is inexpensive to make videos using current technology.

It is inexpensive to upload those videos to a government site (analogous to PUBMED).

Grant applicants typically understand their areas of research with exceptional depth and are often interested in explaining its *context* (eg. a literature review) and relevance to others.

Grant recipients are often highly interested in freely providing their research results to others, and in explaining the importance, implications and significance of their findings.

**(Unfortunately, they may be constrained in doing so by agreements with other entities - businesses, research labs, universities, or publishers.). **

A 30 second, 5 minute, 15 minute and 40 minute presentation could be made
for each grant.

A version of each of these presentations could be made to target an audience of
researchers and graduate students, an audience of college undergraduates, and an audience of the general public.

Jun. 24 2011 03:26 PM
Tuition Free University for All U.S. Citizens-pt 2 from approx $20 Billion - Rebuilding the American Dream.

(Continued from previous post)

What would NOT be covered :

1) Labs - these could be taken in concentrated fashion at local or regional facilities - like community colleges for little money. Much (but probably not all) of these areas could be learned using online simulator programs for BASIC lab work.
Students would come to any physical lab
intensive classes having already designed,
performed and written up the lab on the simulator, and being fully skilled with all relevant lab concepts having passed an online simulator lab course first.

2) Intimate discussion seminars for credit.

People could be encouraged to view the courses in groups locally (ex : at libraries or community centers) and discuss them
afterwards. They could also have facilitators (paid or unpaid) for these discussions. Video FAQs would help.

One could have a response facility (via email, etc) for each course with TAs responding to ongoing questions, and adding the better ones to video FAQs online.

(By adding videos from researchers who receive public grants, most major research could also be immediately viewable.

The U.S. should also require all grant applicants and recipients to make brief public domain videos describing their research area and its relevance).

3) On the job training - would be separate, but could be required for clinical training in some fields.

Credentialing IS ESSENTIAL :

Allow people to earn associate, bachelor and masters degrees from this online national university - when they pass suitable numbers of courses in their areas. Give them a transcript as well.
This is essential to practical viability. University IS about education and the pure joys of knowledge, but it is also about employability and a potential career.

For under $20 billion dollars (or 2 months
in Afghanistan) the U.S. could fund a FREE rigorous online university education
for all its citizens taught by the best professors and fully up to date. This
free national online university would
award degrees when appropriate and
would help restore the American dream
that everyone with the ABILITY and DESIRE to have a university education can have one without concern for cost.
It would also make the U.S. more competitive internationally.

Jun. 24 2011 03:09 PM
A Tuition Free University for All U.S. Citizens from approx $20 Billion - Rebuilding the American Dream.

Proposal : A Tuition Free University for All U.S. Citizens

How much would it cost to fund an online University in perpetuity that provided lectures in all major subjects - tuition free for all - taught by the nation's best University professors - that tested students rigorously and awarded degrees ?

(< $20 billion - which is substantially less than the Stafford loans for ONE year - and may be less than defaults on student loans for a few years)

This cost is equal to about 2 months of support for the current regime in Afghanistan.

Concept + Estimate :

National University Teaching awards - 200 courses per year.

Applicants would submit video of themselves teaching an entire course with students in the audience, video FAQs
with responses, a syllabus, teaching materials, etc.

Top courses in each area would receive a major prize.

Runners up would also receive a major prize.


If top prizes were ONE MILLION DOLLARS per course - this would become like a Nobel prize for teaching.

100,000 for the 5 runners up would also be a major prize.

Result :

For $300 million per year, you would have 1200 top quality Entire University Courses for the public domain.

Add $100 million per year to provide extended library, Community center and other facilities and hours to make it easier for everyone to view them.

Add $100 million per year to create and maintain national exam and
credentialing facilities for each course.

This could be comparable with
or could piggy-back on existing national exam facilities for the Medical Boards (USMLEs), State Bar exams, other licensing and credentialing exams. It would allow for rigorous testing
and practically useful credentialling.

Annual cost estimate : $500 million
Perpetuity estimate : $12.5 billion (at 4 % perpetual interest).

