Tag Archives: Federal Budget

Cutting More Than a Budget

John Boehner, the new Speaker of the House, has been spearheading the cost-cutting in Washington.

As most Americans are well aware of, Republicans took control of the House of Representatives last November, and a large number of GOP candidates won other positions as well, causing a weakening of the Democrat majority in the Senate and ousting a number of Democratic governors across the country.

This turnover has changed the political landscape of Washington quite a bit over the past few weeks and months, but one of the key changes the new Republicans want to push through is a deep cut into Obama’s federal budget. After admitting that it had a number of possibly fatal shortcomings, the president laid the budget on the surgeon’s table for a figurative liposuction, and the new Republican representatives have been taking their job seriously.

Debates have been raging across the country about the budget, and many prominent Republicans, particularly a core of new (and sometimes Tea Party-affiliated) representatives have taken it upon themselves as a sacred duty to slice large sums out of of the federal budget. In fact, the House recently voted for $60 billion in cuts, which would slice spending out of almost all parts of government, affecting domestic programs, foreign aid, and even (surprisingly) military programs.

A recent and fascinating economics article in the New York Times showed how cutting the budget doesn’t even necessarily help the economy, but instead has potential to harm it. Boehner’s assertion that Obama’s addition of more federal jobs has cost the economy is not only falsely overblown (from 58,000 to 200,000 jobs added), but is fairly meaningless when one considers that state and local governments have severed 405,000 jobs recently. If you want a full picture of how austerity isn’t necessarily better than stimulus, read the article! I can’t put it as eloquently as David Leonhardt can.

My real disagreements with these deep cuts into the budget are more humanitarian in nature though. Many of the cuts being made into the budget are taking away funding for important programs such as Planned Parenthood, which is at risk of losing all funding, and a number of humanitarian community action agencies are losing funding too. To me, it seems obvious that the newly elected Republicans aren’t just trying to cut spending (in Washington and elsewhere), they’re actively seeking to advance their own political ideals under the guise of budget cutting. I see similar things happening in Wisconsin, Ohio, and Indiana, where newly elected Republican lawmakers are cutting into union rights while waving the banner of saving the states from a budget crisis.

While it may save the government some money to cut funding to organizations like Planned Parenthood, one can hardly say that the funding to this group and money given to community agencies across the country are colossal sums. So many lawmakers have become either misguided or over-political (big surprise there) in their choices of cuts. Instead of focusing more on areas where spending has become truly excessive and bloated (cough, defense, cough), most Republicans have chosen to hack away at social programs and programs intended to support those in greatest need. To add insult to injury, those in the top brackets of wealth in America are still getting breaks on their taxes.

Why is this happening? Here’s my theory: Besides cutting the budget down to size, a goal Republicans set ages ago, GOP lawmakers have jumped on an opportunity to advance their own partisan goals. By hacking away the funding for groups like Planned Parenthood or the community programs I mentioned (not to mention other programs in need), Republicans have leveled their cannons against programs that they, and more importantly, their constituents and monetary contributors, object to. This is more than an attempt to save money, it’s an effort to use this crisis as a way to advance the GOP cause and to secure the monetary and voter support that politicians so desperately crave, regardless of the toll it exacts on the human beings behind the numbers.

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What’s a Teacher Worth?

The future of our country.

It’s long been known that the education of young people, the up-and-coming generation, is one of the most crucial tasks societies across the world face. Almost all of a nation’s success, prestige, and development is dependent on the educational status of its people. Not only do the people of a given place need to be educated, they need to be proficient at passing on their wisdom and knowledge to the next generation of thinkers, leaders, and people in all parts of society.

Which is why it’s imperative that the people in charge of the education of young people are well-trained, well-reviewed, and highly competent at what they do. Public school teachers are some of the most undervalued members of American society (at least relative to their contribution), but they play a crucial role in the future of our country and its economy.

Before I go any further, I want to mention the main inspiration for this post, which was a recent episode of the Planet Money podcast, available here at the NPR website. You can download it right from that page, or on iTunes if you prefer that approach. I strongly encourage anyone and everyone reading this article to download the episode right now and give it a listen! (End Planet Money plug)

It’s because of this that the quality of teachers and professors in our schools, particularly our public schools, is top-notch. A good teacher can make all the difference in the development of a child’s education, and a bad teacher can do the same (though of course in a negative way). A nice way to think of this (thank you to Eric Hanushek for giving me this idea) is that a good teacher might succeed in getting a year and a half of learning done in a year, while a bad teacher may only accomplish a half year’s worth of learning. Take a moment to consider that, and you find that two equally matched students may find themselves an entire grade level apart education-wise, based solely on the quality of the teachers they’ve had.

You can see how this can quickly add up to both positive and negative consequences for students. If a lucky child gets a chain of excellent teachers, year after year, for say, 4 years, and another student has the misfortune of having a string of bad teachers for 4 years, the two could find themselves the equivalent of four academic years apart, even though they share the same grade level. This is a striking illustration of the dichotomy that can be created between students simply because of their respective educators.

This is a very important point as we’ll soon see. The fact is, higher-performing students tend to make more money over their lifetimes than lower-performing students. Those with higher grades and skills are more “economically advantaged” in general, as they have greater opportunity to make more money. If more people make more money, the GDP increases as well. And when a large part of students’ academic success (and thus future economic success) is based on the quality of their teachers, it becomes clear as daylight that these teachers must be top-of-the-line.

