Mad Money

Commentary: Stonewall Baby

The current state of economics is leaving me stumped. Primarily, I’m scratching my head about this rebate package President Bush signed last week.

In the little-picture view of things, where the border of existence goes only as far as my fingertips, it seems I’ve got a few hundred dollars coming my way. Whee! As soon as I try to expand my little-picture view, however, confusion creeps in.

My government tells me that I’m getting this money to stimulate the economy, meaning I’m supposed to spend this money, rather than save it. Right? I’m supposed to send a message to retailers that translates to ”gimme gimme gimme.” I think.

But how much stimulus am I providing if I buy consumer goods that may be offered by American companies, but aren’t produced in America? A brilliant June 2007 New York Times article penned by Hal R. Varian detailing how many countries play a hand in producing an Apple iPod, for example, indicates that the lion’s share of what an American consumer pays for the groovy gadget may end up in Japan, even if Apple Inc. is based in Cupertino, Calif.

In anticipation of this unexpected cash, I tried perusing a site called madeinusa.org. There was plenty on offer, from banjos to poker tables to digital frames. There was not anything, however, that grabbed my fancy. But there was a warning reading, ”Please realize that many sellers of MADE in USA products, on the Internet, carry other products to round out their selections.” Those ”other products,” one could fairly assume, are products made elsewhere. And there’s a Toyota factory in Kentucky. This is some tricky shit.

I did see something online over the weekend that is definitely a novel approach to this supposedly rational rebate.

Dark Alley Media, based in Jersey City, N.J., is infamous for its relatively raunchy gay porn. The company has patriotically stepped up to offer ”For Cock and Country Stimulus Packs” of adult DVDs as a way of spending one’s rebate check. I don’t think this is what the president had in mind when he signed the ”stimulus package,” but Dark Alley’s selections appear, at least, to be domestic products.

Then again, where are the actual DVDs and packaging manufactured? Are all the actors American, or will they be heading abroad with their earnings? I just don’t know.

Some domestic travel is another possibility. Thanks to MySpace, I’ve stumbled across a long-lost friend, whom I last saw in 1975. He’s alive and well and gay and living in San Francisco. My rebate check will likely be enough to cover a ticket from here to there, but would it be a rebate wisely spent?

My primary concern is the origin of the fuel needed to carry me to San Francisco and back, a substantial portion — if not the majority — of the fare. In this scenario, am I sending money to Venezuela or Iran or Saudi Arabia? Or would I be flying on good ol’ ”Texas tea”? Who knows?

A secondary worry would be whether spending the rebate in a way that uses oil helps keep the price of crude heading skyward, which hurts the economy. Granted, I’m just one little American with my theoretical few hundred dollars. But I’m average in so many ways, I’m certain I won’t be alone in spending this money in whatever way I will.

So there’s a lot of pressure here.

As a patriotic American, I want to do what’s best for my country. If this was 1941, the decision would be easy: Buy a war bond. In today’s economic landscape, that would be the equivalent, however, of putting the money in savings, which is exactly what we’re not supposed to do — if I understand the intent of the stimulus package.

While I’ve got weeks left to imagine what to do with this money, I’m not so confident that I’ll come up with any idea that’s good for me and domestic finances. And I’d like to feel more confident that my government knows what it’s doing. Consider, however, that Bush’s recently proposed, record-level budget includes increases — not just maintaining current spending — for abstinence-only sex education. But if people who know far more about this stuff than I do believe that record deficits paired with increasing money for abstinence education and printing some more cash to give Americans back some of their own money — which, in a sense, we don’t have to give back to ourselves in the first place — who am I to argue? Gimme, gimme, gimme.

Will O’Bryan was born as the Stonewall Riots ended, making him a Stonewall Baby. E-mail him at the link above.

Follow Will O'Bryan on Twitter @wobryan.