Deciding Winners at the Spending Game

Excessive Government SpendingChess is an interesting game. It simulates a war between two sides and, although draws are possible, most games end in a total victory for one side and a crushing defeat for the other.

As a war game, it is clean and oversimplified. The game allows for only two players, the pieces are absolutely constrained by rules and set borders, and no piece ever malfunctions or switches sides in mid-game. Win or lose, each piece shares the fate of its side.

Chess, therefore, is a fictional reflection of war and reality, and an insufficient model for a political system. Struggles in real life, whether physically violent or verbally heated, are often dirty, ambiguous and uncontrollable. Unanticipated variables bite into pristine plans, chew them within the jaws of chance, and spit them out as a chaotic sludge in which every action creates both desirable and unwanted reactions.

Many political leaders and political partisans seem to be expecting absolute victory and the complete surrender of their opposition, which is worrisome.

This country would be better served if we focused less on beating the other side(s) or achieving total victory and more on explaining what we support and why we support it. 

This country would be better served if we focused less on beating the other side(s) or achieving total victory and more on explaining what we support and why we support it. What are you willing to sacrifice in the pursuit of specific goals? What is your end game? How do you see the future? These types of questions we should ask frequently, and we should require anyone who holds public power to answer them routinely.

I want a prosperous, vibrant democracy, a country where we agree to give each other a maximum level of freedom in exchange for our mutual acceptance of some sensible rules, a reasonable amount of taxes, and the spending of our revenue on the common good.

I do not want to live in a country of decaying infrastructure, food riots, or civil war. So I support significant spending on social-welfare programs (such as SNAP, or food aid). According to the USDA, in 2012 “seventy-five percent of SNAP households included a child, an elderly person, or a disabled person and these households received 82 percent of all benefits.” About 57 percent of the households with children contained one adult; 81 percent of the elderly households contained one person. The average monthly benefits for households with children or the elderly were $413 and $139.

A moral, wealthy country cannot allow 21 million children, the largest part of the recipients and about 7 million age 4 or younger, and about 4.2 million elderly citizens to go hungry. I also support spending on economic development and student aid because I want an economy with ample jobs and support for low-income students to help them earn an education and secure good jobs that make possible upward socioeconomic mobility.

Many students in our country cannot afford to buy books or tools, even before they grapple with the price of tuition or training. On June 11, I delivered a webinar to people working for at least 49 different institutions, ranging from community colleges and small private colleges to large public state universities. The webinar focused on how the cost of college textbooks is interfering with student academic success. The problem is national in scope, and will not vanish if we ignore it.

Presenting by webinar literally feels like you are talking to the air. In that respect, a webinar shares features with contemporary political discourse, in which we rarely listen to each other. If I gave the people who were listening to me good ideas, however, I hope they will implement them to help students at their school.

Our politics should function in precisely the same way.

I support a reasonable amount of defense spending, but we are spending an unreasonable amount, especially for a country that faces no immediate threat to its existence.

I also support a reasonable amount of defense spending, but we are spending an unreasonable amount, especially for a country that faces no immediate threat to its existence. According to Defense News, the Department of Defense plans enormous expenditures in 2015 solely on its 63 largest weapons programs.

It plans to spend $1.8 billion to buy more Littoral Combat Ships, a small ship that apparently is incapable of effectively completing its intended missions; $7.9 billion on the F-35 Lightning II, a multirole fighter aircraft; $353 million on Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missiles; $211 million on Small Diameter Bombs; $227 million on Tactical Tomahawk missiles; and $82 million on Javelin Advanced Anti-Tank Weapons.

This spending is excessive, especially since, according to the Department of Transportation, we must spend about $106 billion to prevent our structurally failing road bridges from collapsing while cars drive over them.

You can debate the merits of the spending I support. SNAP, for example, spends money to feed 4.4 million “disabled nonelderly adults” (about $487 million), 338,000 refugees ($41 million), 1.4 million “other noncitizen[s]” ($188 million), and 3.8 million “citizen children living with non-citizens” ($533 million). I would rather pay to feed these people than pay $1.8 billion for another batch of useless ships, but I understand why people doubt the merits of this spending.

If all of us, people on the left and right, rich and poor, black and white, religious and secular, were willing to talk to each other, then we could air both arguments and decide upon a collective course of action.

nick capoWe are not having such conversations, though, because too many of us are deluded into the belief that our goal is total victory, no compromise necessary.

Each day we spend in this dream world, we increase the real-world probability that this country will suffer major reverses in power, wealth and quality of life.

Nick Capo
Jacksonville Journal Courier

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Comments

  1. JoeWeinstein says

    This article mixes two quite different things: the author’s very reasonable laundry list of specific preferences in our public policies, and a naive plea for reasoned non-adversarial conversations about policy.

    Naive, because unfortunately no matter how many reasoned unofficial conversations we have, actual official public policy – including laws and budgets – are decided within a political system which is CONSTITUTIONALLY DESIGNED to be adversarial – to give maximum incentives to spiteful competition and rejection, and minimum incentives to cooperation and consensus.

    Cooperation would be promoted by decentralizing decision-making among many different short-term teams of ordinary citizens; but instead decision power is given over to a relative few special officers who are given huge and long-term power in public decisions – which are made subject to their whimsy, their obstruction and their extortion. The constitutional system rewards power-seekers and fight-lovers – those who get more delight from winning – or even just from fighting and losing – chess-type adversarial contests (both in mass elections, and then in legislative and judicial and executive chambers) than from achieving consensus goals.

    The needed cure is to change the constitutional provisions that provide for this adversarial oligarchic sort of public decision-making. The needed first step is to challenge the mass sheep-like acceptance of these obsolete provisions as wondrous and sacred.

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