Critical Thinking About Government Spending

62% of Americans think that deficits should be cut by reducing government spending. More than 66% of Americans think that nothing but foreign aid should be cut, when presented with a full list of areas of spending that could be cut. And foreign aid is only 1% of the budget. Somehow people need to be made to see the detailed consequences of nice sounding claims like “let’s cut government spending”. (Thanks, Mr Jender!)

25 thoughts on “Critical Thinking About Government Spending

  1. I was happy to see this story recently…

    Canadians no longer see red over prospect of higher taxes
    by Bruce Campbell
    April 7, 2010

    Now that Canada is in the fiscal red, taxes appear to be coming back into fashion.

    A surprisingly broad swath of Canadians — and not your usual suspects — are musing aloud about the need to raise taxes to tackle the deficit and to pay for the things we care most about, such as public health care.

    Almost three out of five Canadian CEOs surveyed in March say higher taxes are needed to get the country back into the fiscal black.

  2. What’s needed is education rather than brain-washing. That’s not coming any time soon… what’s coming is less funding for brain-washing. The best thing to do is come to terms with the fact that for the foreseeable future reason will continue to be of no value in politics or public opinion.

    I mean, politicians may use arguments in debates, but what people remember are one-liners, etc.

  3. Last time I looked US foreign aid was much less than 1% of GDP. I think the figure was around 0.03%. However according to a survey I can’t now find, Americans grossly overestimate the amount the US spends on foreign aid, guessing on the average that it’s over 20%

    So I agree emphatically: education is what’s wanted. Just making the American public aware of plain old empirical facts.

    The take is that we tax-paying Americans, who are squeezed in these economic hard times, are forced by the government to self-sacrificially support the world’s ne’er-do-wells. I may be deluded but I think people, even Americans, are fundamentally rational: treat them as adults and give them the facts and they may actually behave rationally. US politicians both left and right don’t seem to get this.

  4. I thought this was an interesting comment on the site linked to above:

    The interpretation of this data is a little off. The table does not show that “over two-thirds of Americans don’t want to reduce spending on anything, except foreign aid” – it shows that the only single service which has over two-thirds agreement on cuts is foreign aid. It also shows that 12% of the sample don’t want any of the services cut. It would be more accurate to say “88% of the sample wanted cuts in at least one area, with the most popular area to cut being foreign aid, with 71% support”.

    Two questions stand out for me: Why isn’t there any political consensus about what to cut (other than foreign aid).

    Second, how does one get Americans (particularly conservative Americans) to give up the belief that a lot of money is going to the so-called undeserving poor (or, alternatively, underserving academics, or underserving people in some other state or undeserving politicians).

    There seem to be two culprits in the American view: the lazy poor and the overly clever fat cats.

    So perhaps we should ask: who benefits from the massive distraction that results from encouraging these pictures. In the spirit of my communist friend I met up with at the APA, I think we might ask why this is all serving capitalism.

    So I don’t have much idea of how to answer this question, but of course, one has to look at what does not get criticized.

  5. Thanks for that link, Tree Frog. It’s about time Michael Ignatieff stopped trying to be Leo Tolstoy, came down out of his Ivory Tower and started talking like a liberal. Harper&the boys are SO bad at minority gvt. tap dancing.

    (H.E., I could have sworn I read something in one of your comments that made me think you were British. ‘Quotes’? JS Mill? Can’t remember now. My mistake.)

    I wonder if the belief that so much money is being spent on foreign aid comes down to the way that recent American neo-imperialist conquests have been propagandized as “nation-building”, “market-opening”, etc.? 50%!!! of US spending on warfare still blows my mind! I can grasp WHY they would plug these wars as “helpful”, but the truth bothers me. A lot.

    Every Canadian learns about American-style xenophobia from about the 7th grade. The Benevolent Despot ideology has been entrenched in the American national psyche since the founding fathers gave their citizens the constitutional right to arm themselves against British invasion, then Canadian invasion, then freed slave invasion, Mexican invasion, Japanese, Soviet, Islamist, etc., etc… Just one of the things about (many–not all) Americans that makes me scratch my head. People like Rush Limbaugh playing on these fears and broadcasting “War of the Worlds” to every backwater religious nut south of the Manson-Nixon line might have something to do with the skewed public opinion.

    That is the dark side of so-called “free speech”. It costs the undereducated. I agree that more access to education is in order, but how to accomplish that goal is beyond me.

    I’m going to check out the Hansard Index to see if that news about our opposition is too good to be true. ttfn.

  6. Oops. Nearly missed that link, H.E. I do have to commend the Americans that have been influenced by the Carnegie Effect. Over one million millionaires in the US, and many of them are extremely charitable people. Kudos to them.

  7. JJ, I just caught a possible inverse meaning in that comment. By saying “look at what does not get criticized” do you mean “why do politicians have to use budget cuts as campaign platforms anyway?” If so, then that IS a good question.

  8. I wonder if the belief that so much money is being spent on foreign aid comes down to the way that recent American neo-imperialist conquests have been propagandized as “nation-building”, “market-opening”, etc.?

