Quarters on the Sidewalk as Stimulus
By Art Carden
A very brief Twitter exchange from last week:
@WesleyVaughn Dropping a million quarters on sidewalks around town would be a better idea.
— Art Carden (@artcarden) August 12, 2014
I was jesting, but only sort of. As a friend has suggested, Birmingham’s push for the Democratic National Convention is probably part of a larger strategy to convince area voters that we could get such “big time” events if we only had a domed stadium (my explanation for why Birmingham shouldn’t build one is here).
If the city is going to spend $250,000 to stimulate the local economy–or to try to bring in a Big Fish project like the DNC–I wonder if they couldn’t spend the money better. Why might scattering one million quarters around town be a better idea?
The amounts are small enough that it won’t encourage a ton of rent-seeking, particularly by people with a very high opportunity cost of their time. If it’s not announced, it likely won’t encourage people to spend a lot of time hunting for quarters. There are likely to be salutary distributional consequences, as well. I’m less likely to bend down and pick up a quarter than I am to bend down and pick up ten bucks. It is more likely to be worth a poor person’s time to bend down and pick up the change.
By that token, if it is announced, it might produce the salutary effect of putting more eyes on the streets. Could we expect lower crime rates?
It might also encourage the city’s homeless population to spend more time scavenging and less time asking people in Five Points and other parts of town for change.
If we want to get all Keynesian, quarters are pretty easy to spend.
So I’ll put it to the readers. Suppose you have to use $250,000 of taxpayer money to stimulate the local economy. Tax refunds aren’t an option. How do you do it?