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How’s this for economic stimulus – free coupons, courtesy of the U.S. government!

No, Uncle Sam isn’t planning to start dropping off bundles of Sunday coupon inserts on your doorstep, though that might be kind of nice. Instead, if one Ivy League academic’s idea becomes reality, you could get government-funded coupons for free meals at your favorite restaurants the next time the economy goes sour.

That idea comes courtesy of Harvard University economist Gabriel Chodorow-Reich, a onetime member of the White House Council of Economic Advisers. He proposed the concept at the recent American Economics Association conference in San Diego.

As Chodorow-Reich envisions it, the government would send everyone a coupon worth $1,000 to be used at local restaurants of your choice. Depending on your particular tastes, that’s enough for a meal of a lifetime at the swankiest restaurant in town – or about a lifetime’s worth of Big Mac combo meals.

So why in the world would the government want to pay you to eat out?

Well, if you remember back in 2008, to help avert a recession, the government issued tax rebates and mailed out checks to millions of taxpayers. A year later, after a feared recession happened anyway, a government stimulus package offered new tax incentives to put more money in our pockets. The idea of both plans was to help lift the economy, encouraging consumer spending by giving us more money to spend.

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But what exactly did we spend it on? Nobody really knows.

So Chodorow-Reich’s logic is that, instead of giving us cash – which we might spend on foreign-made products that do nothing to help boost the U.S. economy, or which we might not spend at all – restaurant coupons would guarantee that we pump money into the local economy. His $1,000 coupons would come with an expiration date of about six months, so you’d have to use it or lose it.

He acknowledges it’s an unusual idea, and one that other businesses might object to – why restaurants, after all, and not, say, local shops or theaters? They might want a piece of that economic stimulus for themselves, instead of sitting and watching as the government reimburses restaurants for all the free meals they’ll be giving away to packed houses.

Besides, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. It would cost billions to send $1,000 coupons to every household in the country. And someone – namely, the American taxpayer; namely, you and me – is ultimately going to have to foot the bill for that government largesse.

But it’s one of many ideas discussed at the conference on how the government can use economic levers to help soften the blow of the next recession, whenever that might be.

So if the economy takes a dive, keep an eye on your mailbox. You may find a valuable coupon inside that will save you from having to cook for a while. Because as Gabriel Chodorow-Reich would have it, if the economy is wavering and people are struggling, give them a coupon and let them eat cake – or Big Macs, if you prefer.

Image source: Pixabay/Free-Photos

One Comment

  1. That someone who was on the White House Council of Economic Advisers came up with such an idiodic idea should concern all Americans. That he would actually present this at a conference in public is even more assinine.

    The best and only thing government can do during a recession is decrease the size of government and reduce taxes. The free market is the best allocator of capital, the government is the absolute worst.

    The fact this guy is a Harvard professor is hilarious. This is one of the worst economic ideas I have ever heard.

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