Ken AshfordEconomy & Jobs & DeficitLeave a Comment

I admit it.  I can be quite gullible at times.  It’s very easy to pull the wool over my eyes, and some people have managed do it with remarkable ease and regularity.

So I’m always on my toes on April Fool’s Day.  But nope, I got fooled.

Riding to rehearsal, I heard an incredible story on NPR.  It was on "Marketplace", which is not my favorite NPR show (econony and Wall Street — yawn).  Did you hear it?

Seems that the IRS has launched a pilot plan to help spur the economy.  They want people to take their tax refunds, and spend it (rather than save it, or pay down their debt).   So one million early filers got a surprise. Rather than receiving a check from the IRS, they received goods from the IRS.  The "Marketplace" news segment talked to a couple in Phoenix, Arizona who received a big box from the IRS.  Inside was an air conditioner.  Rather than a refund check, the IRS decided to spend that money on something the couple needed, and pumped their refund into the economy.

The piece then had an interview with an IRS employee, who explained that it was easy, through the Internet, to determine what a taxpayer might like to receive instead of their refund. For example, the Pheonix couple lived in hot Phoenix, and their house was on the market.  The IRS was able to determine that they lacked air conditioning, so voila — they sent an air conditioner!

Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich weighed in, criticizing the IRS initiative.  He said, quite correctly, that the government historically does a poor job of determining what people want.  Plus, the effect of such a program on the economy would be negligible.  Plus, the cost of shipping the air conditioner was expensive (to which the IRS employee responded "Not really.  We’re the federal government.  We own the post office."]

Well, I was incensed.  What gives the federal government the right to spend MY refund check on something it THINKS I might want?

I arrived at rehearsal.  Joe and Kelly were there.  "You wouldn’t believe the news story I just heard on the way over here!" I said.

"Me too!"  Joe said.  "About the IRS?  Can you believe it?"

Kelly, who didn’t hear the radio story, laughed.  "It’s an April Fool’s joke.  It’s gotta be."

Oh, right.  Of course it was.


Good one, NPR.  (You can listen to the story and/or read the script here).