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Volume 15, Number 10
Burn Your House, Boost the Economy
by Lawrence Parks
As recently as 50 years ago, economists regarded the vitality of the economy as consonant
its ability to produce things people want (and would pay for). Today, the economy has been
redefined into something called the Gross Domestic Product, or GDP. It measures all goods and
services brought to market in a given year. But is it really an accurate measure of how well an
economy is serving people's needs? Here are some outlandish ways the GDP can be boosted.
Things Kids Can Do. Get sick. Constant medical attention is good for the GDP.
account for 14 percent of it. Let's stay on the growth curve. Kids can also become juvenile
delinquents. If they get arrested for heinous crimes, they go to jail, the expensiveness of which
gives the economy a jolt.
Things Adults Can Do. Get a divorce. Legal costs, two houses, and all the things
that go with two
houses (furniture, kitchen supplies, pictures, etc.) are important components of the GDP.
Divorces stimulate consumer demand.
Break something around the house, like a television, a dish, or a window. Replacing these
increases the GDP and creates jobs.
Smash up the car. It will have to be fixed or replaced. The auto industry employs, directly
indirectly, one of every seven workers in the U.S., and they need the overtime.
For great results, burn down the house. Don't worry. If you handle it right, insurance will pay
it and the rebuilding will keep a lot of people busy for a while.
Quit your job as a scientist and become a taxi driver. Research and development is not
in the GDP, but money spent on taxicabs is.
Overeat, don't exercise, don't brush your teeth, do drugs, smoke, drink, and make yourself
terribly sick. Get family members to do the same. Higher medical expenditures especially help
the GDP move up, up, up.
Hire help to take care of the kids, and force your wife to get a job. This gives the economy a
double boost. If your wife takes care of kids and cooks, this is not counted in the GDP. Hired
help is. If she gets a paycheck too, that counts towards measuring economic growth.
Hire a lawyer and sue somebody. Lawyers' fees are directly added to GDP.
Things You Can Do With Your Neighbor. Riot and burn the neighborhood. The
damage won't be
subtracted from GDP. But rebuilding puts people to work and benefits the GDP.
Form a gang and commit crimes with a view to getting caught. The more people in jail,
especially folks who would not otherwise have jobs, the better off the economy. Today, building
and managing jails is one of the hot "growth" industries, to say nothing of the security business.
Things Businesses Can Do. Pollute. A giant oil spill would be great. Superfund
sites expand the
Leverage up and build excess real estate, e.g., see-through buildings. They add to the GDP
they go up, but the waste is not subtracted when they are demolished. Similarly, companies can
build excess plant capacity (as IBM did in the mid-to-late 1980s to the tune of $30 billion).
All of this counts toward GDP. Again, when companies are "downsized," nothing is
from the GDP. It's similar in concept to the "roach motel": GDP counts the things going up, but
not going down.
For Best Results, Get The Government Involved: Lobby your elected
representatives to raise
taxes and spend more money. Government spending on goods and services adds to the GDP and
Start a war. Preferably one far away where no Americans get killed. B-2 bombers, tanks,
bullets,...all count in the GDP. Also, send Stinger missiles to liberation armies around the world.
Maybe some of these missiles will be used to knock down airliners. Replacing them helps the
economy, and, if lawyers get involved, there's a GDP bonus.
Target savers! People who save actually hurt the economy because they don't spend. If
spend their savings, then those purchases are added to the GDP. When they don't spend, the
economy suffers. What can be done to discourage saving? First, tax the return on savings: a
higher capital gains tax would be very helpful. Second, and best, debase the currency. By
up more and more money, we can dilute the value of people's savings (especially their long-term
savings such as their pension funds) surreptitiously stealing their savings for politicians to spend
and thereby increase GDP.
Get Mother Nature On Your Side. Pray for a natural disaster: a hurricane, an
earthquake, a big
fire, a flood. Disasters give the GDP a tremendous life because of all the rebuilding that must
If we do all these things, we'll have enough statistical growth to replace decades of economic
stagnation. We may achieve double-digit rates. As for whether the economy is actually vibrant,
we'll have to ask an economist who exercises more critical judgment than those who swear by
Larry Parks is president of FAME.