No Second Stimulus

Posted July 26, 2008, at 12 a.m.
Last modified Jan. 28, 2011, at 12:08 a.m.

Congressional Democrats, including presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, are pushing for a second economic stimulus package that would put some $50 billion of federal money into the hands of consumers. It’s a bad idea.

The first stimulus package, which transferred $152 billion from the federal government to taxpayers, was itself an admission of failure on the part of both Democrats and Republicans as they tried to steer the economy back onto stable ground. If bribing consumers to spend — which is something like giving children an allowance to get them to do their chores — is the centerpiece of economic recovery efforts, the future looks bleak.

To be fair, the first round of stimulus checks appears to have at least partially done what was intended. Sales tax revenues here in Maine are up, the state reports, and so are income tax revenues the former result is more easily tied to the stimulus checks than the latter, but both are encouraging signs. Signs in the banking sector also are encouraging, or at least not as bad as expected: four of the five biggest U.S. banks reported better than expected earnings for the second quarter, according to Bloomberg.com.

Bad news is still easy to find, though, in the banking world: IndyMac bank was reportedly close to collapse, and the federal government had to guarantee funds to prop up Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac. And high energy prices are still impacting the average household budget with unprecedented severity.

But Congress would do better to help homeowners who took on mortgages they couldn’ t afford, so they do not lose their houses. Or Congress could continue to ensure extended unemployment benefits. Yet another, better idea would be to offer tax credits toward insulating houses and buying more efficient heating plants. These and other initiatives would shore up the economy, rather than try to shock it to life with checks that will likely end up being spent at Wal-Mart.

As tempting as it is to say “yes” to a check from the government which takes so much of what we earn, current wage earners should be persuaded to take a longer view. The federal gross debt now stands at $9 trillion. Adding to it unnecessarily is shortchanging our children and grandchildren.

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