Billionaire For A Day: A More Entertaining Economic Stimulus Package

03/08/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Robert Guttman Director, Center on Politics and Foreign Relations (CPFR), Johns Hopkins University

How would you like to be a billionaire courtesy of the federal government?
No, I don't mean becoming a bank and then failing and cashing in on a bailout?

Let's face facts. The economic stimulus package is really quite boring and no one really has any idea what it is all about. No one is certain how many jobs it will really create or actually what good it will do, or if it will do anything positive for the economy.

Both the House and Senate will pass a bill and the president will sign it into law with a big White House ceremony. And the next day a trillion dollars -- or $819 billion or 900 billion will be allocated to be spent in the next few years.

Will you actually feel any different? No, not really. The economic stimulus package is not truly visible to the average American. We are not even getting a check from the federal government like we did in the last economic stimulus -- remember that one. Obviously it did not stimulate the economy that well.

So, let's do something to capture all Americans attention and by doing so make the economic stimulus package real to all of us who are very doubtful about this huge sum going to invisible projects that won't make much difference in our daily lives.

It makes as much sense to have an American Idol type competition among all taxpayers where we compete to win a billion dollars. Think of the enthusiasm this will generate among all Americans. It can all be televised in living color.

Eight hundred Americans will each win a billion dollars. The competition will include answering questions on the economy and government on national television.

Everyone has the chance of winning very big. It is tangible. It is visible. Eight hundred Americans will achieve the American dream in a big way. The rest of us can be jealous of the winners but at least we can see where the money -- our taxpayer dollars -- have gone.

We can envy the winners. We can envy the ways they stimulate the economy with their purchases. The rules will be that none of the billion dollars can be saved. It all has to be spent within three months to stimulate the economy. The federal government will set up a regulatory agency to make certain that the money is all being spent. We won't have the same people in charge who saw -- or didn't see -- the initial bailout money to banks and insurance firms disappear without any accounting to the public.

Every taxpayer gets his or her chance to win the jackpot of a billion dollars. It is all transparent and above board and we will all know exactly where our taxpayer dollars are going.

It will be incredibly entertaining and will set off a national mood of excitement and enthusiasm. It will be fair and honest. Television ratings will soar. President Obama and his Cabinet -- the ones who have all paid their taxes on time -- plus assorted celebrities and athletes could be the judges.

So, instead of a very vague feeling of not knowing where our trillion dollars is going from road repair to schools to technology projects we will all have a good time watching 800 people winning a billion dollars and then continue watching as they stimulate the economy with their winnings.

You too can be a billionaire! So, write your congressman and the White House and explain that you favor this idea over the boring, vague, and un-inspiring economic stimulus package now on the table.

You probably cannot find more than a handful of people in Congress or in the administration who even knows what is in this massive bill. No one knows how many jobs are really going to be created by this bill. No one knows what is really going to happen after this becomes law. What if the economy doesn't pick up? Do we pass another trillion dollar second economic stimulus bill?

Let's go for the billionaire American Idol competition. It makes as much sense as the current economic stimulus package... and it would be a lot more entertaining and probably more fair to the American taxpayer. And think of what we would all learn about our government and economic system as we study to win our share of this money.

This is a win, win real economic stimulus package for our times!