People make fun of me because I always have NPR, CNBC or The Nightly Business Report on in the background when I’m working. They tell me I’m a finance junkie, and they’re not far off. But, it’s entertainment for me and every now and then I get to hear someone utter words that are so stupid or shocking that I nearly fall off my chair. It happened this week.
The pundits on one show were arguing about the new stimulus plan and going back and forth over what they thought should and should not be included. Then they started arguing about how the stimulus money should be distributed to the public. Lump sum check like last year? Dole a little out in each paycheck? Reduce taxes so take home pay goes up? Finally one genius on the panel (I didn’t catch his name, but I’m sorry I missed it) says, “I think the money needs to be given out either as a small bit of money tacked on to each pay check or through reductions in tax withholding so that take home pay increases by a small amount each week.”
The moderator asked why and he replied, “Because the American people have proven that they cannot be trusted to spend the stimulus money. We gave them a lump sum last year and the majority of Americans did not spend it. They either saved it or used it to pay down debt, which was wrong. If we put the money in their paychecks, they will spend it. If they’re living paycheck to paycheck, then we know the money will be funneled back into the economy because they will drain their entire paycheck. That’s what we’re after.”
After I got up off the floor, I thought about this moron’s words. There was so much wrong with his statement that I didn’t know where to start. First of all, I didn’t care for his notion that, “Americans can’t be trusted to spend the money.” As if we’re all selfish little children and the government parental units doled out money to us to pay the ice cream man and said, “Now go straight to the curb and get an ice cream cone and don’t do anything else.” Instead, some of us were bad kids who ran home and stuck the money in our piggy banks instead so we could buy comic books later, proving we couldn’t be trusted to do what was expected of us. When I got my check last summer, it didn’t come with a list of do’s and don’ts. I didn’t ask for it for any specific reason; it was given to me. Therefore, it was mine to use as I chose. I chose to save it. I resent the attitude that I did something wrong and that I have proven to be untrustworthy in my country’s eyes. Maybe I am selfish to act in my own best interest rather than in the interest of my country, but I have no choice but to look out for my own interests. I haven’t seen the government looking out for my best financial interests in quite some time.
I like that I can’t be trusted to spend the stimulus money. Call me irresponsible, unpatriotic, or untrustworthy. I’m proud of it. And if I got a second stimulus check, I still wouldn’t spend it, even if this pundit came to my house and taunted me with my apparent inability to follow basic directions. Spending everything we had before we even had it (as a nation) is what got the economy in this mess to begin with. The pundit who uttered these stupid words needs to remember that. What he also needs to remember is that saving or paying down debt is good for the economy in the long term. Banks have more money to lend, people have more money to spend if they save, and the entire financial system isn’t crushed under an unmanageable level of debt. No, it doesn’t boost spending right this instant, but the “instant” solution is rarely the correct solution. Apparently, we need more irresponsible and untrustworthy people who do the wrong thing with stimulus money to stabilize the economy.
The other thing that bothered me about these comments was the notion that the government wants us to spend every cent of our paychecks; that living paycheck to paycheck is desirable, from a governmental point of view. This pundit wants to put extra money in our paychecks so that we will spend it. He assumes that we all have no self control and that if money is in our checks, we will spend it. He assumes that will all be unable to detect the extra money and save it or use it to pay down debt. The idea is that they give us “stealth money” and we’ll mindlessly spend to the bottom of our checkbook without even realizing that we spent the extra.
To some extent, I realize he’s right. There are a lot of people with no self control. If the money’s in the check, it’s meant to be spent. Every cent of it. Give them a lump sum in a separate check and they might think twice before spending it. But sneak it in their checks and they will spend it. However, desiring (and openly rooting) for people to live that way is wrong. Our government and media should be encouraging people to get away from that type of lifestyle and guide them toward a more stable and sustainable way of spending. Otherwise, we’ll be experiencing this same economic crisis in another fifty years. We have to get away from “spending” as the only indicator of economic or household success. To openly encourage people to spend everything they have is, to me, irresponsible.
I’m not certain that he meant his remarks in that way, but since he said it, I’m assuming he did mean it. I’m assuming that he really meant that we cannot be trusted to manage our affairs so that they best benefit the country rather than ourselves and that we should all be spending everything we make to save the economy. As I’m writing this, the final details of the stimulus package haven’t been worked out so I don’t know what we’ll get, if anything. But I personally am hoping for no money. I don’t want an extra check and I don’t want any more in my take home pay. Anything “extra” is an illusion; one that I and my heirs will be paying for with higher taxes for generations to come. Since I obviously can’t be trusted to do the right thing and spend any stimulus money I’m given, please spare me the chastisement next year and just don’t give it to me.