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Stimulating Thoughts About Spending

By now, some people already have received their economic stimulus checks, and those who haven’t will get one soon. The government says all the checks will be deposited or mailed by July 11.

As you’ll recall, the checks ranging from $300 to $1,200 are the result of a $168 billion stimulus package enacted in February. President Bush has hailed the idea of sending out government money to consumers as a way to encourage more spending and boost a sagging economy. Lately, he’s been saying the free money will help Americans offset high gas and food prices.

It’s hard to complain about money showing up in your mailbox. But it’s not free, of course. And there’s the problem.

Stimulating the economy by sending out checks may work in the short term, but it’s not a lasting or thoughtful solution to the country’s economic problems. It could have an air pocket effect, where spending goes up briefly once people cash the checks, then falls again, leaving the economy no better off than before. And if you’re already worried about irresponsible government spending, about a bloated farm bill packed with subsidies, about consumerism that leaves people with record amounts of debt, or about the billions spent on the Iraq War that could have been put to better use solving problems here at home, then getting more money from the government isn’t something to cheer about.

Still, there it is. In your mailbox. What to do? The President suggests a spending spree. But buying a flat-screen T.V. feels like buying into everything you oppose.

Some people are coming up with alternatives. At The XX Factor on Slate, writer Marjorie Valbrun cites a story on TheRoot.com on fistula in the developing world. The story defines fistula as a devastating condition related to childbirth that has been eradicated in the U.S. and Europe. But 2 million women in the developing world suffer from it. It’s caused by a prolonged, difficult labor that causes severe pain and incontinence; in almost all cases, the babies are stillborn as well. Women who suffer from it are treated as outcasts. What does this have to do with stimulus checks? A simple, $300 surgical procedure can fix the problem, but the cost is out of reach for poor women. Valbrun has a suggestion:

Imagine the message it would send if American women who can do without the paltry $300 economic stimulus checks they will be getting in the mail from the IRS were to donate the money to organizations helping these women. More important, imagine the impact. I say the heck with the economic stimulus plan. Most economists don’t believe it will yield major results anyway. How about a sisterhood fistula eradication plan?

I think this is a grand idea. If you don’t like the the philosophy behind the stimulus plan, use your check for the common good. It’s your way of opting out. What we call results are beginnings, right?

If you’ve got ideas for other worthy recipients of your stimulus check, send them to me and I’ll share them.

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