Stimulus and Spending: Synonyms Not

Last week, President Obama explained as if talking to the dim-witted that stimulus is synonymous with spending. The fawning media swallowed it whole and regurgitated it as gospel.

While I did not go to Harvard, I do own a dictionary. Several, in fact, as well as a thesaurus, the dictionary of synonyms. And I have consulted them. It turns out my initial thought about this was right and the president is incorrect.

No surprise there, given Obama’s evermore visible difficulty with separating fact from fiction. Take, for example, his assertion during a speech at Caterpillar that passage of his spending package would enable the earth-mover maker to immediately re-hire many of its laid off workers. The CEO of the company instantly corrected him. The yet unproven success of Obama’s package plus other stimulus spending by other governments around the world should enable the re-creation of some of these jobs over time, he explained. But for now, passage or no passage, he was laying off another umpteen thousand workers.

So, the facts about stimulus and spending: synonyms not.

My thesaurus lists a dozen synonyms for stimulus; none are spend.

According to The American Heritage Dictionary, ‘spend’ means to use up, to pay out, to wear out, exhaust, waste, squander. The dictionary doesn’t have a definition for spending with money you don’t have – say a trillion dollars, on which you will owe billions of dollars you don’t have of interest to China, so you’ll later need to borrow more and go deeper in debt just to pay the interest. To get this, you’d have to match its definition of “spend” with its definition of “stupid.”

The Dictionary does have a definition for “stimulus,” though, and guess what? The word “spend” doesn’t appear there! A “stimulus” is defined as something that stimulates; an incentive. Fitting that definition nicely would be, as example, new incentives to investors to step in and purchase real estate in foreclosure, in quantity. Or new incentives to consumers to buy automobiles and houses. Or new incentives to business owners to risk, expand, hire. Fitting this definition nicely might be capital gains tax cuts or waivers (not increases or threats of increase), income tax cuts for those most able to invest significantly (not increases or threats of increases).

Not fitting this definition of “stimulus” at all is pouring billions of borrowed dollars to later be repaid by taxpayers (and the cruelest tax on lower income earners: rampant inflation) into protecting mice in San Francisco, extra support for the National Endowment of the Arts, school construction in areas with declining enrollments, or gifts to criminally irresponsible home buyers. The definition doesn’t even include handing big bundles of cash to state governors to merely duct tape over their budget holes from the spending they’ve already done. The only thing being stimulated by this spending is the blood pressure of those of us who’ll be compelled to pay for it.

In his defense, the media has told us that the new president is so busy and besieged with urgent work – like flying around the country for photo ops and speeches – that he hasn’t yet had time to unpack all his boxes and get his office organized. Maybe his dictionary is still tucked away in an unpacked box.

If you have a friend in mainstream media, you know what to get them next Christmas, if there is a Christmas. A dictionary and a thesaurus.

Dan Kennedy is a serial entrepreneur, adviser to business owners, sought-after speaker and author of 13 books. More information about Dan can be found at, and a free collection of his business resources including newsletters and webinars at