The Check is in the Mail?

As Washington debates what to do next about the economic crisis, it should think about one thing Washington does well.

I know what that is, because I see it every month. The second Wednesday of every month. That’s the day my Social Security is deposited in my checking account.

Democrats especially might think about this.

If they win big this year, they’ll want to do something big next year. Something that works. Something that lasts.

They’d like to do something that doesn’t get them thrown out of town in 2022, which is what usually happens when Democrats do something big in Washington. Remember when Presidents Clinton and Obama tried to do health care reform their first years in office? Democrats lost big in the next mid-term elections.

A lot of ideas are floating around as the economy sinks deeper: billions for state and local governments to fill budget holes, billions for hospitals and health care, Medicare for All, an infrastructure jobs plan, renewable energy investments, worker protections and – yes – more direct checks to Americans.

Congress already sent one round of checks. Many Americans got – or were supposed to get – one-time $1,200 checks.

The stimulus efforts had problems. Big businesses got money intended for small businesses. Small businesses couldn’t make heads nor tails of what they did get and how they could and couldn’t use the money. Some gave up and sent the money back. Some didn’t get a dime.

There are charges of fraud and favoritism, corruption and cronyism, slowness and sluggishness, bureaucratic bungling and blundering.

That happens when you throw trillions of dollars at a problem in a hurry.

Why not throw the money into the hands of the American people? Let them decide how to spend it. Let the magic of the market work.

Apparently, many people will go immediately to a barbershop or hair salon. Or a bar. They’ll pay rent, buy groceries, get the car fixed, buy clothes and stock up on toilet paper. They’ll shop local. They’ll invest in America.

This isn’t a new idea born in the pandemic. It was the whole idea behind Andrew Yang’s campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Yang called it a “Universal Basic Income.” He proposed sending every American a check for $1,000 a month. Not just once, but forever. No income ceiling, no means-testing, no fuss, no muss. Just a monthly check.

Andrew Yang: send checks

Where would the money come from? Yang said Americans’ jobs and futures are being uprooted by new technology, so companies benefitting from technology – like Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft – should pay higher taxes. They get rich collecting and selling our personal information, he said; shouldn’t they pay us back?

Some Republicans might go along. Senator Josh Hawley, a conservative Republican from Missouri, has proposed monthly payments of $1,400-$2,200 for families for the duration of the emergency. He said families “need guaranteed, accessible, and rapid relief.”

Billionaire Mark Cuban proposed $1,000 payments every two weeks to all 128 million households. The money would have to be spent within 10 days, not saved. He said, “No amount of loans to businesses will save them or jobs if their customers aren’t buying.”

It’s the opposite of trickledown. Cuban called it “trickle up.”

Yes, some will call it socialism. Opponents called Social Security socialism. But that doesn’t seem to bother us. Social Security is still around almost 90 years after Franklin D. Roosevelt started it.

Once Americans get a check, they might get to liking it. It works for me, anyway.

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