6. Build schools. Speaking of research, let’s spend billions on building and repairing academic facilities. I may be prejudiced, but years of teaching have convinced me that good schools are the most important key to both prosperity and equity. Our underfunded and unequal school systems are both an embarrassment and an obstacle to real progress. While I will not offer my opinions on testing, vouchers, school choice, or any of the other educational policy controversies of the moment, I am certain of one thing: Beautiful, spacious, and well-equipped school and university buildings can make an enormous difference in the self-esteem of students and the effectiveness of teachers and researchers.
7. Build public housing. The bursting of the housing bubble has not simply helped plunge the economy into recession, it has been an object lesson in the distortions of the market. The profligacies of credit extended to those who could not afford it — often on incredibly deceptive terms — and the widely bruited fantasy that prices would simply rise forever, have helped to demonstrate once again that anyone who believes uncritically in either the wisdom or justice of the market is foolish. Despite the fall in prices, the nation still faces a crisis of both housing affordability and quality. As the national income gap continues its obscene growth, both the poor and the middle class are being squeezed out. It’s time to get over the old politics of indirection and get back to the direct provision of vital services. We massively subsidize home ownership via mortgage-interest deductions but can no longer bring ourselves to support the idea of public housing as something government can build directly. Yet a third of Americans live in substandard or unaffordable housing, and the market has shown neither the inclination nor the ability to solve this problem. Government can. But subsidy strategies — whether offered to homeowners or developers — are not enough. It’s time to step in both to repair and renew existing public stocks and to construct millions of new units. To be sure, we’ve learned the lesson of public housing built meanly, housing that simply concentrates the poor in new ghettos. So let’s get on with something better, housing that will allow our cities to be fairly shared by all their citizens.