The Grand Rapids Press offered an interesting solution to the bailout mess the other day. Instead of pouring billions of dollars into banks, AIG and, quite possibly, U.S. automakers, why not just give all that money to us regular ol' Americans?
If, after all, the problem is we can't pay our mortgages, can't afford to buy new American-made cars and, worst of all for all those little kids in all the Whovilles out there, can't afford any decent Christmas presents this year, why not turn all that pump-priming, liquidity-greasing, credit-thawing cash over to us?
"If every American household received a $50,000-$100,000 bailout package we could turn this economy around ourselves," the Press said in an editorial on Wednesday. "We could buy cars, homes, make credit card and mortgage payments. We could start a business and create jobs and even pay our own health insurance."
To anyone who has been filled with righteous wrath in recent weeks over stories about AIG executives living it up at resorts or GM execs flying around on private jets, this has a ring of sweet justice to it. You want help, GM? Maybe a few of us could get together, form a bank and listen to your business plan.
It sounds great, until you realize that the flaw in this plan lies in the one thing that Main Street, Wall Street and your own home have in common. They are run by human beings.
Awhile back I wrote about the all-too-common fate of people who are given an extremely large amount of money they didn't earn. They end up bankrupt, or worse.
Jack Whittaker was the classic example. In 2002 he won the largest undivided lottery jackpot in history, taking home a lump sum of $113 million after taxes from the Powerball sweepstakes. He wanted to help the poor, he said. He even gave 10 percent to his church right from the start. But it took less than two years for him to be poor himself, and unhappy.
I cited others, including a man in Oregon who won $892,881 in a lottery and, four years later, filed for bankruptcy because he was $1.1 million in debt. Even Evelyn Adams, an unusually lucky woman who won the lottery twice, collecting winnings totalling $5.4 million, ended up living in a trailer without much in her pockets. And William "Bud" Post, who once won $16.2 million, ended up serving time in jail for firing a gun over the head of a bill collector. By then, he was living on food stamps.
Besides being human, these examples had one other thing in common. They didn't know how to handle money, which is why they weren't wealthy in the first place. Giving them millions was as thrilling and dangerous as giving them a football and putting them in the middle of yesterday's BYU-Utah football game.
No, throw money at every American household and you won't solve the economic crisis. A few people would end up doing quite well, but many others would end up worse than they are now.
But that's also a good reason not to throw unearned money at people who have already run their mega-businesses into the ground.
Giving the same incompetent people more money to keep doing things the same way and expecting a different outcome — isn't that a definition of insanity?
It's no more insane than the idea that, rather than giving money to Americans, we should suck cash out of their homes and give it to some of the wealthiest Americans at the head of auto companies and unions.