Money is like manure; it’s not worth a thing unless it’s spread around.
Let’s see if I’ve got this right . . .
The economy is decelerating now because the federal stimulus to date has run its course, and additional federal stimulus risks drowning the U.S. (further) in red ink and endangering its very creditworthiness.
Meanwhile, corporations sit on the mother lode of all cash hoards — an estimated $2 trillion for just the S&P 500.
All this, as shareholders have just suffered the worst decade investors have experienced . . ever: nominally down 20% from where they were . . . in 2000.
And that’s before accounting for the stock market’s sickening volatility, or a decade’s worth of inflation that masks even more erosion in investors’ wealth (my label for the foregoing toxic brew: ‘risk without return’).
Three Birds With One Stone
So, to summarize:
The challenge now is to get money into the hands of deserving people — who will actually put it to good use — without making future generations pay for it.
Anyone else have a light bulb go off?
Give corporations an incentive to disburse their cash hoard; then, give shareholders an incentive to spend it.
The simplest way to do that would be to declare a Dividend Holiday through the end of 2010 during which the federal government would waive taxes on all dividends.
Carrot won’t work?
Then consider a stick: taxing corporations on excess undistributed cash.
Either way, such a bold step would have three benefits (and few costs):
One. It rewards long-suffering shareholders.
Why is that important?
Abuse shareholders long enough, and eventually they will “take their marbles and go home.”
After the 1929 crash, an entire generation learned not to put their money in stocks.
That attitude threatens capital formation, future innovation, and arguably capitalism itself.
Deprive savers of a return on their investment, and they lose their wherewithal to finance their retirements.
Guess where they’ll turn to for help.
Two. It takes the money away from overpaid CEO’s.
Incredibly, the average S&P 500 CEO now makes almost $10 million annually, up 700% since 1980.
Meanwhile, workers’ wages during that time have stagnated, and investors — to belabor the point –are worse off than they were a decade ago.
As the saying goes, money — like manure — isn’t worth anything until it’s spread around.
Three. It relieves the pressure on the Federal Reserve to print more money, and the U.S. Treasury to borrow more.
According to that famous physics theorem, the First Law on Holes, “when you’re in one . . . stop digging!!”
Having dropped interest rates to zero and kept them there, Ben Bernanke is now resorting to raw injections of liquidity (called “quantitative easing”) to stimulate the economy.
There’s plenty of money in the economy already.
The challenge is to get it circulating, productively, again.