Wednesday, January 14, 2009

What to spend on for economic stimulus

The quest for the magic economic bullet to pull the country out of recession. We know a couple of things that don't work. Giving free money to citizens doesn't work, citizens are to shell shocked to spend it on anything. Giving free money to Wall St doesn't seem to do much either. The banks are so shell shocked they don't dare lend it out, even if anyone wanted to borrow it.
Some IBM guys suggested investing in broadband and something they called "smart power grid", and computerize the nation's medical records. I can buy the broadband argument, especially up here where a lot of places can't get broadband, no way, no how. Broadband is a necessary utility now, like phone and electric and water. No new businesses are going to start up in places they cannot get broadband.
The "smart power grid" argument was less compelling, partly because the writer didn't bother to explain what it was. Probably because he didn't understand the concept himself. All I can think of is the old utility dream of load leveling. Electric power demand peaks in the morning and evening (when customers are home and cooking) and on hot summer afternoon's when every air conditioner runs full blast. If some loads could be turned off during peak times, the peaks would get smaller, and the utilities wouldn't need as many generators as they do now. Things like hot water heaters, air conditioners, and refrigerators could be switched off during peak periods. Give the customer's an incentive to install "smart" appliances and some how send a signal over the power lines in peak periods telling the "smart" appliances to conserve electricity.
The biggest most expensive part of this would be getting customers to replace perfectly good appliances with "smart" ones. Maybe we just pass a law requiring all new appliances to be "smart" ones and let the normal replacement cycle phase them in gradually.
Either way, I don't see how "smart power grid" really stimulates the economy.
I'd get more behind computerizing all the medical records except I fear that once computerized, hackers and crackers will steal them and offer them for sale. Do you really want your medical records available to anyone on the Internet?

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