Stimulus for dummies

Doesn’t it make sense to spend taxpayers’ money on something that lasts?

If all you’ve got is a hammer, every problem is a nail.

If all you’ve got is a hammer, every problem is a nail.

Andy Sims is an on-air personality for KWOD 106.5 FM.

There’s been plenty of talk about economic stimulus packages recently, as the U.S. economy careens toward recession and drags the rest of the world along.

So far, it appears that people making less than $75,000 a year will get $600 each, plus $300 per child. For example, a married couple with three kids and a combined income of $110,000 will get a check for $2,100 from the party of fiscal restraint.

It’s a nice chunk of dough, and theoretically, we’ll all run out and buy flat screens to save the economy. I’m not exactly sure how the purchase of Asian electronics will help U.S. workers get raises to save their foreclosed homes, but I freely admit that I am not an economist.

I am, however, a person with a long-term memory. In some cases, I can even remember things that happened six months ago. It’s an inherited trait known as “not being a drooling moron.”

Last August, the I-35W bridge over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis collapsed. We shook our heads and wondered how this could happen in America; we talked about how underfunded our infrastructure is and how this is the tip of the iceberg. But then some other stuff happened (pennant races, steroids, Labor Day sales), and we forgot about it.

Since then, the subprime scams have helped the economy take a giant shit. People can’t afford their homes, jobs with good wages evaporate as unemployment rises and no one can think of anything that can be done except to mail checks to us like we’re a nation of apocryphal welfare queens.

Well, I thought of something.

Every state in this country, every damned one of them, has infrastructure problems. Roads, bridges, schools, parks, sewers, all of it in disrepair. No one has any money to fix this stuff. Bush’s answer, as it was after 9/11, is to ask us to go shopping. I think people would rather have jobs with good wages—like construction jobs, perhaps.

Why can’t the federal government (which is planning to mail out $150 billion for no guaranteed return) organize a 21st century Works Progress Administration? During the Great Depression, millions were out of work. The government put those Americans to work building and repairing everything from freeways and dams to parks and common areas.

Why can’t we do this again? Even someone like me who knows nothing about construction could learn enough to be useful. I can use a shovel, put hammer to nail, any number of things. We would be government employees, similar to the military, and we would be paid fair wages to repair America.

Yes, it would cost hundreds of billions—maybe even trillions—of dollars, but if America’s infrastructure is being improved, then commerce benefits. If out-of-work Americans are making good wages, then they’re paying taxes and spending freely. Isn’t this the type of win-win situation that everyone claims to want all of the time? We end up with a better country, both in a physical sense and in terms of our mental outlook. We will all be far more invested in the place we live.

I doubt I’m the only one who has thought to combine these two problems in order to reach a decent solution, but if not, why haven’t I heard or read about it? Is it possible that things are the way they are for a reason, that the people who make the important decisions simply want them this way?

Again, I’m no economist, but is the disappearance of the middle class really so advantageous to the wealthy that they might prefer the nation to struggle in large measure rather than prosper as a whole?

I want someone to explain to me why this can’t work. And if all you can come at me with is, “They’ll have to raise taxes,” then I’ll know I’m right. You get what you pay for.