Here's my idea for fixing the US economy: Send tax rebate checks to kids.
No, I'm not talking about government cash sent in care of their parents. These rebates should go directly to elementary school-age children themselves.
Why? Because they'd spend it, that's why. I'd say my two sons (fourth and third grade) are fairly typical in this regard. Money doesn't just burn a hole in their pocket. It opens a howling vortex in space itself, sucking them irresistibly toward Shananigan's Toy Store.
Buying stuff makes their synapses dance a happy rumba. Planning to buy stuff is almost as good. They'll spend hours debating such questions as: Which is better, the Mission to Mercury Omnicruise Space Borer, or the Knights of the Hexagaon Battle Bow Tower Set?
By contrast, some of the tax rebate checks now flowing to US adults will get saved, lessening the stimulus effect on the economy. Some will just be forgotten. One of my friends told me he'd received his rebate and that it totaled $11.61.
I asked him what he was going to use the check for. "Scratch paper," he said.
Other arguments for Kid Cash include:
1. It would spread happiness. True, for the average third-grader, the glow from a new Bionocle lasts only about seven minutes. But when was the last time a letter from the IRS made you feel good for longer than that?
2. It would be cheap. Eleven bucks may not seem like a lot to an adult with a mortgage, but to kids – my kids anyway – it would rate as a treasure of rare value. They'd see no irony in a movie titled "Indiana Jones and Next Week's Allowance."
3. It would teach them about the US government. If you're a social studies teacher, what's the more compelling subject – "Implications of the Whiskey Rebellion," or "Beaucoup Bucks From Uncle Sam?" Extra marks for students who figure out that by adding to the national debt, which will be shouldered by coming generations, they are just borrowing their government rebate from their future selves.
So I think I'm right on the economics here. The problem is the politics. Why should Washington help out kids? They don't vote.
Parents might not push the idea, either. It could cut into their own rebate checks, which go up if you have children. Not to mention that it would just lead to more items of colorful extruded plastic cluttering up the house.
But seniors do vote. The 65-plus crowd is famously reliable at the polls. And what's another word for "senior?" That's right – "grandparent." My theory is that doting Pop-Pops and Grandmamas all across the US will be eager to have the government help them spoil their little woochimkims.
Plus, given the potential candy and soda sales here, I'm sure the sugar lobby will want to get involved. Maybe they can even shoehorn this into the farm bill.
Next week: Why the IRS should let us list dogs as "dependents."
• Peter Grier writes for the Monitor from Washington.