Slightly Off Center

Slightly Off Center: Stimulus Package

By Dennis Hinkamp

Alternative proposals we might get more of a charge out of.
by Dennis Hinkamp Wow, it is like a second Christmas as I await a festively wrapped package of stimulus to arrive in the mail. Elsewhere, voodoo economists wait eagerly to see what consumers running through the rat maze of the economy will do with their new little piece of cheese. Will they put into savings? Will they buy TIVO for their cable TV package? Will they finally pledge to National Public Radio?

We just don’t know.

It’s like attaching the jumper cables to that dead 1976 Toyota rusting in your driveway. You don’t know if it just needs a jump start or if the thing needs to be hauled to the junk yard. You have to turn the key to see what happens. This economy just might need more than the stimulus of a jump start.

“Stimulus” is pretty odd terminology in a country that has declared most stimulants illegal, immoral or unhealthy. Stimulating the economy sounds vaguely pornographic when you really think about.

Since it is all speculation anyway, I have a few alternate suggestions to defibrillate the comatose economy.
1. A Drug Against Wars: The war against drugs isn’t going so well so why don’t we try the reverse? A drug against wars will save lives and money. People who aren’t trying to kill each other are more likely to buy snack foods and video games. Once they are plump and zombiefied by games, they won’t be able to fight even if they wanted to. Certainly the scientists that brought us Ambien and Xanex can come up with something that will bliss people out enough to keep them from fighting. I’ve even thought of a cool marketing name: Nowar@all. We can get Nowar@all to sponsor the next Superbowl.
2. Reboot the economy: You know how the last resort to every computer problem is to just turn it off and start again? Do that with the economy. Part of our problem is our national obsession with numbers such as the NASDAQ, Dow, prime lending rate, consumer confidence index and so forth and so forth. These numbers really don’t mean anything other than they are relatively higher or lower than the previous time you measured them. Let’s just reboot and start at zero.

3. Get better economic indicators. I propose a new unit of measure called the Consumer Chillin’ Index (CCI). This will take the emphasis off of consumer spending always being considered a good thing. Maybe sometimes we just want to stop spending, enjoy the stuff we have and take a nap. Maybe the stuff we bought is actually so good that it lasts a long time and we don’t have to buy new stuff. Maybe we just have too much stuff to fit in the house we have, but we can’t afford a bigger house. Manufacturers might look at the CCI and say “Hey, I guess consumers aren’t buying as much stuff this year; let’s cut back on production.”

4. Find a new Ralph Nader: Nader is getting pretty old, and there is no successor on the horizon. He and consumer education are becoming a distant memory to this generation. If we still had consumer education, maybe people wouldn’t be fooled into thinking anyone could afford a $250,000 home on a $35,000 salary. Maybe people would know that you can’t pay off your credit card debt by paying the monthly minimum. Maybe they would know that if you consume 10,000 calories a day and only burn 3,200 calories a day, you are going to get fat.

Dennis Hinkamp says his favorite stimulus package is a one-pound bag of double French roast from the Straw Ibis.

This article was originally published on March 7, 2008.