Saturday, October 06, 2007

PFD from the soapbox

This week was PFD (Permanent Fund Dividend) week. For those of you who are unaware, many years ago the state invested the profits from the taxes the oil companies are required to pay. Now, each permanent resident of the state is considered an investor of sorts, and every year we get paid a dividend. The amount varies depending on how the market did that year. This year it was $1654, one of the highest PFDs ever.

Every year around this time, all the retailers hop on the band wagon. Buy now! Use your PFD TODAY! And many, many Alaskans run out and spend their PFDs on new trucks, snowmachines, 4-wheelers, and whatever other redneck accessories they don't have or need to upgrade. This year, I personally spent our PFDs on new camera equipment. (Somewhere in Kuwait, Ethan is clutching his chest as he falls to the ground.) Just kidding! It's in the bank, honey, waiting for you to invest!

Anyway, there was an interesting discussion about the PFD on Up in Alaska. (I read that blog a lot, can you tell?) That girl and her boyfriend in particular, think that the PFD is a socially and economically irresponsible state policy. The boyfriend really thinks the state should invest the money in government programs, so that we could solve social problems, have the best schools in the country, etc. Which is interesting. I never thought of it that way. However, I think he's fooling himself if he think Alaska is run like any other state -- and what I mean by that is that we have a completely different set of challenges with the bush community. 95% of the state is inaccessible by road, including Juneau, our state capitol. And furthermore, most of the communities outside of the population centers really don't have the means to survive in a capitalist economy. Now that we are in the 21st century, a lot of these communities are struggling to pay for the necessities like electricity, food from Outside, etc because they don't have any industry. Remember, until not too long ago, these were subsistence communities, so they didn't have to worry about getting oil for their heaters or canned food shipped in. Now they have to pay an arm and a leg for this stuff, but jobs (in particular well-paying jobs) are scant. Most young adults have two choices: leave and go to a population center, or stay and struggle to pay for their lifestyles. As a result, depression, drug and alcohol abuse and suicide rates are very high.

I'm not saying that people living in the bush should have to go back to the days of honey buckets and no electricity. And there are already lots of state programs to help bush communities, although they are not as well funded nor as publicized as they should be. There are also some race issues, which I'm going to ignore for now.

Point is, I don't think that investing the PFD in state programs is going to fix the state and make it a #1 location to live. Plus, the lawmakers kind of have their hands tied at this point, because if they took away the PFD, there would be a freaking riot. Ironically, taking away the PFD would be especially unpopular in the bush, which is where these social programs would do the most good.

And now I'm going to get a little snarky here: if it really bothers these guys that the state hands out cash every year, they don't have to take it. You have to apply for the PFD after all. Or they could take the money and donate it to charitable causes instead of spending it on bikes and jackets. It's kind of hypocritical to claim the state is economically irresponsible when they aren't investing the money themselves.

I will ask people to refrain from making comments on the Up in Alaska blog. There's already a bunch more of interesting comments that you can read, but it's not really a political blog and I don't want to commandeer it. Also, I want to continue to read that blog and I haven't been very encouraged that they are open to discussion. But if you want to comment here, even if you want to tell me I'm full of shit, feel free!

1 comment:

eaf said...

The sad fact of the matter is that the state already spends a huge amount of money on building and maintaining infrastructure for villages: schools, hospitals, power lines, etc. Many villagers rely wholly on welfare to support themselves, and care little about finding gainful employment. Funneling even more money into villages isn't going to "fix" them...there's really nothing to be fixed, unless the state wants to take a more active role in job training programs and eventual relocation. When the money runs out (and the oil money will), these communities are going to suffer in a very big way, and will probably go back to honeybuckets and the subsistence lifestyle anyway. Throwing money at the problem doesn't do anything except create a sense of entitlement.