So the economy is in the tank. What’s a government to do? In the halls of power, the answer seems to be to throw money at the problem and hope for the best. We’ve had the Bush Stimulus ($165 billion of borrowed money thrown to the citizenry at the tune of $600 a head), and the Bush Bail-out (whereby $350 billion-and counting- was hand delivered to the banks and businesses¬†from the treasury), neither of which slowed the downturn or delivered the promised recovery steps. Now we have the Obama Stimulus of nearly $900 billion on the table and probably set to pass Congress in a short time. The Obama plan relies on a combination of government spending on national infrastructure and targeted tax cuts to stimulate job growth so America can return to its consumer capitalism and get back to business as usual.

For the record, I opposed the Bush Stimulus despite the money that it put into my pocket. Those $165 borrowed billions were bad economics based on faulty reasoning- that citizens would immediately put that money back into the economy. Instead, the majority either put that money in a savings account or handed it back to the banking sector via debt payoff. (Personally, I used that money to pay for summer day care for my daughter, so I guess I was trying to do my “part.”) I opposed borrowing more money that my daughter will be stuck paying off for what amounted to little more than a “feel good” gesture that in the end felt like a sucker punch.

Similarly, I opposed the Bush Bail-out on the grounds that feeding the insatiable maw of banker largesse was exactly the wrong approach to stave off the housing mortgage crisis and credit crunch. A look at the secrecy of the recipients, their proven wasteful use of the money, and a determined lack of willingness by the banks to part with that cash infusion has proven to be one of the biggest transfer of wealth boondoggles of all time. Had the Bush government really wanted to help the economy and the struggling housing market, that $350+ billion could have been doled out to 1.4 million homeowners to the tune of $250,000 each with the stipulation that the money HAD to be used to pay down a mortgage. The result would have been that the banks still ended up with the cash but that the housing mortgage crisis would have been significantly lessened and consumer confidence in their own resources would have been somewhat restored. Even as housing prices crashed, individual equity could have retained some value and consumers wouldn’t be tightening their purse strings like a sphincter in a snowstorm. But that, as they say, is water under the bridge. The Bush plan didn’t do that, and the Bail-out has utterly failed.

So my lack of support for the first two economic miracle cures has proven well founded. Not only did they do nothing to help the real economy, not only did they line the pockets of unscrupulous business tycoons, not only did they drain the treasury, but the tacked on hundreds of billions of dollars to the debt-strapped backs of yet to be born Americans.

Now comes the biggest plan of all, the Obama Stimulus plan, that promises to create jobs while rebuilding our national infrastructure. And again, I have to say I am reticent to offer my support. Don’t get me wrong…I support Obama in general and have been more pleased so far than not with what he’s been putting forth. And as a matter of fact, infrastructure investment in this country is well over due in many areas. The questions I have aren’t whether the money is going to be well spent or whether the spending will invigorate the overall economy- in fact Obama is promising to be as transparent as Saran Wrap so far as the spending goes-but rather returning our economy to “normal” is really all that wise in the first place.

Consider the fact that our consumer economy is predicated on people buying more and more things that they probably don’t need and that will purposefully be obsolete in a few short years. An economy based primarily on consumption necessarily feeds upon itself until there is little left to consume. Yet our form of capitalism needs people to spend more and save less or it does not work. If John and Jane Doe don’t buy the latest widget, people don’t have jobs making widgets. Fewer people working means fewer people buying and around and around it goes. At some point though, the benefits of this kind of economy are outweighed by the damage wrought. The results of a voracious consumer economy is a depletion of resources, an increase in pollution and waste, a reliance on cheaper goods from abroad to keep the spending going, which pushes businesses abroad to keep costs low, which reduces homeland jobs…the cycle continues until the wheels fall off the cart-like they are doing now. One has to ask themselves…is this the best we can do?

For many, the answer is clearly “Yes.” But in the current light, our entire economy seems to resemble one big Ponzi scheme. Good for those at the top, bad for those down the pyramid. And simply shoveling massive amounts of taxpayer money only promises to continue the current scheme in perpetuity. Basically, what our leaders are saying is that in order to fix the broken system, we have to continue doing the things that made it break down in the first place. And I wonder if rebuilding a house of cards and pretending that the foundation is now made of better, thicker, stronger cards is really any fix at all.

I’ve looked over the specifics of the Obama Stimulus and recognize that the infrastructure goals are admirable and in many cases absolutely necessary to propel our nation into a new era of cleaner technology, more reliable energy and transmission, and modernized transportation, medical, and educational facilities. I understand that once begun, many people will be put back to work rebuilding these elements of our infrastructure. But what isn’t being said and what isn’t being advocated is for a fundamental change in the way government, business, and regular people look and think about economic issues. We can spend all this money and rebuild all these things and get people working again…but unless we change our underlying habits and concepts of economy, we’ll ultimately end right back where we are now…deep in debt with little to show for it.

I know that the efforts of the Bush Administration were dead wrong, primarily because Bush and the GOP refused to provide oversight of policies and spending and just wanted to transfer the nations wealth into the hands of bastard financiers and business cronies. Kudos to them. They succeeded admirably in their efforts. They also left us in the worst financial shape in generations.

Now¬†I see the Obama team trying to fix the problem in a different way. We’re still going to borrow and spend a ton of money, but instead of just handing it over, we’ll be getting something back in the process- better public infrastructure. So it’s a step up the ladder in that regard. But it doesn’t really change the dynamics of our consumer capitalism, or the way politicians look at tax dollars.

I don’t have the answers to our problems, but I do have questions. To be fair, Obama himself understands that this massive borrowing and unprecedented infrastructure plan won’t turn the corner on the economy right away. We still face months or years of downward economic news. But he’s trying to help-not by giving the money to a few fatcats with the caveat that they should help out if they want to-but by investing the money in our country. It’s a small difference to be sure, but maybe just big enough to do the trick. At least, we can all hope so.

(cross posted at Bring It On!)