Maybe we should rethink our “No Child Left Behind” program. If we eliminate all expectations for achievement and behavior, we may actually be able to recapture our economic and moral supremacy, and be number one in the world. Sounds counterintuitive, I know, but there is a precedent for this kind of thinking.
At yesterday’s TED conference in Monterey, California, Jay Walker, founder of Priceline.com, made the case that it was the Catholic Church’s Plenary Indulgences—not the Guttenberg Bible—that drove the creation and popularity of the printing press. In the 15th century, indulgences were like modern day torts, and the church hierarchy was the equivalent of ambulance chasing trial lawyers. Instead of the laborious and often inaccurate process of copying these documents that absolved people of their sins, the Church had a better business plan. It was the equivalent of a class-action suit, because printing these Letters of Indulgence en masse would provide a new, extensible and scalable revenue stream that could feed the coffers of the Vatican even at times of pestilence, plague, and extreme poverty.
This is an interesting profit model. There is limited cost—a simple document—and all you need is some kind of proof that the sinner sinned. My program, GIST (Government Indulgence Sinners Tax), would be sent by email to minimize cost, and sinners would have to pay by credit card, Pay Pal, or Google Checkout. For heavy sinners, there could be an annual discount of, say, 10 percent, assuming they “bank” a lump sum that can be drawn from—a kind of “easy pass” for incorrigibles.
So how can America adapt this system to solve our economic shortfalls? It’s simple. First, the Supreme Court has to declare the new “7 Debtly Sins” that are not covered by law and that don’t have direct victims (which would involve trial lawyers who would use up all the money collected).
Here’s a potential list:
1. Greed: GIST all who followed the herd on Wall Street into the subprime mess. We could start with Stanley O’Neal of Merrill Lynch who walked away with over $160 million of investors’ money after tossing Merrill to the wolves. And Charles Prince of Citigroup, whose chairman, Bob Rubin, had to go hat-in-hand to Dubai to get some oil money to bail out Citi after they nearly went bankrupt, got over $30 million to say “sayonara.” Citigroup is planning massive lay offs, possibly 45,000, increasing the government’s unemployment insurance pay outs and reducing the taxes collected from those individuals. GIST should include the golden parachute payouts, the houses, the cars, the boats, the Rolex watches, and the titanium finished Sub-zero refrigerators of all CEO’s who played in the sub-prime sandbox.
2. Gluttony: Making Medicare or Medicaid pay for your diabetes because you overeat.
3. Lust: Making Medicare or Medicaid pay for your STD because you're over sexed.
4. Wrath: Working for Gawker or some other “I’m young, angry and hateful” Internet site that contributes nothing to the society. Wasting one’s talent is economically sinful.
5. Envy: Spending outside your means to keep up with the Joneses only to go bankrupt and lose everything.
6. Sloth: Living at home with your parents after age 23.
7. Pride: Taking steroids so that your biceps would look like Sammy Sosa’s. The steroid scandal is costing the U.S. mega dollars—hearings, special prosecutors endless discovery and testimony. And, of course, the rise of the role model as “cheater.”
In addition there would be a kind of ϋber category—Just Plain Stupid. This is the category that will likely be the greatest profit center. One reason: most of our politicians would easily qualify for this category. For example, Mike Huckabee told CBS, “….we ought to declare that we will be free of energy consumption in this country within a decade, bold as that is.” George W. Bush alone would provide close to 40% of the total revenue with statements like, "I don't particularly like it when people put words in my mouth, either, by the way, unless I say it." Celebrities would be a veritable windfall, with Britney, Lindsay, Paris, and Ashton. And then there are the not so stupid celebrities who do unbelievably stupid things—Tom Cruise, Mel Gibson, Michael Richards, Sharon Stone.
Add it all up, and it looks like at least $1 trillion a year in operating income. That’s enough to get the dollar out the dumpster and help stem inflation. So let’s keep America's citizens sloppy, stupid and sinful. We just have to find a way to profit from them.