My son works in the management of a large Portland-area distributor. Like every business on the planet, they are struggling. The real problem for them, and most other businesses, are the thousands of unexpected consequences that this pandemic has generated. One of them is finding labor. COVID relief efforts have created a moral hazard for many of America’s workers as social welfare programs make unemployment more palatable. Entry-level jobs that used to be filled by young or untrained workers now go vacant. Trucks don’t get loaded, floors don’t get swept, telephone calls don’t get answered and inventory is delivered late. It is easy, if you manage or own a business, to oppose any more relief when all it seems to bring is a greater labor shortage, more unwanted consequence and less profit.

According to our representatives, the rationale for dumping money on this scale is to keep you and your family housed and fed for the duration. No doubt they are being completely honest when they commiserate with the families who can’t pay their rent or adequately feed themselves. But giving a stimulus check and enhanced unemployment benefits to individuals is aimed at helping not any one person in particular, but rather, all of us in general.

The only thing you can do with money is spend it. That means that any stimulus check, unemployment benefit or business subsidy is going to be in someone else’s pocket within hours of its reception. An unemployed recipient gives some of his check to his kids, who go to the corner store and buy a couple pints of ice cream; the corner store owner uses the cash to help pay his rent; the landlord pays a mechanic for fixing his car; the mechanic buys his wife a bouquet of flowers – and so on and so on.

In theory, this process could go on forever were it not for saving. Americans have been on a savings binge for the last year. Through the summer, the rates were consistently above 20 percent, and are still hovering between 7 percent and 10 percent. Every time someone decides to save some of their income (in other words, they want to postpone spending until another day), that money is taken out of the consumption economy for a period of time and thus breaks the chain. If everyone saves 10 percent of their income, then the stimulus dollar is decreased by 10 percent every time it changes hands.

One hundred dollars of stimulus will, in theory, create $1,000 of consumption. In practice other factors will also diminish this multiplier effect. Differences among people and changing economic environments cause people to consume and save differently, but every stimulus dollar will at least be doubled and, in many cases, quadrupled. Not only will every recipient become wealthier with each economic exchange, but the Maine government recovers 5.5 percent in sales tax and the federal government recovers another large percentage in income tax each time the money trades hands.

No matter what the cheats and flim-flam artists do, when they spend their unemployment or Paycheck Protection Program checks, most of that money will make its way to a needy economy. Thousands of families and businesses will find this enough to keep standing up until the pandemic is over.

There are many issues and risks about this stimulus to ponder, and every American needs to take the time to consider it carefully. Fiscal conservatives are absolutely correct when they point out that all of this money will have to be repaid in either future tax revenue, periods of inflation or lowered standards of living. What is also absolutely correct is that every day we wait, more businesses close and more workers file for unemployment. A portion of those businesses and jobs will never come back. The stimulus is not a welfare payout, but an investment in our economy’s future. All investments carry a risk, but doing nothing means allowing the coronavirus to chart our course. Given the choice, I’d rather go with the economists.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.