10/30/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Bailout Brainstorm: Ignorant Questions from a Confused Citizen

First, my economics credentials:

* I read The Worldly Philosophers twice. For fun. So I thought I might like to major in Econ.

* I got a C in the only Econ course I ever ended up taking.

Now, let me conduct today's emergency test of that saying uttered by nurturing teachers everywhere: There are no dumb questions.

Now that the House has rejected the $700 billion bailout proposal, here are my (possibly dumb) questions. Feel free to comment below and add your own questions. Maybe something we ask -- even something dumb we ask -- will trigger a useful idea in the brain of someone who actually understands this stuff.

Question 1: Are we likely to be back in this position again if we send a $700 billion message that America is a country that bails out companies that take reckless risks?

Question 2: If the Titanic is sinking, do you spend $700 billion trying to fix the Titanic even as the water is pouring in? Or do you spend $700 billion on rescue ships, lifeboats, a replacement ship with a stronger hull, iceberg-detection research, fabulous new modes of transportation that will carry passengers more safely and quickly to destinations nobody has even dreamed of yet, etc.?

Or to put it a different way, what if we didn't use $700 billion to stop the financial services industry from sinking? What if we used it to make new things soar?

Again, this may be an utterly foolish idea, but I hope somebody with a fancy calculator is at least considering what $700 billion could do for the American economy and for the portfolios of everyday investors if it was used for:

* loans to small businesses

* building new infrastructure and repairing old infrastructure

* startup loans for entrepreneurs with fresh ideas for alternative energy

* loans (oh hell, let's be bipartisan here) to fund construction of offshore oil rigs

* startup capital for people who want to open brand-new banks that voluntarily agree to abide by more sensible lending guidelines than those required by current regulation

* college loans (perhaps targeted toward students interested in studying to become scientists, engineers, teachers, etc.)

* so-called "commercial paper," which as I understand it is the run-of-the-mill credit many businesses count on to keep themselves going

That's it. That's what I've got.

I have places to be. Like five minutes ago. And my other questions are every bit as ignorant. But I wanted to get a conversation started. Join the brainstorm. Add your comments.

Thank you.