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Spending the Stimulus

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Last week the Providence Journal ran a piece by me on the forthcoming “rebate” checks from the government intended to be an economic stimulus, “The mandate is to ‘spend all you can’.” I take issue with the idea that the government gives us money that is our own in the first place, and then tells us how we ought to spend it: on consumables and retail goods to spur growth in the economy.

Instead, I propose that people “should use this rebate money as they see fit, since they are the ones most familiar with their own situations and their own needs. Consider giving part of the money to charity or saving, paying off debt or investing. And if it makes sense for you and your situation, you should feel free to buy that hi-def TV if you so desire.”

“But you certainly should not feel obligated to do so as if mere consumption is a civic responsibility,” I add.

The real problem with the package is that it perpetuates a view of the government’s role in the economy as the final arbiter of how markets ought to work and what people should be doing with their money. No doubt this is in part a response to the idea that the federal government in general, and the president in particular, has a primary formative influence on the shape and health of the nation’s economy.

Alasdair MacIntyre puts it this way,

Government insists more and more that its civil servants themselves have the kind of education that will qualify them as experts. It more and more recruits those who claim to be experts into its civil service…. Government itself becomes a hierarchy of bureaucratic managers, and the major justification advanced for the intervention of government in society is the contention that government has resources of competence which most citizens do not possess.

Thus comes the idea that the president is a kind of “economist in chief,” who directs the nation’s and the world’s markets by executive decree (compare that idea with the presidential job description given by the Concerned Women for America here).

Update: It’s 3 am…and this time the crisis is economic…

Of course, if we’re really concerned about someone answering a phone in a crisis, maybe we should elect a Wonder Pet:

Jordan J. Ballor Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is a senior research fellow and director of publishing at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty. He is also a postdoctoral researcher in theology and economics at the VU University Amsterdam as part of the "What Good Markets Are Good For" project. He is author of Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action) (Wipf & Stock, 2013), Covenant, Causality, and Law: A Study in the Theology of Wolfgang Musculus (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012) and Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church's Social Witness (Christian's Library Press, 2010), as well as editor of numerous works, including Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology. Jordan is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary.


  • Dan

    I couldn’t agree more.

    Here’s how I see it:

    The government giving us back our own money and then telling us what to do with it is like presenting God with the gifts and blessings he has already given us, and then telling God how we would like to have those gifts and blessings developed within us.

    “I offer my writing ability to you, O Lord. *But* if you could see to it that you use it to make me write the great American novel, that’d be great.”

  • I’ll probably use my “rebate” to pay taxes I still owe from 2005…

  • Check out this website — It’s encouraging all of us to “choose compassion over consumption” by giving all or part of those stimulus checks (or a like amount if you aren’t receiving a check) to organizations of your choice working to alleviate global poverty.

    It takes 2 minutes to take the pledge — and you can give at 100%, 10% or even 0.7%. No credit cards or anything like that … this is just a pledge of what you will do with the check when you get it.

    Check it out. So far nearly 200 people have taken the pledge and more than $50,000 has been pledged to help the poorest of the poor around the world.

    It’s a great movement to join!

  • Kate

    We got our letter telling us that our rebate would go to pay the taxes we couldn’t afford to pay this year. We appreciate the tax bill reduction package. I wish there was one every year.

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