Saturday, January 19, 2008

A Few Thoughts on Stimulating the Economy

The economy seems to be lurching toward a recession and all of our political leaders are of a mind to “stimulate” it somehow to get it going again. It appears in hindsight that a good deal of our former prosperity was based on irrational consumer spending and a booming housing market based on a speculative scheme designed to enrich a few and impoverish many. A newly skeptical market met the president’s $158 billion dollar stimulus package, announced but not defined, with a resounding plop.

Some think the fed needs to pump some cash into the hands of the working poor because they are the ones who will spend it quickly on essentials of life. But there is not much of a multiplier effect with that. Others think it should go into the hands of the wealthy because it would be just pin-money to them and they would spend it quickly on something expensive. In theory that would create a larger multiplier effect. No one wants to give it to the middle class because they would either pay down debt or save it, and what a waste that would be.

I wonder what would happen if the entire economy became restructured so that Americans adopted a simpler way of life less frantically driven by hyped up consumerism. We would not have to give up much, but we might be less inclined to desire the latest and best of whatever is hot, and delight in using to their fullest those things already in our possession. It would take the wind out of the super salaries and boated bonuses of some executives. Boy, would they be mad! Companies of all sizes would have to find products and services to meet the needs of more people who need less things, but things of higher quality. An awful lot of people would have to define their jobs and careers in new ways, and quite a few, who are now paid extremely well to titillate the public into buying what they don’t need, would lose their jobs. Boy, would they be mad!

But it might be fun to live in a country comfortable with not being NUMBER ONE all the time. We might enjoy producing goods and services of real quality at fair prices for a rapidly growing world market. There is a guy in North Dakota who makes and sells a pretty good beet harvester to countries of the former Soviet Union. I like that.

What would have to happen for that kind of transformation to take place? Obviously it would require some restructuring of the tax code to undo some of the foolishness of the last eight years. It would take a national commitment to link free trade with fair trade. It would require the disestablishment of the military-industrial complex about which Eisenhower warned us. Mostly it would require an American public not so blasted scared of aliens and terrorists, and that would not kowtow to the kind of marketing schemes that have worked so well on them. How likely is that? Not very I’m afraid.

2 comments:

John Jamison said...

Steve,

The tone of your message is very moving. How often have I felt the same: why can't Americans understand that they will be happier if they live more simply?

In the end I suppose it comes down to the same basic message of all the great teachers: people are too busy working hard to retain their blindness that they cannot see the treasures within their reach. I suppose the best, possibly the only, way to proceed is to teach by example and precept simultaneously. Doesn't work all that well, but who knows, in the end? At the very least the precept-plus-example technique gets one out of feeling blue!

John

Country Parson said...

Hey John,
It's good to hear your thoughts and thanks for taking a look. I hope you will keep up the conversation.