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It's Time To Put Away Our Phones

How's the stimulus working for you so far?

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Well now. Our economy is really lunging forward, isn’t it? What a ride! Are you holding on?

We’re billions of dollars further in debt (trillions?) and the economy is still stagnant. TARP, the stimulus bill, massive debts our children and grandchildren will have to pay .. and what has this all brought us? Banks aren’t lending, businesses aren’t hiring – let along expanding – and consumers aren’t buying. Oh, to be sure, the malls are crowded. Turn up the thermostats and see how long that lasts. Those aren’t shoppers, they’re just your neighbors trying to stay cool while watching the latest absurd teen fashion and freak shows.

Do what the initials SNAFU mean? That word was created to define government action, or inaction as the case may be. In 1942 Time magazine carried this revelation: "Last week U.S. citizens knew that gasoline rationing and rubber requisitioning were snafu.” Well .. if there was ever a SNAFU, our economy would fit the description. To fully understand this, you have to know what the acronym stands for. Go ahead … Google it.

So … after hundreds of billions of dollars, government seizures of GM, Citigroup and others, imminent bank nationalization, massive favors handed to unions at the expense of private investors, and a pantload of new czars in the White House … all done to kick start our economy … what do we have. SNAFU, that’s what. Or TAUFU, if you like.

Look … I’m just a talk show host. What the hell do I know? I’ve been sitting behind a microphone for 40 years now sparring with hundreds of thousands of callers who generally knew a helluva lot more than the hundreds of politicians I’ve interviewed over that time. Having said that … I’m betting that this particular talk show host can, in just a few hundred words, give you some better ideas for kick starting our economy than you’ve heard from Obama and his Democrat sycophants over the past four months. Oh, and throw in most of the Republicans as well.

It’s not all that hard, really. All you have to do is recognize and acknowledge the true goal of the political class. It’s summed up in one word: POWER. You think they actually give a flying Krispy Kreme about you? What? I know you were born at night, but was it last night? They may care about your vote .. but that’s it. It’s power, my friends. Power and little else. Politicians will spout some lofty rhetoric about public service and wanting to leave this country a better place when they leave office; but, with few exceptions, that changes rather quickly. Once they get used to the privileges and the perks that go with their exalted positions their mindset changes. These people don’t name research centers, bridges, parks, sports stadiums, university buildings, highways and office buildings after themselves because of their dedication to public service.

Where does that leave us? It leaves us in a situation where the people in power, the people who make the rules and decide how our economy is going to be fixed, are going to worry first about preserving and expanding their power and secondly (if they have time) about putting us back on a track to prosperity.

The basics: What does it take to get our economy moving again? Spending. If nobody is spending nobody needs to produce. You aren’t going to gather the raw materials and personnel together to spend time and money creating a product or service unless you have some degree of confidence that there are people out there who either have or can borrow the money to buy it. Our economy is a constant day-by-day election process. The products and services put into the marketplace are the candidates. Consumers are the voters. Dollars are the ballots. If a candidate gets no votes, the candidate either reinvents himself or just simply goes away. The whole process slows down or grinds to a halt if the voters don’t have ballots to cast.

Clearly, to stimulate our economy money had to be spent. That’s basic. The question, then, was who gets to spend the money? If the American public gets to make the choices as to when and where the money is spent, that equates to power for the people. If, on the other hands, those decisions are made by the political class, it means no power to the people – the power goes to the elected elite. Now would someone please try to explain to me why these politicians, as completely immersed as they are in building their individual power bases, would ever want to turn over the power that goes with spending these huge sums of money to the great unwashed? How in the world is that going to benefit a politician? How do you generate a campaign ad for radio telling the voters that you deserve reelection because the private consumers in your district kept the local hardware store and a few clothing shops in business with their spending? Better you should be able to lay claim to a few road widening and resurfacing projects and a new rehearsal hall for the local high school band.

Do you remember how much that stimulus bills was? Let’s just call it $750 billion. For the sake of argument let’s accept that this $750 billion had to be borrowed and spent to get our economy cranking again. Once you’ve accepted the $750 billion figure we’re going to borrow, you then have to decide just who gets to spend that money and what they get to spend it on.

Here’s an idea from Texas congressman Louis Gohmert (R 1st Dist.). Gohmert wanted a tax holiday. I’ve taken his idea and expanded it a bit. Last year Gohmert was floating an idea of allowing the American people to go one full month without paying any federal income or payroll taxes. The idea was that they would then spend this money and stimulate the economy. When Obama started talking about the $750 billion dollar stimulus price tag I did some quick calculations. It seems that $750 billion is almost exactly equal to the amount of federal income, Social Security and Medicare taxes withheld from American paychecks over a six-month period.

