Transcript: Alaska Senator Elect Mark Begich, 28 Nov 2008

Thom and Mark discuss the challenges and opportunities ahead and the economy.

Thom Hartmann interviews Alaska Senator Elect Mark Begich, 28 November 2008

[Thom]: Yeah, 52 days ... until... George W. Bush is out of office and some great new senators are installed in office like Mark Begich, the former mayor of Anchorage who has won the election against Ted Stevens. The Senator elect from Alaska ... and Mark we just wanted to get you on and say congratulations.

[Begich]: Well, thank you very much Thom, and thank you for what you have done this campaign season in making sure that the country knows that this was an opportunity, a historic opportunity from the president on down, but to get the Senate to have more folks in there to actually get some things done. So, you know, I would tune into you as I was running from event to event, and it was always good to hear you fighting the fight, and it's a great opportunity. We still need to blow? it; that's the goal now.

[Thom]: There you go. So, Mark, how do we avoid that? Not to pick on Bill Clinton but, you know, he really, he ran as a progressive and then governed as a kind of center right guy. And how do we avoid not doing the things that really need to be done? How do we avoid being pushed around by the right wing?

[Begich]: I think that the most important thing is we, you know, as Democrats in the United States, the leadership of the Democrats, we need to figure out one of those one or two or three issues that we really can focus on and do it. Instead of what we usually do; as good Democrats, we like to do everything for everybody, and the problem with that is we get so scattered, we never do anything very well in the sense of what we should be doing.

So, you know, I think the most important thing right now, you know, this economic crisis we're in, and how we focus our energies on ensuring that the working folks out there are getting the benefit here, trying to get them back on track. I mean, I was at a store this weekend or this week, Home Depot, this woman came up to me, talked to me about her foreclosure she's going through. She went from a very well paying job, now working at around ten dollars an hour, which, you know, for her and a family of three is impossible to be able to achieve, was literally getting boxes to move out of her home. And we have to figure out how we're going to help those folks at that level, because that's the folks that Democrats know about, understand, and that's who we represent.

And we cannot forget them. Sometimes we get a little cloudy, to be very frank with you. It's one reason why I ran. I ran because the working class of this country got left behind in all this effort of this last great, you know, 8, 9 years of economic boom that people thought was there. And it really wasn't; it was a big old bubble that popped, and who paid the price? The people on the bottom end. And so I think we've just got to pick one those two items. I think health care is an important one, the energy issue and the economic development or economic future of this country, and pick what's in there that we can really accomplish, because we've got to prove up. If we don't prove up, you know, we've been given a great chance with a president, a strong Congress, a strong Senate, but it's up to us to prove it, that we know what we're doing.

[Thom]: We're talking with Mark Begich, Alaska's newest senator elect, the former mayor of Anchorage. Are still the mayor of Anchorage?

[Begich]: I am mayor until January second. I am finishing up my budget. I have a couple, actually I have four labor contracts in front of the City Council that I hope to get approved, and then I will move on to the Senate race, getting sworn in January 6 with a whole bunch of new colleagues which I'm very excited about.

[Thom]: Yeah. You know, the, economics 101, you know, the core assumption of economics, classic economics, setting aside the insanity of the last 26 years of Reaganomics, trickle down economics, but classical economics that everybody has understood since ancient Samaria is that an economy is driven by supply and demand, that the supply is, that the demand is created by wages, people who spend most of their income buying things. And that the demand, excuse me, that supply is created by productivity; in other words, being able to produce things that will meet that demand. And historically if you look at the history of the United Sates, for over 200 years, as supply increased, demand increased, as demand increased, supply increased. They were always pretty much intertwined. There was very rarely more than about a 1% spread between the two, you know, with the exception of some periods that we refer to as depressions, and things. But by and large they were always pretty parallel.

And starting in 1980 or starting in '82, really, what we saw was that wages started flattening out as this, as these two parallel lines were rising over a 200 year period, the line for wages started flattening out while the line for productivity, creating supply, you know, manufacturing supply, continued to increase. And some of that productivity was the consequence of, you know, manufacturing going offshore, some of it was technology, some of it, you know, it was just that people were more productive. But the wages flattened out and for the last 26 years we've seen wages virtually completely flat while productivity has increased, and the only way that demand has matched productivity over these last 26 years is people haven't been able to buy things with their wages so they've been using their homes as ATMs, they've been using credit cards, that we've been filling that gap, that wedge that opened up, that slice that opened up, we've been filling that with debt. And it seems that the only way that we can solve this problem is to get wages back to where they, you know, back so that there's some concordance between those two. How, in your mind, is the best way to do that, to get wages up in the United States?

[Begich]: Well, you're right on on that issue of the wages. One of the things that I think has to be done this new, you know we are using a heater? in Anchorage and throughout Alaska and we're obviously moving down to a new economy, the green economy. I think there's some incredible opportunities with new energy and new what some call green collar, whatever you want to call them, it's a new energy economy that is going to bring, I think, some great wage opportunities. I think of the projects we're doing here, in Anchorage, for example, we're doing a light conversion project; it's a labor project but it is good wages because it takes electricians, technical people, and they're getting decent wages which means we're acting more folks on the line that need those types of jobs which in turn, of course, means the wages are going to go up.

[Thom]: Right, and that creates demand and that makes the marketplace boom.

[Begich]: And that's a great, you know, you think about this economy, if you look at all, and only use one segment of energy market and take the power plants that are in this country that are old, inefficient, using old technology. If you just said, "we're going to invest in new technologies, more efficient plants, the amount of people you'd need for that is huge and the types of skill levels, all the way from the labor to the highly technical people. And that's going to create the new economy that's out there.

[Thom]: That's absolutely great. Mark Begich, going off to the United States Senate, the latest and one of the finest members of the new Senate. Mark, senator elect, sir, thank you very much for being with us and congratulations.

[Begich]: Thank you, and I'll look forward to talking to you in the future.

[Thom]: Me too. Thank you very much, senator elect Mark Begich with us.

Transcribed by Sue Nethercott.

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