Uncle Sam wants you to shop! It's official. The great minds of the United States of America, the world's lone superpower and an emerging economic basket case, have a plan to fix what ails our sagging economy.
In a nutshell, or maybe in a nuthouse, the best and the brightest have decided to give us a fistful of dollars, on one condition: That we spend them all lickety-split. No savings allowed.
If this sounds suspiciously like giving crack to a cocaine addict and hoping for a recovery, then you, too, must be alarmed at the shallowness of thinking about a very deep problem. And not just among the whiz kids in the White House.
The brain lock extends to the campaign trail, where those who want to sit in the Oval Office have produced carbon copies of the Retail Therapy prescription. Feeble is as feeble does.
Who can blame them? Sen. John McCain tried straight talk in Michigan and got the express boot out of the state when he said lost manufacturing jobs weren't coming back. They are coming back, insisted Mitt Romney, who was promptly rewarded for this fairy tale by winning the state's GOP primary. Lesson learned: Tell 'em what they want to hear, not the truth. McCain, no dummy, put out his own giveaway package days later.
These stimulus plans are the performance-enhancing drugs of politics. Just like steroids, they exact a terrible price over the long term.
So what if we have surging debts and deficits. So what if bankruptcies and foreclosures are up. So what if middle-class incomes are stagnant and unemployment is rising. So what if entitlement programs are threatening to swallow every dollar we print, and then some. So what if your house, if it is still your house, is worth half of what it was last year. And so what if your pension is vanishing as the bottom falls out of the stock market.
Just get off your duff, America, and buy something now. The problems won't go away, but you'll have a shiny new snow shovel or a new pair of shoes. And nothing makes a true American feel better than shopping, especially when the government is paying.
If Washington ponies up enough pennies, assuming it actually gets around to ponying up any at all, we can all do what President Bush did last week. He went to Arabia to visit our dollars. Or, more precisely, what our dollars have bought and built for the petrocrats who feed our addiction to oil. It wouldn't be fair to label them dope dealers because we're the dopes.
Raking in about $100 a barrel for their black gold, the Persian Gulf countries can't spend our money fast enough, especially when the value of what we have left to sell keeps falling. They're not just buying our banks and other assets they're buying them at distressed prices.
The good old greenback ain't what it used to be.
Sen. Hillary Clinton captured the moment when she said Bush's plea to the Saudis to pump more oil so the price would fall was "pathetic." Leaving aside the inconvenient truth that her Bubba made the exact same plea eight years ago, when oil was a mere $30 a barrel, Clinton was right. Pathetic it is.
It's doubly pathetic to think the price of oil is the only problem. The long-range financial crisis is that we're becoming a hollowed out country standing on the shaky stilts of credit. When something goes wrong - the housing bubble bursts we look for the quick and easy fix. Almost always it involves spending and borrowing. We borrow from our children, the Chinese, the Arabs, anybody who has a few spare gazillions they got by selling us something we used to make but now can't afford to buy.
Only the government can run a Ponzi scheme this way, but not even the government can get away with it forever.
The Dow Jones industrial average, which has shed 2,000 points since October, is signaling that the end is near.
The White House and the candidates all know this, but it would be bad for their business model if they dared speak the truth. But somebody must say it, so here goes: We, the good people of the good 'ol USA, are on the road to ruin.