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What is Not in The Stimulus Package? Lots of Innovation.

Posted by: Bruce Nussbaum on February 18, 2009

President Obama signed the Stimulus Bill and it’s pretty much the size he wanted—about $800 billion. But it is not the design he wanted. Yes, it does have money for digitizing health care records (and Facebook’s privacy problems should be a warning on how tough this is going to be to implement). It has money to build more school rooms, a good tax break for wind and solar companies, plus a big boost to R&D in science and technology. All very good. Check out the numbers on the Obama website. All very insufficient for what the US needs.

President Obama hasn’t articulated it, but I believe he has a vision for an America that is green, urban, tech-centric and young. His Stimulus Bill is a downpayment on transitioning us there but much more needs to be done to get us there.

I’m predicting that there will be a second Stimulus Bill a year from now. Probably of the same magnitude. Here is what I’d like to see the money spent on. Send in your ideas on what you think our tax-dollars should be invested in. Heck, your ideas will probably be better than the ones Washington comes up with

Here are my suggestions:

1) Free college tuition for all Americans. That means ending the heavy debt burden now on students. The US’s success in the 19th and 20th centuries was largely due to universal education, which few nations had at that time. This has to be extended to the college and even graduate level. We are transforming ourselves into a creativity-based economy and we need a creative, innovative population.

2) Spend the billions to make the visa system a fast, welcoming narrative for smart, educated people around the world. This includes all those students who want to study here. Hire top innovation consultants such as Ziba, Continuum, Smart and IDEO to design the experience of processing immigrants quickly and safely. The one thing the US has gotten right over the centuries is immigration. It is the key to the country’s economic success. We’ve messed that up since 9/11. it has to be fixed.

3) Portland-ize America’s cities. We need to spend billions to remake our cities into creativity/culture centers that drive economic growth. That means more money to urban universities and research centers, new mass transportation systems that include serious bike lanes and electric trolleys and buses and more funding for museums, theater, dance and music. It also means low-cost housing for young artists and students.

4) Build out broadband now. Broadband is our network of highways, canals and rivers for the 21st century. We need the fastest network shared by all of the people at the cheapest price. Period. This is a no brainer. Do it now.

5) Revolutionize learning—and teaching. There is a huge learning/teaching/technology gap between Gen Yers and their Boomer teachers and administrators. They live in parallel worlds. Billions should be spent at the best Teachers Colleges in the country to help them partner up with the best animators and game makers to create new curriculum that fits youth culture. A new grade school in New York City will have a game-based curriculum. It is led by Katie Salen of The Center for Transformative Media at The Center for Transformative Media at the Parsons School of Design. That’s the future.

6) End income taxes on 401Ks. One of the great con games of our time was replacing defined benefit pensions from companies with 401Ks that individuals had to manage on their own. The stock market crash has left millions of Boomers who did as they were told and invested in stocks for the long run in a short-term deep hole. With their portfolios down 40% or more, they now must face income taxes on their retirement money. Since we’re dropping all pretense of banking and corporation obligation in our rush to revive the economy, let’s give a break to the old folks too. This is money they would spend.

OK that’s my list. What is yours? Hurry up. They’ll be ginning up a new Stimulus Package by the summer, I bet.

Reader Comments

Garret Ohm

February 18, 2009 2:51 AM

You, Bruce, are a brilliant, brilliant man. Why aren't you in Obama's cabinet? I'm serious.

James Todhunter

February 19, 2009 9:56 PM

You are very kind here, Bruce. Saying the bill was not the design he wanted suggests that Obama had a design in mind. From all accounts, it appears that this was not the case. Reports indicate that Obama only outlined 200B of the package, and left the bulk of the bill to others. Not exactly the hallmark of a visionary, eh?

Joan Hyde

February 25, 2009 1:04 AM

What is in the stimulus package for the fixed income of retired teachers??? This must be addressed. Thanks for your reply.


March 4, 2009 5:54 PM

Sustainability strategist Tamara Giltsoff created her own list, including national leadership programs and developing local food sources. You can see her full list at (


March 4, 2009 7:10 PM

Brilliant Mr. Nussbaum!!!!!! You have highlighted ideas that many of us wish for....hopefully he reads this posting, and takes your tips. (especially college tuition/ debt!)

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Want to stop talking about innovation and learn how to make it work for you? Bruce Nussbaum takes you deep into the latest thinking about innovation and design with daily scoops, provocative perspectives and case studies. Nussbaum is at the center of a global conversation on the growing discipline of innovation and the deepening field of design thinking. Read him to discover what social networking works—and what doesn’t. Discover where service innovation is going and how experience design is shaping up. Learn which schools are graduating the most creative talent and which consulting firms are the hottest. And get his take on what the smartest companies are doing in the U.S., Asia and Europe, far ahead of the pack.

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