7 Odd Solutions for 7 Common Economic Problems

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Could dog poop help communities meet their energy needs? Should the government give signing bonuses to unemployed people who accept job offers? Would a commuter loyalty program similar to the airlines get more workers to use public transportation? Could cities solve their problems by cutting property tax rates in half?

Harebrained, brilliant, or somewhere in between, here are seven radical solutions suggested recently to address common problems in the U.S. and around the world:

PROBLEM: Ridiculously high, constantly rising property taxes
SOLUTION: Cut property tax rates in half over the course of a few years. A debate on this suggestion rages in Baltimore, the only municipality in Maryland to have lost residents over the last decade. Soaring property tax rates—more than double the rate of surrounding counties—have been blamed as a main reason for the population decrease. Carl Stokes, a councilman and mayoral candidate, has proposed a plan to dramatically lower the city’s property tax rates—with the idea that the lower taxes would attract more residents and businesses, making up for the decrease in individual property tax revenues.

PROBLEM: Not enough commuters using public transportation
SOLUTION: Create “frequent commuter” programs that reward loyal passengers in similar fashion to airline reward programs. A Stanford computer scientist tells The Atlantic that such a program, which is being tested in Bangalore and Singapore, would give commuters more incentive to use public transportation rather than their cars, easing congestion on roads. If higher reward points were given for riding public transit during off-peak hours, as is suggested, the program could also ease congestion on buses and trains as well.

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PROBLEM: Unemployment benefits give some incentive to stay unemployed
SOLUTION: Award signing bonuses for unemployed who find work sooner rather than later. In a Washington Post op-ed, Todd G. Buchholz, an economic adviser to President George H.W. Bush, suggests that the government lure the unemployed back to the workforce by paying out signing bonuses on a sliding scale, with a better payoff for those who find work quicker. The theory is that workers would be more likely to accept jobs—even lower-paying jobs they’re not too crazy about—if a bonus was thrown into the deal, and that the government would ultimately wind up a net winner because it would pay less in the long run in unemployment benefits while also collecting taxes on the wages of workers back in the labor pool. The economy, in theory, would be better off with more people back at work, and the proposal would only be in effect while unemployment rates remain over 7.5%.

PROBLEM: Global poverty
SOLUTION: Design and distribute “radically affordable” products, water-delivery systems, and sustainable engineering projects for “the other 90%” of the world’s population who have little access to services common in the U.S. The Denver Post describes a new exhibit opening tonight at the city’s Redline Main Gallery devoted to low-cost technologies and innovations designed to help this “other 90%” out of poverty.

PROBLEM: Prisons are expensive to run, and ineffective at deterring crime
SOLUTION: Give less-serious offenders the option of being flogged as a substitute for jail time. A John Jay College of Criminal Justice professor suggests that if flogging returned, the U.S. prison population would drop from 2.3 million to 300,000, saving billions, and that the punishment would not be cruel or unusual—because the criminal would still have the choice of serving time rather than getting whipped.

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PROBLEM: Consistently high jobless rates in the U.S.
SOLUTION: Lower the minimum wage, or kill it altogether. From BusinessWeek to the Wall Street Journal, the idea seems to be coming up more and more that minimum wage requirements are keeping unemployment rates high. Some economists are suggesting that the minimum wage laws disappear, at least for teenagers, who suffer a much-lower rate of employment than the general public. But would scrapping the minimum wage, or lowering it to, say, $4 an hour for teenagers, get the economy humming along again? One University of California-Irvine economist, who has done research on how minimum wage rules decrease job opportunities for teens and young adults, says, “It’s not even in the top 10 list of how to recover from the Great Recession.”

PROBLEM: Too much productive dog waste going to, well, waste
SOLUTION: Turn the poop abundant at dog parks into energy that lights street lamps. The Arizona Republic (via The Consumerist) reports that Arizona State students hope to design a “dog waste digester” and install it a popular dog park. After cleaning up after their dogs, owners would place poop-filled biodegradable bags into the digester and turn a hand crank. The machine converts the waste into methane gas, which would be the energy source for park lamps.

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Brad Tuttle is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bradrtuttle. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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