Some Thoughts On My Soon-to-Arrive Economic Stimulus Check

Caveat: I’m not exactly going to be in the town square burning my economic stimulus check or putting it all away in savings just to spite the government. No, I will be a good citizen and insert the majority of my money back into the economy via the shopping mall or what have you. So take this post with a grain of salt.

But I just want to register how ridiculous I think this all is. We go $100 billion further in debt so that the American people can go out and shop in the name of stabilizing our slightly faltering economy. A month or two later, Bush without blinking pats himself on the back because he gave $77 million to help out with the global food shortage.

In an effort to keep this from degenerating into self-righteous bloviation, I would also like to register that there are of course economic trickle-down justifications for taking such courses of action in the name of our economy (i.e., a good American economy is good for the global economy; people spend, economy grows, less people are poor and hungry). Most interviews with economists that I’ve read or heard are pretty optimistic that the economic stimulus package will work.

But the whole thing just doesn’t sit right with me. There seems to be a gaping divide between our economics and our morality. But this comes as no surprise; we Enlightened modern beings have long ago learned that the two have nothing to do with each other. I’m not trying to get into the argument of how, why, and when a government should intercede on the Market’s behalf, but I’m a little irked that I’ve been conscripted by the government to solve the Market’s problems. By spending the government’s money I become a representative¬† for the government’s economic policy. Who among us hasn’t joked that we’re just doing our civil duty? I have. But upon reflection it seems a bit sinister. Even more so when I realize that my spending habits probably reflect larger economic trends that I’m only dimly aware of, even when my money doesn’t come from the government. I’m not just criticizing Bush’s neocon economic policy but the more general American perception that the way to a healthy society and personal well-being is governed solely by economic prosperity.

This mindset was reinforced to me when I heard this story on the radio several months ago (the bit I’m relating was more of a side note told in passing in a larger story): American armed forces in Iraq inadvertently killed some Iraqi civilians. One of these was a married woman. In order to compensate for the husband’s loss the military offered him ten thousand dollars. He refused the money. The commentator said that this–both the offering of money and the refusals–happens regularly.

What on earth would possess us to buy off people’s grief at the loss of their closest loved ones with a few thousand bucks? Shouldn’t we realize this is profoundly insulting? “I’m sorry for your loss sir, but take heart! We have calculated the worth of your spouse’s entire life and it comes to $10,000. Please accept this money as a token of our condolences.” This also comes as no surprise. Decades ago, the economist Milton Friedman won the Nobel Prize for Economics for writing about how we modern people view our world in primarily economic terms. The example of the Iraqi man and the military seems like the most twisted outworking of how thoroughly this way of thinking has sunk in.

This mindset, I think, is not neutral, one that can be used for good or ill. The way we think about the world, and they way our society is run, shapes us in certain ways and not in others. The Iraqi widower not only doesn’t see his wife’s value in economic terms but thought it was morally wrong that anyone should. I’m not saying that all of us Americans simply put dollar values on our loved ones, but I hope it drives the point home that there is something moral, something that shapes us in our very being, in the way the Market almost tyrannically controls our nation’s sense of ease or dis-ease. The whole economic stimulus scheme reinforces our identity as consumers and defines our well-being by what we can spend.

So while I’ll be buying up this and that with my money from On High, I will do it with the knowledge that what shapes me intuitively and gives me confidence in my well-being as a person is that I belong to the church before I belong to the government and that when I go to church every Sunday morning I am told to “draw near with faith” and approach an altar, kneel down, and stretch out my hands like a beggar, consuming not goods and services, but consuming the crucified and risen Christ.


2 comments so far

  1. timothycairns on

    In fairness the economic stimulus package was passed as a bi-partisan measure and as you say in your post I have yet to hear an economist or political comment that has been negative. Moreover the Democrats want to immediately do a second package.

    I like this measure as for once it seems like a government are actually doing something to directly help the people rather than just wasting money. Indeed it sits well with my politics as it seems to me that I am better placed to spend money to stimulate the economy that government is. Governments usually waste money, individuals usually spend money well, thats why it seems it will work.

    So why not give the money to your church? or why not take it to the outreach programme in your community that is doing the most good to help? it seems that you are best placed to be a good steward of this cash and can do more direct good than government can – thats why it will work.

    I think you are looking at this money as an extension of the consumer society, I think it is actually an oportunity for people to be responsible for their local economy.

  2. mac on

    This really isn’t a neocon stimulus plan. I think this is JM Keynes’ idea.

    Also, we have forgotten that money is nothing more than the translation of our efforts into a fungible thing. A society replete with goods and services is the result of stable market which militates against shortage. After all, the basic question of economics deals with the problem of shortage. So, making sure the economy continues is a morally good thing because people go hungry at a far lower rate when food is available.

    People have always been consumers, from the beginning of time. The problem is hoarding (again this is the result of shortage, real or perceived). That is where Christian morality takes over. We should always seek to share…even our stimulus checks.

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