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How the Craziest White House Petitions Would Affect the Economy

Whoever said there's no such thing as a bad idea hasn't spent a lot of time crowdsourcing proposals from the general public.
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A few friends and I were talking recently about some off-the-wall ways to reboot the U.S. economy. Suddenly, it occurred to me: Isn't the White House already (kinda, sorta) crowdsourcing crazy ideas on its We the People webpage?

For those of you who don't know, this is the site where anyone can put an idea in front of the government. Get enough signatures, and the White House is obligated to respond. Here are a few of the off-the-wall-iest ideas on the White House petition site, and how they might impact the U.S. economy.

1. New holidays.

How about a National R2-D2 Day? Given that Disney now owns the whole Star Wars property, I'm willing to bet they'd find some ways to capitalize on it. Or else, what about designating March 20 "Mr. Rogers Day?" (As of this writing he has about 20 times as many supporters as R2-D2.)

Overall impact: Slightly positive. Spending on Star Wars junk would go up, but nowhere near enough to support the construction of the Death Star that some--make that lots-- of folks wanted.

2. Legalize marijuana.

There are always tons of petitions looking to make weed legal, and they get over the threshold number of signatures required for a response (currently 100,000) from time to time.

Overall impact: It might have a positive impact on the economy--especially if you ask the people who propose enacting big taxes on marijuana like we do for alcohol and cigarettes. Also, unemployment might go down, because some people would  drop out of the workforce to sit on their couches and smoke all day. I'd also advise investing in snack foods if this one were to come to pass.

3. Invest in sustainable energy.

Okay, this one isn't all that easy to snark about. "Support investment in sustainable energy with tax-policy that is at least equal to the benefits given to fossil fuels."

Overall impact: Create jobs, increase energy independence, and find better energy sources? And you thought R2-D2 Day was far-fetched!

4. Give NASA its money for public outreach and STEM programs.

In light of sequestration, the petitioners want NASA to get its budget line back funding public outreach and science, technology, engineering and math programs.

Overall impact: We're talking about roughly $100 million here, which is not all the money in the world by U.S. government standards. One never knows what a participant in these programs today might create tomorrow.

5. Protect military tuition assistance from the sequester cuts.

This is an example of a petition that worked! The U.S. military has a tuition assistance program that enables troops to attend college part-time. The program was a victim of the sequester, and more than 100,000 people petitioned to get it back. (Similar petitions are here and here.)

Turns out, somebody was listening, because the government restored the funding.

Overall impact: It's a $10 billion program, and it's a good investment both in soldiers and the overall economy.

6. Require members of Congress to wear their contributors' logos.

Inspired by NASCAR, this proposal suggests:

Since most politicians' campaigns are largely funded by wealthy companies and individuals, it would give voters a better sense of who the candidate they are voting for is actually representing if the company's logo, or individual's name, was prominently displayed upon the candidate's clothing at all public appearances and campaign events.

Overall impact: Why stop there? If we really want to raise money, why not offer corporate sponsorship of all kinds of government activities? Imagine visiting the Coca-Cola U.S. Capitol Building, or else wishing your friends a Happy Macy's and Wal-Mart Day on the third Thursday of November?

 7. Create a Jurassic Park.

Hey, it was a big draw in the movies, right? So why not consider this proposal to "Convert At Least One (1) National Park Into a Dinosaur Clone Park?"

(I'm intrigued by the legalistic, redundant wording of the title--the "One (1)." Was the author concerned we might get carried away and create two dinosaur parks?)

Overall impact: Theme parks did $12 billion in revenue in 2007, the latest data I could find, and I'd have to imagine a dinosaur park with real dinosaurs might do even better. 

8. Change the National Anthem.

Somebody--actually more than 12,000 somebodies as of this writing--wants to change the National Anthem to R. Kelly's 2003 song, Ignition.

Overall impact: When superstar professional athletes changes their jersey numbers, sales go through the roof! Imagine how many things we'd have to change if we changed the anthem! Economic opportunity, baby! Maybe we should also change the flag, and convert to the metric system!

9. Revoke Westboro Church's 501(c)(3) status.

You know that family that claims to be a church and pickets at the funerals of fallen soldiers? Well, it would be just a drop in the bucket, but cutting off their tax-exempt status as a religious organization might mean a few more bucks in the federal coffers.

The Westboro Baptist Church operates as a tax-exempt church. While it speaks volumes that many Americans value their right to free speech, this does not mean that we have to pay for their vitriol.

Overall impact: Small, extremely satisfying positive impact on the economy. But, it would also have a negative impact on the First Amendment. (Plus the White House recently offered a "non-response response" that would seem to rule this out anyway.)

Bonus Crazy Idea: Recount the 2012 election!

Okay, despite the fact that the contentions of this one have been widely discredited on websites like Snopes.com, more than 71,000 people wanted a recount of the 2012 election because of alleged fraud.

It has become blatantly obvious the voter fraud that was committed during the 2012 Presidential elections. In one county alone in Ohio, which was a battleground state, President Obama received 106,258 votes...but there were only 98,213 eligible voters. It's not humanly possible to get 108% of the vote!

Overall impact: No, that didn't actually happen (see the Snopes link), and sure, the election is in the history books. But a recount would create jobs--both among the vote recounters and the media types who would be flown in to cover their work!

Last updated: Apr 3, 2013

BILL MURPHY JR. | Columnist

Bill Murphy Jr. is a journalist, ghostwriter, and entrepreneur. He is the author of Breakthrough Entrepreneurship (with Jon Burgstone) and is a former reporter for The Washington Post.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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