Don't tell me that government spending can't spur the economy. I am proof of how it would work.
I have been out of work for seven months. The market for liberal-leaning columnists, even those with 16 years' experience, is rather lean these days. But let's pretend for a moment that Overpasses-R-Us Inc. wins a big federal contract and hires me to… um, craft compelling prose about the important role bridges play in American culture.
With my first or second paycheck, I would buy a new set of window treatments. Kaylee and Inara — the cats I adopted a year ago in a reckless moment of adoration — have all but destroyed the ones I have, giving my tiny condo an unpleasant air of ghetto chic. But I haven't had the money to replace them.
Then I'd buy two, or preferably three, new suits. I only have one, not counting the black one I use for weddings and funerals. So far, one has been enough, since I haven't managed to see any job interviewer more than once. But a professional bridge-opiner has to be sartorially presentable.
After that, my 11-year-old Honda with 211,000 miles on it would go to the dealer for service. It has an oil leak no one has been able to seal for a couple of years, and I have to change the timing belt before it breaks and destroys the engine. Yes, my Honda is a foreign car, but there are no Japanese nationals working as service people at my dealership — where they're getting $100 an hour for labor.
Would I consider getting a new car? No way. I need a job in order to repair my car. I need job security in order to buy one.
Sooner or later — but in any case by June, according to the new timetable Congress is considering — I will need a digital-ready television. I purchased the set I have when George Bush was running for president — that's George H.W. Bush. It still works fine as a DVD monitor, but it won't serve any other purpose once the analog broadcast signals are turned off. I haven't got the cash to lay out for cable or satellite service, and I missed my chance to get one of those $40 converter-box vouchers.
Finally, my toilet leaks. Don't worry; I shut the water off from the valve so it isn't being wasted. But I'm so nonhandy, especially when it comes to plumbing, that I'd almost certainly just hire someone to come and replace the stopper for me.
These are goods I desperately need — but which will remain unbought until I'm working again. Right now, if it isn't food, gasoline, electricity or cat litter, I'm doing without. Well, okay, I still have indulged in the occasional tavern beer — which tells me why Prohibition didn't work even in the Depression. But I have discovered the cheap thrill of supermarket bogos — buy one, get one free. I take surface streets to avoid highway tolls. And while ironing at home will never match the crispness of a shirt fresh from the cleaners, the tactile reinforcement has created a new bond of trust and respect between my wardrobe and me.
This should illustrate why direct government spending on working-class people will solidly outperform Wall Street bailouts and tax cuts for the well-off. While an impatient America waits and waits for bank executives to squeeze their eyedroppers to make a loan here or there, and for business people to calculate when the time is right to hire one person in Indianapolis rather than three in India, my first few paychecks would support interior decorators, clothiers, car-repair shops, TV retailers, plumbers and dry cleaners right in my neighborhood. And that is before I even begin to think about going to a concert, having a nice dinner out or taking a trip.
It has taken 28 years, trillions of dollars of deficit spending and a ruined economy to prove it, but it appears Ronald Reagan was, in fact, wrong in 1981— no, government isn't the problem, and yes, it will be part of the solution.
Robert Steinback is a freelance writer living in Miami. He can be reached at email@example.com.