John Schwartz's Annual Distort: Mocking Bush's Social Security Reform, Reaganomics

Reporter John Schwartz made another ill-advised foray into humor in an essay on the front page of the Times' special Mutual Funds Report section on Sunday, "When Your Country Calls, Spend Wildly."

In the same special Mutual Funds Report section back in January 2005, Schwartz mocked the notion of President Bush's Social Security reform, calling reform proponents "out of their gourds."

In his most recent essay, Schwartz targeted another Republican economic policy - tax cuts - as eminently mockable:

I've been fretting about the double dip.

This is not about gorging on ice cream. It's the prospect that our economy, climbing weakly out of a severe recession, might tumble back into the financial slough of despond.

America is in such desperation that Schwartz (at least the character he was playing for the purposes of the piece) was even willing to turn to trickle-down Reaganomics:

But what's the boldest way to get money moving again? We could just give the Wall Streeters their bonuses and let the magic of the multiplier effect do its thing. They get money; they spend it on goods and services - say, ivory backscratchers and the servants to wield them. The seller of the backscratcher, that mercantile hero, has money to pay his employees and buy more ivory, while the buyer's servant gets his wage as well. Spending begets spending, and the nation gets back on its feet.

Sure, it's easy to ridicule this idea of looking solely to the rich as trickle-down Reaganomics. John Kenneth Galbraith once compared this kind of thinking to the relationship between horses and sparrows: "If the horse is fed enough oats, some will pass through to the road for the sparrows," he said.

Still, plenty of people think that lavishing even more wealth on the richest among us makes sense - for example, quite a large number of rich people. But how could I find a representative rich person to speak frankly on their behalf?

Is Schwartz playing along in this next part, or is he really this naive? You decide:

I turned, naturally, to Google, and searched for "billionaires." Among the top results was a Web page for "The Billionaires." The site seemed just the thing: "We are the brothers of bullion, the sisters of stock options," the site said, "the compadres and comrades of cash."

So I clicked around a bit and sent an e-mail to an address on the site. A kindly member took time from his busy schedule and called me. He said his name was Monet Oliver DePlace and said I was absolutely right about those backscratchers.

"If there's not a market in backscratchers, where can we hope to find a job market?" he asked. "We need to celebrate these guys - we certainly can't count on the working-class Joe, whose wages have remained stagnant for the last two decades."

As we chatted, I idly checked another Web listing to make sure of the spelling of his name - DePlace, or DaPlace? It turns out that Monet Oliver DePlace is a pseudonym - you need to sound it out for the full comic effect - and his name is actually Marco Ceglie. He's from Livingston, N.J. "The Billionaires," it turns out, are satirists who engage in street theatrics in tuxedos and on Web sites with names like "Billionaires for Wealthcare," and make fun of the rich and powerful.

Which most media savvy people would have figured out after the "brother of bullion" jab.