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The Ghost of Lessons Past

You’ve been vaccinated (yay!) and you want to take a trip, only you’re not sure where to go. It’s March, so heading to Phoenix sounds nice. But Chicago is always fun and you haven’t been there in ages.

How to decide? Many of us would think about where we’ve been, as well as where we are, in order to figure out where to go. Reviewing your past vacations (hmmm, I’ve been to Phoenix a half-dozen times in the last few years) and surveying your current condition (I have two vacation days to use right now), might help you make the common sense decision to forego sunny Phoenix and head to Chicago instead. Simple, right? Then why don’t we make decisions for our future by reviewing and learning from the past when it comes to politics?

Take the debate over the “trillion-dollar-and-then-some” corona virus relief package, which will most likely be passed in some form or another by the time you read this. If we look carefully at the last time our country was in a major economic hole, it was 2008. Just like today, Republicans then balked at the stimulus package the Democrats proposed, arguing that it was too expensive and that tightening our belts, rather than spending and adding to our debt, would get us out of the financial mess we were in. Countries that bought into that austerity argument suffered mightily. Greece, for instance, cut spending so severely that their economic growth tanked for years. It took three EU bailouts over a decade for Greece to even begin its recovery. In the U.S., the compromise of spending less than what the Dems proposed in 2009 led to a much slower climb out of Great Recession hole, something for which Republicans continue to criticize the Obama administration, even though the compromise they demanded—a smaller stimulus bill—was the major cause of the slower recovery.

Fast forward to 2017. Republicans and the Trump administration pushed through an estimated $1.2 to $1.9 trillion dollar tax cut to further stimulate the economy, predicting the move would pay for itself and not add to the debt. That prediction failed miserably. Why? Because the tax cut mainly went to rich CEOs and their shareholders. And when wealthy people get extra cash, they invest it, unlike poor or middle-class Americans, who immediately spend it on things like food or rent. In a consumer economy like ours, spending, rather than investing, is what stimulates and grows the overall economy.

You’d think this would have been a lesson learned that we could apply to our current situation. Not so for most House and Senate Republicans, who oppose the relief bill, saying it’s too expensive. To be fair, they also argue it’s not really a corona virus relief bill, but more of a liberal wish list of pork projects. So let’s just set aside the nearly $140 billion the plan includes for virus testing, contact tracing, and expanded vaccine distribution. Let’s try looking back to determine if the rest of this relief plan is a good idea moving forward.

What did you do during the past year to keep your sanity intact? Did you watch a movie? Visit a museum or listen to a concert online? If so, then you won’t mind the $15 billion or so the bill provides to small businesses in the entertainment industry. Did you order take-out from a restaurant during the pandemic? If so, then you’ll consider the $25 billion to bars and restaurants a wise move.

Were you one of the unfortunate folks living in a rural community who got sick last year? Then you’ll be happy with the billions the bill provides to help struggling rural hospitals and health care providers.

Are you one of the estimated 11.4 million workers who lost their jobs and need unemployment benefits?  Spending somewhere between $400 and $600 billion to help you get through this time will most likely be a huge relief to you and your family.

Are you a small business owner (which, in Wisconsin, accounts for more than 99% of the state’s economy)? Then you’re looking at roughly $232 billion in support (loans, grants, payroll protection).

Were you unable to pay your rent or utility bills because you lost your job? Then the billions in aid coming to state and local governments to help low-income households cover back rent, rent assistance, utility bills and property taxes will help you rest easier.

Did you spend any time in a homeless shelter during this pandemic? Then you’ll be pleased with government spending to help states and localities assist those at risk of experiencing homelessness, as well as emergency housing vouchers for those who are homeless.

Did your kids’ school go virtual during the pandemic? If so, then the money for K-12 schools to help students safely return to their classrooms should put a very big smile on your face.

This bill will potentially cut child poverty in half. There’s also support for child care centers, which will help parents return to work. Still thinking about going to Phoenix or Chicago? Then you’ll appreciate the billions for transit funding, including support for Amtrak and the airlines.

These are investments Democrats believe are worth making right now, based on our collective experience of the Great Recession, as well as the most recent economic hardships suffered by many Americans since February of 2020. They want to avoid the mistakes of the past by making wise and big investments now that will pay off sooner rather than later. Many economists agree. In a recent letter to President Biden from Gene Sperling, former director of the National Economic Council and Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel Laureate in economics, going big now is exactly what’s needed to get our economy rolling again, and quickly.

“While the COVID relief package passed at the end of 2020 was better than nothing, it was too little and too late to address the enormity of the deteriorating situation,” read the letter, co-signed by 120 of the country’s top economists. “Unfortunately, the steps taken by the previous administration and Congress were not enough to help families and businesses weather the storm, nor for our nation’s economy to fully recover. It’s critical for Congress to immediately pass a new coronavirus relief package that will provide additional assistance to families and businesses struggling through a hard winter.”

So, I wonder: if we set aside party affiliations and learned from The Ghost of Lessons Past rather than fearing or ignoring it, could that help us make better decisions about our future?

Photo by Carlos Nunez, @cnbrightskies, on


  1. Jill,
    I so appreciate your ability to dissect the Covid Relief Bill by asking questions.
    I’ll use your good work as a resource in anticipated conversations!
    Thank you!

    • Thank you–You’ve been a great “question coach” to me through the years!


  2. I learn so much just reading your Jillosophy, l don’t remember it but when I’m reading I do understand so much more about this country, this government & where we are in this crazy time. Thank you Jill, you are so smart!

    • If you weren’t my mom, I’d hire you to be my agent. Thanks Mom!!

  3. Thank you so much for this. As I had a little concern about the huge amount of money being allocated, I remembered that this is long overdue (at least 20 years). If we had been investing or spending money for these things back then, we would have been so better off. Thank you for articulating this so well.

    • I think it’s healthy and normal to be concerned about government spending–after all, it is our money! But having run a business, I know you can’t “cut” your way to growth. Every successful business must make smart investments if they hope to have a bright future. Why do many of those who want government to be run more like a business seem to be unable to grasp this? We should be discussing which investments will have the best, most impactful returns. In my experience, those would be investments made in people–getting them educated, keeping them safe, and ensuring that everyone has a chance at a good job with decent wages.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment!

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