Although the automotive edition of Cash for Clunkers has ended, others are about to begin as a more immediate form of economic stimulus that empowers consumers and phases out old, inefficient technology. This fall, Americans will receive rebates for swapping clunky home appliances for newer, green models.
Truth be told, the federal government’s mandatory digital television conversion, completed earlier this summer for more than 98 percent of the country’s 110 million TV households, was the first recent successful cash for clunkers campaign. Although the government ran short of $40 coupons it provided toward the purchase of analog TV convertor boxes, the program stimulated scores of new cable and satellite subscriptions and big screen TV purchases by consumers who might have otherwise waited. As it turned out, flipping the switch on what remains a favorite American pastime was a good thing, and the government’s nearly $3 billion investment has already had a capital market pay-off.
The automotive Cash for Clunkers that ended this week is removing 690,000 gas-guzzling, carbon-omitting old vehicles from roads in favor of newer, more eco-friendly cars and trucks while bolstering the beleaguered auto industry. Government subsidies of $3,500 to $4,500 per buyer, frequently matched by manufacturers, was the most effective counter recession ploy yet. Among other things, it spurred scared consumers into one-time spending.
There is a flip side (there always is one to everything) is that the $3 billion earmarked by Congress to fund the auto swap will deplete one-third of a $6 billion Department of Energy program financing longer-term major solar and bio-fuel.
Next up is the Cash for Clunkers, appliance version, beginning Oct. 15. Under a program capped at $300 million will provide consumers with $50 to $200 rebates for trading in old for new, more energy-efficiency households devices – from refrigerators to furnaces. The move could lift the sales revenues of companies as diverse as General Electric, Whirlpool, Best Buy, Target and Sears.
But wait! Just like a frenetic late-night infomercial that can’t help itself, there likely will be other Cash for Clunker programs. Here are some ideas worthy of consideration. Please add yours to the list and contribute to economic recovery!
Trade-in old paperbacks, outdated textbooks and damaged books that otherwise will be taking up space in landfills. Participants would receive a rebate on an e-reader of their choice. Amazon’s Kindle is getting some formidable marketplace competition from the likes of Sony and Apple with plans for their own e-readers and multi-media iTablets.
A point of clarification: As a lover of books, I am not advocating books-for-Kindles. Books must be preserved. But the explosion of e-books and electronic readers are about to revolutionize word consumption in schools, in business and in commerce. Whatever it takes to keep people reading!
Trade-in televisions that are at least five-years-old in exchange for a manufacturer store discount on a new big-screen TV or, better yet, smart monitors for the home that are a visual outlet for every kind of Internet-connected video, text and communications. Although flat-panel TV sales unexpectedly surged earlier this year despite the weak economy, large plasma TV sales are beginning to slump. While hardly a life necessity, home entertainment is likely keeping a lot people sane in this recession. Call it the second show to forced digital conversion.
Trade-in all landline telephones for digital smart phones. While this would play havoc with the likes of Ma Bell, the telephone giants have been bracing for a complete conversion to mobile wireless phones for years, upon which much of their revenues are now based. Cell phones, smart phones, Research in Motion BlackBerries and other mobile Internet-connected devices already are the universal screen of choice, vastly outnumbering television and computers. More affordable and easy to use than computers, it would help to get all Americans on the same page of basic digital communications. The landline phone network is among the technical and socioeconomic infrastructures in the US that are headed for obsolescence in a broadband world.
Trade-in old technology for new technology. US homes are littered with inoperable, defective and outdated technology -- from computer monitors and keyboards, lap tops, printers and cameras to VHS and DVD players. Many organizations and companies encourage and assist in such recycling. New York teacher Jude Ndambuki has collected and refurbished more than 2,000 computers for Kenyan students. It would be a great public service to remove toxic and hazardous materials from households that are in older electronics and tech equipment. Given consumers’ embrace of new technology, a rebate toward the purchase of newer, eco-friendly lap tops, netbooks, PDAs and other high tech would help advance the economic well-being of interrelated product and service companies.
Trade-in videos for cash. This is not your conventional clunkers program, but Google’s YouTube is paying for uploaded videos eligible for monetization based on number of views, sustainability and general terms of service. In some cases YouTube will share revenues generated from advertising sold against the videos. The new program, as explained online by YouTube executives, is designed not only to encourage quality videos and build a “preferred partner” stable of reliable, regular producers, but generate profits from the Internet’s domain video website. If it’s good for Google, it’s good for the US economy.