Jun. 24 2011 03:08 PM
Josh Weed from yukon, ok

I believe to rebuild a nation the premises has been based on "new innovation" (i.e. The Web, stealth technology, democracy). I believe not only wind powered energy, and solar energy is the next big innovation, but also investing into water treatment facility and algae treatment plants to substitute for crude oil. If we can use algae to make plastics and other everyday products in place of crude we may have a change of ecological cleaniness as well as prominence of climate control of this wonderful planet we ALL (christian, muslim, mormon, buddhist, paganist) call "home"..

Jun. 24 2011 12:06 PM

The big hooplah over the deficit is designed to distract us from real issues. Deficit spending actually helped the country get out of the Great Depression. It actually helps the economy grow.

It’s time to focus on rebuilding our country, before it’s too late! The money must be spent on job creation. We need a WPA style program to pull us out of this mess. Policies must be restored that benefit the unemployed, working and middle classes. A jobless recovery will never work.

Bail out consumers for a change. We are too afraid, broke or in debt to participate in the economy. Obama needs to be bolder in his second term. He has nothing to lose.

Jun. 24 2011 11:57 AM
amalgam from NYC by day, NJ by night

I really had to comment on this and not let it pass unchecked -

Mr. Bucholz spouted the same right-wing trope dangling from the myth of St. Reagan, by stating that the anointed one bankrupted the USSR by increasing Defense spending in the Cold War arms race. Sorry, that's just completely overstating the case and, as Americans often do, taken out of historical context with regards to historical and economic trends.

Certainly defense spending contributed small part, but here is a more robust version of what brought down the USSR:

> The Afghanistan war took its toll in unsustainable expenditures by the USSR. And no doubt US aid/asst. in Afghanistan helped the Mujahedeen intensify their battle against the Soviets, although as US is experiencing, the Soviets, just like every other invader to the country would have been eternally stuck and spending money in the morass anyway. Push.

> _Primary reason_: Huge drop on oil/petroleum prices after the USSR built their economy around a certain price range that didn't hold, thus losing virtually their only source of hard currency. Unless the US established the Soviet cammand and control econmoy and rigged the global oil market, Reagan's "spending" only gets small credit.

Jun. 24 2011 11:39 AM
Justin from Colorado

I would invest a large portion of that money in R&D for new energy technologies. Solar and wind are great sources of renewable energy but will not be able to keep up with the demand of our high-tech society. Once the key is found to unlock the secrets of abundant and clean energy, more time, money, and energy will be freed up to find solutions to the rest of the problems facing our country and the world like clean water, poverty, and hunger.

See Andrea Rossi's E-Cat for one promising energy technology on the horizon.

Jun. 24 2011 10:37 AM
John Paquette from Massachusetts

To know how to rebuild, one must first know how the nation was built in the first place, and what is breaking it now. What made the building of our nation possible was the creation of a government based on the defense of the individual's right to life, liberty, and property. The ten billion dollars we are musing about spending has presumably come from people who earned it through self-interested labor. The nation was originally built by people working hard to develop their own futures. Thus, to encourage further building, we should give the money back to the people from which it came. People, and that includes government, must stop fantasizing about spending other people's money. To build the nation, we must *let people* build their futures. Government spending cannot build a nation -- it can only *break* it.

Jun. 24 2011 10:12 AM
Angel from Miami, FL

A quarter of the money would go to public schools/education. The remaining funds would pay down the national debt. In theory, deficit reduction would encourage the markets to invest more in all areas of our economy. However, I would keep an eye on the private sector, especially financial institutions, to see if they decide to horde the money instead of investing it. If this is the case, I would switch to a plan of more direct spending in the economy to counter the financial institutions.

Jun. 24 2011 09:52 AM

Bravo to Mr. Bucholz. Americans are more than capable of "nation building" on their own without undue government meddling. Letting people keep more of their own money while the government does its primary job like defend the nation is a concept we need to embrace again. If one needs an answer to why we spent money "starting wars," wait until September when we mark the 10th anniversary of 9/11 and relive that horrible day again. The only way to prevent another 9/11 or worse is by promoting a democratic revolution across the Middle-East. As the US Constitution suggests, let the government do for the people what the people cannot do for themselves like defending the nation and her interests abroad.

Jun. 24 2011 08:28 AM

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