Are you following me? How about not a one-month tax holiday, but six months? How about letting people keep almost their entire paychecks for one-half of a year?

So -- here are the two possible scenarios our politicians had to work with:

1. Borrow the $750 billion and let the politicians (the looters) decide how it is going to be spent to stimulate our economy.

2. Give the producers a six month period in which they owe no federal income or payroll taxes. For these six months they get to keep their checks. This puts $750 billion into the hands of American workers – American producers – to spend and invest.

Either way you are going to have to borrow $750 billion. If you give the people a six-month tax holiday the money will have to be borrowed to replace the lost revenue.

You see it, don’t you? There is one huge difference between the two plans. Under the government spending scenario the politicians get to decide how the money is spent. In other words, they get the power. Remember … power is the goal. It’s everything to the political class. Politicians wanted to decide which road is built, which park is refurbished, and which research project gets additional funding. Every one of these decisions would be made based on the political capital it will generate.

Under the tax holiday plan the people, not the politicians, get to cast the ballots/dollars. Spending choices would not be made on the basis of political expediency, but on the free choices of the people. Businesses that delivered a good product and good customer service would get the votes, not politicians who delivered a pork project to their districts.

A dollar spent on a new lawnmower at the hardware store does not generate a single vote. A dollar spent on a new job mowing grass along an Interstate highway does.

So … there was a decision to be made. Massive amounts of money were going to be borrowed and spent to stimulate our economy (or so the storyline went). But just who would get to spend the money?

Do you remember that famous Bill Clinton line? It was January of 1999. The place was Buffalo, New York. The federal government had actually collected more tax money that it needed. There was a surplus. Someone asked Clinton if, considering the surplus, there might be a tax cut. His response: "We could give it all back to you and hope you spend it right... But ... if you don't spend it right, here's what's going to happen.” He then went on to describe the gloomy future of Social Security when more people are collecting benefits than paying taxes.

Sure .. it’s your money. You worked for it; you earned it. That money actually represents the expenditure of a portion of your life … and here’s this politician telling you that even though he doesn’t actually need that money right now, he’s going to go ahead and keep it because if he returns it to its rightful owner – you – then you won‘t “spend it right.” Now excuse me, but don’t you get to decide what would be the right way and the wrong way to spend your money?

You know the rest of this story. The politicians in Washington decided that they would be doing the spending, not you. You just could not be trusted to spend it “right.” So President Obama sent the word to Princess Pelosi to gather together all of the spending dreams and schemes of her Democrat members of congress and compile them into a massive spending bill. The bill would be pure pork and designed for nothing more than to secure reelections; but it would be called stimulus.

Now I could waste a few thousand words here describing all of the absurd ways this money is being spent. Vice President Biden actually told us that there would be waste. He was talking to business leaders in New York in early June when he said that waste would be inevitable in spending the stimulus money. Inevitable doesn’t begin to cover it.

OK … just a few examples:

• $650 million for digital television converter boxes

• $248 for furniture at Homeland Security’s offices

• $850 million to manage Forest Service lands

• $88 million to design an icebreaker (a ship, not clever bar conversation)

• $150 million for facilities at the Smithsonian

Now tell me .. just how are these projects going to stimulate our economy? But, on the other hand, what if this money was in the hands of the people who earned it? They could be buying new flat-screen televisions instead of converter boxes. The new furniture could be for our living rooms instead of government offices. The money spent to manage Forest Service lands (what stimulus!) could be spent to develop privately-owned property. The icebreaker money could be spent by those who earned it on a new fishing boat or a cruise. And the $150 million for the Smithsonian could have been spent on visits to local museums and attractions .. as chosen by the people.

I walk through the shopping malls and drive down the streets distressed over the numbers of closed businesses and empty storefronts. Each closed business is lost jobs and shattered dreams. Each shuttered window is a hole in our economy. Government spending on digital converter boxes, icebreakers and managing Forest Service lands weren’t going to keep these businesses open. $750 billion in extra dollars in the hands of American consumers might, though, have done the trick.

Come on, folks. Try to think with that part of your brain you developed after government schools. This whole spending boondoggle wasn’t designed to get our economy going again. It was designed to increase the size and power of our Federal government and to inoculate the political class against voter disgust.

These are people who think that America is great because of government; and the more government we have the better America is. This is why the stimulus money had to be spent by the government sector … not the ordinary, hard-working masses. We just could not be trusted to spend that money the “right” way; and the right way, of course, is in an effort to strengthen government.

In the meantime … step outside and smell the stimulus. It’s really doing the job, isn’t it? Yup. Government always knows best … especially when it comes to spending our money.

The people who made this decision will stand for reelection next year. You will look at the 435 members of the U.S. House of Representatives and tell yourself that 434 of those rascals just have to go. Every one except yours. The rascals know this. They’re not worried.

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