Friday, October 10, 2008

Down With Government Spending, the Greatest Evil The World Has Ever Known!

That tile is meant sarcastically, of course. Yet, to watch the debates, you would think this is the Republican solution. The Democrats, however, don't explicitly call bullshit on this attack themselves.

Having once held a job that was funded (when it was funded) primarily by both the NEH and the NHPRC, you could say that I'm a bit biased on the issue; but, really, do the people who criticize government spending (and I'm using the term broadly to include federal, state and local governments) realize what they are saying? Is government spending really that hideous?

First of all, I'm kind of shocked that Obama and Biden did not make an explicit connection between government spending, government deficit, and an ever-expanding war and decreasingly-popular war on foreign soil.

Maybe they have and I'm too dense to recognize it without one them explicitly saying so. They get to it in a roundabout way by referring to the dearly departed surplus; but I desperately want them to look at McCain and say, "you dumbass, don't you think all of this money going to this ridiculous war might have something to do with how broke our country is?" Or: "we spend lots of money on a losing war and now we have lots of debt so maybe we should re-think this war thing as a means of using our financial resources more efficiently." Or "maybe we should move the costs in the line that says 'war' to the line that says 'health care' or 'schools,'" or something of that sort.

I digress.

Second, I wish someone important would ask what our country would look like if there were no government spending. No -- actually, I want to cut closer to the bone than that -- what would an individual person's life look like without government spending?

Indeed, if I were an investigative reporter, I would go out and gather the specific data of the ways that any individual's life benefits from government spending. Then I would find a subject to use as the human interest angle. I would make sure that this subject was unimpeachable to the opposition -- a white, home owning, college educated, male living in the suburbs with a job in the private sector. I might even choose a Republican who cheers McCain's odes to the Evils of Government Spending. Then, I would find the ways in which government spending has enhance or enabled this person's life. I would want to show how American lives are subsidized by government spending in ways they may not even realize.

I'll use my own life for example; although I will grant that we had many government employees in our family, which would skew my own personal data toward more government money in my life.

In my own life, my father worked for the government. First, he was in the service, then he was in the bureaucracy. A part of the bureaucracy, by the way, that was formed in the New Deal and supplemented by the Great Society as a way to help the working and middle class move into home ownership.

My mother was a school librarian in her second career. Both she and my father went to state schools as undergraduates, and she went to a state school to get her graduate degree. She then worked in public school libraries. Both of them are retired and a bulk of their retirement funds come from the government.

My grandmother also was a public school teacher and principal, and educated in public schools and state universities. She once told me that her family, sharecropping in Mississippi in the Depression, sent her to live with relatives in Louisiana because Huey Long was ensuring that public school children did not have to buy their own textbooks (I still have to check out this story -- she's been know to play a little loose with historic facts in her reminiscences.) Her retirement funds are also from government spending.

Her husband, my grandfather, an unskilled worker with an 8th grade education before his service in World War II, was able to get training as a skilled worker from the G.I. Bill after the war. He spent the next 30 years working on the locks on the Intracoastal Waterway. Government spending helped him to do this. Their position in the post-war middle class gave them the prosperity to send my mother to college, and lay a foundation for my own good fortune in living a materially comfortable life.

My other grandfather did not benefit from the G.I. Bill because he had finished college before the war. He did, however, attend a state college. He also volunteered for a government funded charity that taught adult literacy classes. As a paid employee, he worked as an Exxon executive. Do we want to go through the ways that the government subsidized the oil industry now?

My aunt worked at a university press, at a state university, and she now works at a publicly funded museum.

I attended public schools from first grade through my PhD. We didn't have kindergarten in the public schools in those days, so I did attend private institutions for kindergarten and pre-K. My mom wanted me out of her hair so she could deal with my baby brother, and my parents could afford that arrangement from my father's salary, paid for by the government. Then, when I went to a private graduate school, I paid my tuition with government-subsidized loans. Thus, the private school received government money. Additionally, in that program, I served as an intern at institutions that received government funding to operate and to conduct research.

Government money has been ever present in my professional life. As a teacher, I have worked at public institutions from community colleges to public universities. My brief foray into administration was at a public university. As an editor, I worked at projects funded by the NEH and NHPRC. As a researcher, I used institutions also funded by those agencies and funded by public money, such as the Boston Public Library, the National Archives, the Library of Congress, and the National Parks Service.

I have always driven on public roads, from the moment that I received my license. The U.S. and interstate highway systems were both products of government spending, and are maintained by that same government spending. I seriously doubt that anyone outside of the military regularly thinks of them as part of a defense measure anymore, and everyone gets really pissy when the roads aren't maintained or cleared of snow in the winters. I have also used the T, the Subway, and the Metro, as well as the Monorail; all three being public forms of transportation that got me to school, work, and research, and which enable whole populations of people to live without cars.

These are only a few very direct examples of the ways in which I use government spending to my advantage. They only apply to me, but the institutions that I attended and at which I worked, as well as the facilities that I have used, all point towards the patronage of thousand or even millions of other people in this country who benefit from government spending.

So, I'm asking all of this out of curiosity, and a potential research project (but not for me, since I have about a thousand other projects -- maybe a collective blogosphere research project). How much of our individual lives are affected by the spending of government funds? We could also extend this question to private corporations and businesses, as well.

Furthermore, since these government funds come from tax dollars, what is the difference between what a person (or business) pays in taxes and what they receive in benefits from public services?

I think I myself come out way ahead on that one.

Crossposted at Progressive Historians

1 comment:

dykewife said...

canada doesn't have any private universities, they're all public, even the ones that are considered sort of "ivy league" like queens, u of toronto and ubc.

catholic and public schools are all publicly funded as are some of the private schools that don't charge tuition and are considered "charter" schools.

we have the addition of publicly funded health care. my tax dollars ensure that i don't have to pay to visit my physician, that i don't have to pay for most things while in hospital and the like. considering the kind of debt that boy would have caused us in the first year of his life, i'm greatly relieved it exists.

my dad taught at a post-secondary technical school. his pension comes from the union/government pension funds. eventually my retirement (should i ever be able to afford to retire) will be partially funded by the canada pension plan, a publicly funded agency.

i don't mind paying taxes when i know that those taxes are paying for the wonderful advantages i have.

 

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