Monday, February 16, 2009

The Three Trillion Dollar Question & The Answer Is….

The fact is that the American and the global economy are in a severe recession. The biggest problem is a crisis of confidence. Uncertainty is always known to be the enemy of confidence. I am reminded of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle that we were taught in our electrical engineering studies, at the University of Engineering and Technology at Lahore 25 years ago.

The problem with the uncertainty today is that no one seems to know what they are uncertain about. Almost everyone agrees that the economy will eventually recover. Most people can also see the signs, not just here in America, but also abroad. These show some economic activity has begun to take place.

Some of the positive news that has come out in the American media recently has been a decline in the number of homes going into foreclosure. This has come at the same time as higher retail sales figures for the month of January. Of course these numbers may look higher compared to the very dismal sales figures of December 2008. Regardless, it is a positive sign.

However, it seems that at every stage, and at every piece of news, the stock market reacts adversely. My personal suspicion is that most large investors, including players in the stock market, and other influential figures may also be playing an active but insidious role in ensuring volatility in the stock market.

Mind you, I have no actual proof of this. It is merely a hunch. My suspicion is that these people play the stock market not just for regular profit but for nefarious purposes.

The volatility is actually not random but manipulated by certain key investor groups. It is their way of ensuring that people in government, the media as well as the public at large remain uncertain, as well as demanding of a bigger and bigger stimulus package, that is likely to benefit fewer and fewer people.

In other words, the more volatility they show in the market, the more they can get people to panic. The more that happens, or the more things appear uncertain, the greater the likelihood of being able to force the government to spend billions of dollars more, mostly on pork barrel spending or bailouts of crooked bankers.

There are several other positive signs. The price of oil continues to remain low. President Baraka Hussein Obama, with the support of his Democratic majority in Congress, has succeeded in passing a massive stimulus package. This stimulus package as it is called is nearly $800 billion worth of mostly government spending.

This package has come on top of nearly $2 trillion being pumped into American banks. In other words almost $3 trillion is getting spent on restarting the American economy. But is it going to be enough? That is the massive historical question.

My personal feeling is still ambivalence towards these amounts being spent.

I am highly opposed to the massive money poured into banks that did not lend money to consumers. Some of these shameless perpetrators of corporate malfeasance, and gross negligence and incompetence, went on to give themselves billions of dollars in bonuses. One yearns for the days of public hanging of vile characters like that.

Similarly, the money being spent on big government projects are not the answer for short-term solutions that we need to jumpstart the economy really quickly. For example, many projects will take months, if not years, to actually get rolling. Many approval processes and similar formalities will insure other delays. That means any hiring or new jobs that come from these projects may take years to come into the economy.

As a matter of fact, if the economy recovers on its own, especially with the private sector leading the way, it is even possible that by the time these government projects come online most of the capable talent will already be in private service. That means either less experienced or less capable people will end up running those projects. That increases the likelihood of failure and wasted money.

For months I have been proposing an alternate economic recovery plan. My proposal was based not on spending $3 trillion but one trillion.

My proposal is very simple. I suggest that the government set aside $1 trillion and create a state run bank. This bank would issue a short-term limited use credit card. On average the $1 trillion would be given out as a $10,000 credit card to 100 million American households. The range of credit available on these cards would be $5000-$25,000 (hence the average of about $10,000 per household).

The credit cards would be issued with a very simple set of rules. They would only be given to people who are legal residents, or citizens, and who had paid taxes in the last three years. They would not have filed bankruptcy during that period. People would have between 30 and 90 days to use up the entire limit on their credit card. That means "use it or lose it" would be the rule.

This would ensure that one trillion American dollars would jump right back into the economy within 30-90 days. People would be allowed to buy anything legal at any American merchant who accepts these credit cards. These credit cards could even be used to buy an American automobile, if people wanted to. That way American consumers money would be going to American automakers to help them recover - but without it being a no strings attached bailout, as was previously being asked for.

This credit card would not be a giveaway. The entire money borrowed by the consumers would have to be repaid in full, with interest, to the government. However, instead of 15-25% interest rates that most banks charge on credit cards, if they were even issuing new credit, people would be able to pay in this credit card loan back to the government at a nominal interest rate of about 5%.

Even at this 5% rate consumers would be saving a ton of money in interest payments. At the same time even the government would be making a lot more money in interest income than it has been getting from literally giving away taxpayer money to banks at nearly 0%.

Instead of the government trying to set up the infrastructure for doing this, I would have MasterCard, Visa and American Express compete for the business of merchant processing. The condition would be that they would not charge the typical 3-5% transaction fee to merchants but 0.5%
In exchange merchants would have to pass that in savings to consumers. It would still be a win-win-win for everybody.

The credit card companies would still get to process hundreds of millions of new transactions - without having to do any marketing. Merchants would be ensured of immediate new cash coming in through these transactions - without additional cost. Consumers would benefit from the lower costs being passed on to them - without having to wait for expensive credit lines from sleazy banks.

People would have the choice of paying this credit card in monthly statement payments, just like any other credit card. In addition they could also make payments to this credit card loan by adding some of the amount due to the annual taxes that they pay.

Within five years most of the money will be recovered in full, with interest. $1 trillion will immediately go into the US economy to jumpstart it. Many consumers will be able to buy things that they are unable to afford for lack of credit right now. Thousands of merchants will be able to stay in business with the influx of cash. States will benefit from sales tax revenues starting up again. Manufacturers will be able to keep factories running and people employed. Above all, the solution benefits every American, at every level of education and economic strata, not just a few.

I believe my $1 trillion answer is the solution to the $3 trillion question. What do you think?
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