Column Date 2008-06-13

Help the economy -- get a divorce

The US economy is in a slump and it's clear that we, the average citizens, are not doing enough to stimulate it.

But I have confidence in the American people: if we can't spend our way back to prosperity, no people on earth can.

This presents a problem: how many Gucci handbags can a woman own? How much bigger can we make our homes? How many more automobiles can we buy? How many more meals can we eat?

Traditional spending is clearly not the answer.

Thankfully, there's another way to raise our Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

In case you weren't paying attention in class, the GDP is the total value of all the goods and services produced in America. The more we produce and buy, the higher the GDP.

Curiously, it doesn't matter what we buy – as long as we're out there spending, the GDP goes up.

But I already have a Rolex watch, you say. And titanium golf clubs. And three cars. And I drink a much as I can. And I'm 75 pounds overweight, and I'm not very hungry.

What more can a patriotic American do?

Get a divorce, for a start.

Divorce in America is only a $21 billion dollar industry right now, and I think it has the potential to easily reach $50-60 billion. That's an extra $30 to $40 billion added to the GDP, an amount guaranteed to get a 'thumbs up' from every economist in Washington.

The more people who get divorced, the higher our GDP. Simple?

The same goes for strip mining, especially during these times of skyrocketing mineral prices.

Strip mining just a few thousand extra square miles, (say the states of Montana and Wyoming), could add trillions to our GDP. The value of the mineral wealth there surely outweighs any inconvenience to their citizens.

And if more of us ate poorly, that would help, too. (More medical problems, more doctor's visits, more expensive tests, more drugs – all this kicks the GDP way up.)

Incidentally, we must congratulate the one sector of our economy that is already doing more than its share to raise the GDP: our military. They've managed to convince Congress to spend more on our armies and weapons than all the other countries in the world combined!

By now, you realize that the GDP we use to gauge America's financial health is a very peculiar number indeed.

Maybe the answer is to measure two kinds of GDP: Good GDP and Bad GDP, just like cholesterol. That way, we might actually be able to figure out how we're doing as a country.

But breaking a bad habit is hard to do, and I am not optimistic.

GDP is now as American as apple pie.

An enormous slice of pie, of course, with two scoops of vanilla ice cream on top.

©2008 Peter Tannen