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Three Ideas to Improve the Next Stimulus Package

March 27th, 2020 by dk

Send people home from their jobs and promise them an Andrew Yang-style “freedom dividend,” and they are going to have suggestions for improving it. Here are three of the best suggestions for the (inevitable) next stimulus package I’ve run across this week.

Subsidize Local News

When Congress began contemplating what bailouts would be necessary to keep society running, the list of threatened industries was long. Just because local journalism was faltering before the current crisis began should be no reason to omit it from subsidies. The Columbia Journalism Review calculates that 25,000 local journalism jobs could be secured with a grant of $625 million.

Could anyone make an honest case that cruise ships are more important to the future of our society than local journalists? Exposing corruption and incompetence will be especially important now that the government plans to dole out millions and billions to industries all at once.

Congress would be wise to double the grant, establishing an endowment to subsidize future salaries. Call it the Ben Franklin Fund, since the newspaperman never held elected office, but has always been a full-fledged Founding Father.

Make People Spend It

Stanford Professor Herbert Lin suggests the government not send checks to its citizens because the funds may be saved and not spent. Spending is what’s necessary to stimulate the economy. That could be nearly assured if Americans received debit cards instead, set to expire in three months.

Those who would prefer to sock the money away and save it for a rainy day would be encouraged to spend it immediately rather than lose it entirely. For the economy as a whole, the day won’t get any rainier than this, so we need everyone to spend their dividend quickly to give the economy the necessary boost.

We’ve heard too many stories lately about how airlines and hotel companies didn’t use the windfall that came from 2017’s tax reform to help their workers or their customers. They used the extra money to buy back their stock instead. Depositing your government check into an investment account would be roughly equivalent. Lin’s plan would make sure you spend it.

True Debt Relief

Congress gave up trying to determine how any direct subsidy to Americans could be targeted to reach the greatest need. The solution might be deceptively simple. If the federal government paid off every American’s credit card debt, it would come to roughly the same amount as they are planning to send out next week — about $1 trillion.

University of Missouri professor Michael Hudson claims a debt jubilee would free up American society in more powerful ways than anything else. Widespread debt relief is not untested. It revived Germany after WWII. Assyrian rulers employed it regularly millennia ago.

And most of us have a book somewhere that lays out how and why debt forgiveness can and should be used. Mosaic Law in the Bible’s Old Testament mandates jubilee debt relief every 50 years, to keep Jews out of bondage to one another, that they may “live securely in the land.” Doesn’t that seem like an appropriate goal for society today?


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at

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