In the February 22, 2009 edition of the Chicago Tribune, Don Esmond, a U.S. sales executive for Toyota, in analyzing the state of the current car market, is quoted as saying, "Even the people with money are holding back."
That's quite a thought to conjure with, especially when you remember that over the Bush years there was an ever greater concentration of wealth at the top of American society. This aggregation of so much money among so few people has been compared to the Gilded Age of the nineteenth century robber barons.
We've all read about the wretched excesses of the ultra-rich; cataloging it has long been a staple of celebrity publishing and TV shows. We get glimpses of cars, yachts, planes, and houses that are the stuff of fairy tales for 99.9% of us.
There are, of course, people of immense wealth who have dedicated themselves and their fortunes to making the world a better place. Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffet come quickly to mind. They are donating tens of billions of dollars to helping people in dire need. God bless them.
But what our country needs today is a great many billionaires, and even demi-billionaires to step forward and emulate the fictional John Beresford Tipton. He was the semi-retired industrialist who handed out checks for $1 million to everyday people on the TV show The Millionaire. The show aired on CBS from 1955 to 1960. The $1 million Tipton gave away in 1955 would be roughly the equivalent of $8 million today.
For his time, Tipton, giving away the equivalent of $8 million a week, was a one-man stimulus plan.
Now, I'm not suggesting that the denizens of the country's various Gold Coasts start handing out multi-million dollar checks every week, but if Mr. Esmond is right and you're holding back, stop it! Start spending, as crazily as you normally would, but not on yourselves.
The American people are sorely aggrieved by the grandees in their midst. So now is the time to redeem yourselves in a Tiptonesque way that will help the economy.
Go out to middle-class restaurants one night and buy dinner for everyone present.
Go to a college book store and pay for every text book a student brings to the counter that day.
Go to a car dealer and do an Oprah: buy a car for every customer on the showroom floor.
Go to a bowling alley and not only treat for the beer frame, pay for the lines of everyone who picks up a ball.
Go to a department store like Kohl's and pay for the purchases of everyone in line between noon and two p.m.
Go to a public library and buy all the books they'd like to have but can't afford.
Go to a Boys' and Girls' Club and buy a gymful of new sporting equipment.
Go to a high school Scholastic Bowl tournament and buy the winners a team bus; buy one for the last place team, too.
Whatever you decide to do to help someone, and thereby stimulate the economy, do it the way Tipton did: anonymously. That's far cooler than taking credit for it. So don't hold back, rich people.
Get out there and commit random acts of conspicuous consumption—for someone else.