According to the educational researcher I mentioned earlier, Eric Hanushek, a good teacher of a class of 25 could be considered to be worth at least $500,000 a year in increased education (and thus earning potential) of students (If you want to know more, listen to the Planet Money episode I mentioned earlier). That’s a lot of dough. And conversely, a bad teacher can take away an equal amount of potential earnings from his/her students, simply by teaching them badly! Hanushek estimates that, if we were to replace the bottom 5-8% of teachers with average teachers, over the course of 80 years, we could add 100 trillion dollars to the economy. That’s a lot of dough.

So the simple fact is that, as Barack Obama put it, “Education is the economic issue of our time.” With so much potential economic growth from an improvement in teaching, and so much chance for decline if bad teaching is allowed to continue, the United States has no choice but to prioritize the responsible selection of public school teachers and the responsible teaching of the future earners of America.

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America: Over-Defended (Part 2)

How many more of these do we really need?

(This post is a continuation of America: Over-Defended (Part 1), which you can find right here. Read that first! Not very good blog etiquette, I know, but I wanna keep these posts kinda short and sweet.)

A good (if vague) principle to use to combat this, in my opinion, is to start treating the Department of Defense as just that, defensive. America seems to be constantly gearing up for total war, and it’s costing us a shitload of money to do so. Our country has always been a subtly imperial one, worming our military tentacles in wherever possible. In a way, America is a very imperialistic country, but in a subtle, subversive kind of way. There are more than 700 United States military bases across the globe (and 6,000 on US and territory soil), forming a spider’s web of armed power. (My figures are from here) While American imperialism is far from obvious (or perhaps even totally intentional), the simple fact is that American military presence is firmly established almost everywhere in the world. This “passive imperialism” (I think I came up with that myself!) further strengthens my argument that America hardly needs to invest in even more military power, at least for now. In fact, we may benefit from pulling up roots in some more secure areas. After all, as George Bush so deftly showed with Iraq, the United States has mastered rushing into volatile and delicate situations with little reserve.

Back to my defensive Department of Defense idea. As the name implies, the DoD’s primary purpose is, well, defense. According to their website, defense.gov, “The mission of the Department of Defense is to provide the military forces needed to deter war and to protect the security of our country.” Notice that its stated purpose is to deter war, not engage in it. The proper use of a standing army is as a defensive measure, a way to keep America and its people from being devastated by war. It is not meant to be used as the arm of American ideology, in the Middle East or elsewhere.

The simple fact is that no country, not even America, can pour so much money into defense without expecting serious drawbacks. If we want our country to excel in the coming years, then it’s imperative that military spending is drastically reduced, and fast.

Here’s how much we’re paying.

 

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America: Over-Defended (Part 1)

The United States is well-known as the strongest military power in the world, and with good reason. Few would claim that America is lacking in military might, and those few would pretty stupid. America has long been the predominant military power in the modern world, and this trend is likely to continue for quite a while.

Simply put, America’s armed forces are more than a few cuts above the rest. But just how far ahead do we need to be? America’s military dominance comes with a substantial price tag. At the time of this post’s writing, America’s defense budget was 739.2 billion dollars. For comparison,  China’s budget for 2010 was 78.6 billion dollars – which is almost the exact sum Robert Gates is proposing we cut from our own defense budget. Got that? The amount we’re hoping to cut from our military spending is the same as China’s entire military spending. Notice from the graph that China is the second largest spender in the world, next to us, and they still pale in comparison.

And it’s not as if America will be put at critical risk if spending were to be cut. America has (for the most part) gotten its money’s worth from its colossal military spending. We’re the world leaders in more or less every kind of weaponry, with eleven times as many aircraft carriers as China, nine times as many nuclear submarines, and a Marine corps twenty times the size of theirs (figures all taken from GlobalSecurity.org). So it seems fairly obvious that we have little to worry about from China, which I’ll remind you is the second largest military spender after us. We’re winning by a huge margin, so to speak.

So, you’ve probably been wondering what the title’s all about. How can a country possibly be over-defended? Well here’s the thing. As I hope most, if not all, of my readers know, the country is facing a pretty titanic budget deficit at the moment. And at the very same time, our country has fallen behind in such crucial areas as education, in no small part because of the lack of money that can be dedicated to it. In 2006, “National Defense” accounted for 57% of our budget, while “Education, training, employment, and social services” got only 8%. There’s a reason Chinese students are destroying American students in areas like math and science, and that reason is that America is pouring over half of its budget into weaponry.

So what needs to happen? We can’t just stop making weapons and vehicles, or stop sending bullets to troops, after all. But there are smart ways to cut back in the areas in which we already excel. Take aircraft carriers for example. As I mentioned earlier, America faces little competition from China in this area, and this trend is common throughout the world. Of the 15 other countries that use or have used aircraft carriers, none has more than 2 carriers in service. By comparison, America has 11. The last aircraft carrier produced by the US, the USS George H. W. Bush, cost 6.2 billion dollars to crank out, and the next one slated for production, the USS Gerald R. Ford will cost around 7.8 billion. Do we really need to be pouring this colossal amount of money into more ships, when we already have more than five times as many of these as the next countries up from us? I could rattle off more examples, but I don’t want to waste too much of your time!

This post is already quite long, so I’m going to break it into two parts. Come back in just a bit for part two!

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