    I think it comes from the aftermath of WWII with the US rich and intact while Europe was flattened, and the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe. Even now that there are few people who actually remember these events, the image of the US as the world’s benefactor lives on.

  9. Yes. Many Americans, Brits, Canadians and Europeans still see Americans that way. Of course some see FDR as the late comer that showed up in the last round of WWII when everybody else was already whooped, and got the yanks to beat their collective chest and declare themselves “winner”.

    I’m not one of them. Whatever it takes in a situation like that. There is no glory. A few years in a mass grave strips away all our reasons for hatred and leaves us all pretty much the same. Nothing but worm food. Anybody who has to look down a hole like that and realize that they might be in there tomorrow would probably be grateful for anything they can get. In a non-optional war there is no “most-helpful”. Everybody gives their best to the effort and to the re-building, or the cycle won’t stop. A brilliant Canadian comic whose name I wish I could remember calls that the farting on your bunkmate principle. Same reason people like Ann Coulter rant about nuking us and then run away like little yappy puppies when we go “Sure, Napoleon. Bring. It.”

    I don’t, however, feel the same way about most of the American-led conflicts after 1962. And I feel strongly that the guys responsible for Haditha and Abu Grebbe should have been dragged to the Hague right along with Slobodan Milosevic and his crew. A war criminal is a war criminal. All those glorious speeches GW tried to sell the public about issues like space travel and Russophobia and everything else that hasn’t been a “hot button” issue since James T. Kirk was Captain of SF just made me (and a HUGE number of Americans–judging from CURRENT SF, pop culture and media) go WTF?!? Is that rube smart enough to be such a good liar–even with professional speech writers?

    Politicians just can’t go trying to restoke the spirit of a rebuilding that takes place after a non-optional war with optional war after optional war. That’s a horrific exploitation of the staring into the mass grave effect. And the planet just can’t sustain the constant barrage. Period. Gaea will shake us off like the parasites we are, and our self-importance will just get fed to the worms. Dare I recite my namesake’s pop-spin on Nietsche “There’s nothing more pathetic than a dead god…”? I’m amazed by how few Americans in the survey realized this, or thought that military spending should be cut.

    Good luck to President O and the administration in trying to re-educate those people. They’re going to need it.

  10. xena, i wonder if this recent propaganda is just another utilisation of the america-the-benefactor belief, rather than a cause of it? seems plausible it’s neocons making use of the fact that, like HE says, americans still think of themselves as ‘saving [europe’s] butts in wwII’ in order to gain popular support for their wars.

  11. Yes, elp. I wrote a few hundred more words to that effect last night. (between 6&7am? Greenwich time) The site’s spam filters are acting up again. The comments were a little dark, but I was trying to be careful not to offend anybody–except Ann Coulter, but she’s twice as offensive as I’ve ever been and she can defend herself.

  12. It is also important to remember that statistics can be manipulated to “prove” most anything you want it to.

  13. sorry about that xena. i *think* i’ve just unspammed your comment…but i don’t see it…erm… i’ll keep trying…

  14. Attributed to Disraeli, Mark Twain and others, the statement that there are “lies, damned lies, and statistics” comes to mind….

  15. Another feature of the US-as-universal-benefactor theme: one of the themes in the ongoing national health insurance debate is the claim that the US does most of the world’s cutting-edge medical research. Point out to conservatives that “socialized medicine” is a lot cheaper than the private insurance scheme in the US and the response is that just as Europeans are free-riders when it comes to defense, relying on the US military to protect them, they’re free-riders on American research.

  16. HEB: I was recently surprised to hear a right-wing commentator assert that Americans, unlike Europeans, are not quitters. What?!? Days later it occurred to me that having socialized anything, as opposed to fighting in the market place, counts as quitting.

    Too bad, though, for all those who can’t compete in the market place: little kids, the disabled, the poor, and so on. Except, of course, for fetuses! Now, have they ever managed a clever PR campaign.

  17. Xena, no (re #12), I meant something much simpler. We should look at the things the politicians don’t argue should be cut. Democrats do occasionally go after some of the various ways in which tax laws protect privilege, which mathematically looks a lot like a government expenditure. I don’t think that Republicans do, since letting the privileged individuals and corporations keep money is supposed to be good for the energy and inventiveness that drives our economy. Unlike education, health care and a solid infrastructure, presumably.

  18. JJ, I was lol at your poke at the “rights for fetuses” campaign. Way to promote assembly line families to treat like mushrooms (BS fed and kept in the dark) for the sake of swallowing up every other commodity fettish object, including war machine driven national pride…etc., etc…

    Thanks for clarifying #12 re #7. I agree. After a year of biz classes, about the time I finally learned to do a decent job of reading a balance sheet, I was quite distressed about all the ways that corporations justify overproduction in the name of tax breaks. That was when I decided that my dissonance disruptors were a little too intense to work in business.

    Too many Americans don’t grasp the difference between Keynesian, socialist and totalitarian practices.

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