Three Crazy Ideas for Getting the Economy Back on Track

Last Updated Oct 13, 2010 12:41 PM EDT

Some of Harvard's finest minds were asked recently to come up with prescriptions for getting the economy rolling again. Most of their suggestions were not too controversial: more financial regulation, a carbon tax, investments in public infrastructure.

But three caught my eye as real game changers, and I'm not sure for the better. What do you think?

Flatten the U.S. tax code. The tax code needs a complete, bottom-to-top rewrite and should include a consumption tax or a high-deductible flat tax, says Ken Rogoff, Harvard's Thomas D. Cabot Professor of Public Policy. At the very least, he says, most people should be paying higher taxes.


Home Price Insurance. Homeowners should be able to buy into a national insurance plan to protect them against sharp losses in property values when the economy craters, says Eric Belsky, managing director of Harvard's Joint Center for Housing Studies. The resulting economic carnage from foreclosures and to personal wealth is devastating, and worth hedging against, he believes.

Web-based work transformation. The Internet can provide more efficient work solutions, but what is possible hasn't even begun to be tapped, says Jonathan Zittrain, of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society. Looking at public sourcing efforts such as Amazon's Mechanical Turk -- where people accept small jobs for micropayments -- Zittrain wonders how this model writ large would change our concept of the workplace and the workday. Says he:

"I do think this could stand to transform economic dynamics -- in the way in which it can turn almost anything into an economy."
Read the whole list published by the Harvard Gazette, Bright Ideas: Harvard Experts Offer Ideas to Get the Nation Back on Track.

Crazy stuff, or crazy enough that they just might work? Should we be considering more "out there" approaches, especially since the traditional avenues we are following seem to be taking a long, long time to show results?

(Image by Flickr user respres, CC 2.0)

  • Sean Silverthorne

    Sean Silverthorne is the editor of HBS Working Knowledge, which provides a first look at the research and ideas of Harvard Business School faculty. Working Knowledge, which won a Webby award in 2007, currently records 4 million unique visitors a year. He has been with HBS since 2001.

    Silverthorne has 28 years experience in print and online journalism. Before arriving at HBS, he was a senior editor at CNET and executive editor of ZDNET News. While at At Ziff-Davis, Silverthorne also worked on the daily technology TV show The Site, and was a senior editor at PC Week Inside, which chronicled the business of the technology industry. He has held several reporting and editing roles on a variety of newspapers, and was Investor Business Daily's first journalist based in Silicon Valley.