Just about everyone in and out of government is talking about putting cash in the hands of consumers to stimulate the economy. The only real points of disagreement seem to be which consumers and how much. The President wants to rebate taxes to the people who make enough money to pay taxes--the middle- and upper-classes, by definition. Democrats want people who are too poor to pay taxes to also get a piece of the action. The idea, of course, is that the recipients of this largess will kick-start the economy by immediately spending the money on consumer goods and services--appliances, cars, clothing, vacations.
The last time the government sent checks to people to help out the economy was in 2001, and many recipients used the money to pay down their debt and keep the collection agency wolves from their doors. This time around, the national consumer debt has more than doubled--and it is even more likely that the loan sharks will gobble up most of the government's gifts hook, line, and sinker. Maybe increasing the government debt by $100 billion in order to fatten the credit card and consumer finance companies will put some more credit in consumers' hands--just what we don't need--but if we follow President Bush's lead, the folks who own the finance industries will be the ones who ultimately benefit.
Here is a modest proposal that will help folks who really need help as well as make our economy stronger: Everyone with significant credit card debt (which is just about everyone) should use his or her check to file for bankruptcy. The entire process can cost as little as $600 for people who represent themselves (which many currently do, with paperwork help from paralegals and targeted legal advice from lawyers). And even if you choose to hire a lawyer to represent you, the proposed rebates will definitely get you started.
Bankruptcy has been around since biblical times, and has long been recognized as an important component of the capitalist economy in that it restores debtors to the consumer marketplace. Specifically, bankruptcy gets rid of credit card and most other kinds of debt (exceptions are alimony and child support; most student loans; recent taxes; and debts caused by fraudulent or willful and malicious actions). Most people are solvent for the first time in years when they emerge from bankruptcy, and once again are able purchase goods and services without going into more debt. Just imagine how the economy would hum if consumers were freed from the punishing interest rates that often creep over 30% for technical violations of credit contracts.
By filing bankruptcy, people will use their government checks to improve their own balance sheet, instead of donating their money to the fat cats who use the large credit corporations to bleed us dry. While it's true that mass bankruptcy filings would tighten rather than loosen consumer credit, it's not a bad idea for us to break our national addiction to debt and learn to pay as we go.