The Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio
Brian Gongol

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Get a lid on spending. The state budget has been wildly overspent for several years going. And it looks like the situation is going to get even worse, particularly in light of the economic recession. That having been established, some serious fiscal discipline is in order. We need our state government to put a lid on spending and leave as much money in taxpayers' pockets as possible.

Send more Iowans to school. Here's a challenge for the Iowa state legislature: Mandate that our outstanding state universities and community colleges reach out to Iowans using technology so that every Iowa taxpayer can get a college degree -- associate's or bachelor's -- without having to drop everything else in their lives. As it stands, it's nearly impossible to ask an adult with a full-time job and a family to drop everything and earn a degree. But if we're really serious about "transforming" Iowa's workforce to meet the competition of a global economy, then we're going to have to use the tools already at our disposal to help Iowans help themselves. Sure, it's already possible to earn a degree online, but we need to make it practical, affordable, and universally accessible. The technology already exists, and 78% of Iowa adults could benefit from broader access to degrees. If you really want to help people during a recession, or really at any other time, you help give them access to the tools they need to make things better.

We're not going to emerge better, faster, and stronger from any economic challenges by hiding from competition -- it's only going to happen if we get smarter and tougher. The state can help make that happen by doing away with antiquated notions of how "college" is done. Any adult in Iowa should be able to start a degree any time -- not just in August and January -- and get 80% of it done from home, work, the community library, or wherever else they can get Internet access. Some things you can only learn in a classroom, to be sure; but we're making it too hard for the people who help pay for our colleges to make use of them. Nothing can replace the experience of going to college when you're fresh out of high school -- but it's unreasonable of us not to find better ways to help people get the same educational advantages if they didn't get the chance the first time around.

A European ban on plasma TVs? The European Union may soon ban some big-screen TVs. This is ironic, considering that governments really created the big-screen industry in the first place with the switch to digital television. But here's the real problem. Governments usually have three choices when dealing with any problem:
  1. Ban it
  2. Tax it
  3. Induce a solution
Bans are often -- if not usually -- too restrictive. Trans fats may not be good for you, but is it fair to tell a hard-core triathlete that he or she can't have a few fatty french fries once in a while? Bans, too often, use a sledgehammer where a rubber mallet would do.

Taxes are usually more palatable, since they at least let the taxpayer make a choice about the tradeoffs he or she is willing to accept. If I have to pay a higher tax on electricity, I might choose to leave the television on at all times, but turn off the toaster and a few lights to make up for it.

But with bans and taxes alike, government simply steps in to say "That's bad" without really contributing to finding the solution. That's where the third option -- the inducement prize -- really comes out ahead. Instead of banning big-screen TVs or taxing us more heavily for their use, why not instead create huge, exciting prizes for getting to the root of the problem of energy consumption? Government has the unique capacity to pool lots of money together to solve problems that aren't worth enough to us individually to solve, but that do make sense for society to fix. NASA has successfully started offering inducement prizes, and the rest of government needs to clue in as well. Unfortunately, as far-out and nutty as the EU proposal may sound, we shouldn't be surprised if someone floats a proposal for a similar ban here in the United States sometime soon.

A later DTV date? By the way, the US Senate is considering a new DTV transition date: June 12th. It's probably too late to move the finish line now.

What the plane crash makes vivid. The remarkable plane crash in New York City this week really should give us plenty of reason to praise an innovative, technology-driven economy. Passenger air travel just 75 years ago was rough and risky. Today, thanks to innovations ranging from remarkable high-strength composites in the fuselage to flight simulators for practicing emergency procedures, air travel has never been safer.

A scary reminder. The current Federal debt stands at $10,627,708,753,691.49. The population of this fine nation stands at 305,641,949. That means your personal, individual share of the Federal debt is a full $34,771.76. And the Treasury Secretary is out there telling the Chinese that they're saving too much. Unsurprisingly, the Chinese government isn't amused.

Survey season. Could you please take a moment to vote for your favorite radio station, show, and host in the Cityview "Best of Des Moines" survey?

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