Sep 2012 05

by Moby

Above: Quality of Overall Infrastructure – Country Rankings 2011
Countries and regions are ranked highest to lowest quality of overall infrastructure. Source: World Economic Forum via Photius

This might not be of interest to very many people, but I wanted to write about the federal government…

I know, 99% of you will stop reading right now. I assume that this is probably of interest to about six people, which is a shame, as it’s a subject that effects all of us, even those who don’t live in the United States.

See, one of the big issues in this election cycle is federal spending.
 The Republicans say over and over again that they want to drastically cut federal spending.
 And most people go along with it, saying, “sure, let’s cut federal spending.”
 But do people fully understand what federal spending involves?
 In very general terms, and excluding debt and interest payments, federal spending can be seen in quarters:

  • 1/4 of the budget goes to Medicare/Medicaid.
  • 1/4 goes to Social Security.
  • 1/4 goes to military spending.
  • 1/4 goes to ‘discretionary’ spending.

The Republicans have said that they don’t want to touch the military budget, they don’t want to touch Medicare/Medicaid, and they don’t want to touch Social Security.
 But they do want to drastically cut ‘discretionary’ spending.

What exactly is ‘discretionary’ spending?
 Technically it’s non-mandatory federal spending.
 But practically it’s 
railways, schools, hospitals, roads, infrastructure, arts programs, health, police, museums, emergency services, state and national parks, public broadcasting, water safety, etc., etc.

Some of these are also paid for by state and local budgets, but for the most part they’re all reliant upon federal ‘discretionary’ spending.
 And what I find incredibly frustrating is that no one, not even Democrats, is sticking up for this type of government spending.

When I travel I go to countries with a higher percentage of discretionary spending than the United States.
 Canada, Australia, Germany, France, Scandinavia, New Zealand, The Netherlands, etc., etc.
 Most Americans don’t leave the United States, so they assume that no matter where you go you’ll find hospitals that are over-crowded, schools that are under-funded, railroads that are slow, higher education that is expensive, water that isn’t always safe to drink, etc.
 But in almost every other Western country they have great hospitals, great schools, great roads, great public transportation, clean air, clean water, etc., 
because, simply, they spend more federal money on programs that benefit the people.

The Republicans want to cut all discretionary spending.
 And they want to cut taxes on the wealthiest 1% of wage earners.
 So the towns where these wealthiest 1% live will have great public services, but the rest of the country will, literally, fall apart, as is already happening.
 By most objective criteria the United States is already leaving the ranks of first world countries.

Here are two salient indices:

1. The United States comes joint 23rd in a list of countries ranked for literacy by the United Nations – below Cuba, Estonia, Latvia, Barbados, and Belarus, among others.

2. There are 48 countries with a lower infant mortality rates than the United States – this one is stunning!

In almost all indices for development and well-being the United States is either lower than most other Western countries or slipping fast.
 There might be other variables, but the one constant is we increasingly spend less on ‘discretionary’ items.
 And if Romney/Ryan and the Republicans have their way, we’ll continue to spend less and less on discretionary spending, and continue to push the United States out of the ranks of first world countries.

To be clear and seemingly self evident:

  • Kids are better educated when they have well funded schools.
  • Old people are healthier when they have well funded hospitals and health programs.
  • People are safer when they have well funded health and safety programs and regulations.
  • Countries work better when they have well funded public transportation.

Giving more money to the military will not improve the quality of life for people in the United States.
 And giving more tax breaks to millionaires and billionaires will not improve the quality of life for most of the people in the United States.

I truly believe that if Romney/Ryan and the Republicans are allowed to further cut federal discretionary spending that the United States will increasingly become a crumbling country filled with increasingly sick and uneducated people. It’s already happening. A Romney/Ryan administration will just accelerate the process.

It’s just a shame that most Americans can’t travel, even to Canada, to see an example of what a country looks like when it has great public education 
and great health care and great public transportation and great arts programs.

I’m writing this because I strongly believe that someone needs to speak up for discretionary spending. Someone needs to clearly state that many of the things Americans value – roads, health, education, police, emergency services, public transport, museums, national parks, safe water, clean air, etc., etc. – all require healthy levels of funding.

A Romney/Ryan Republican America would be paradise for the few people worth over $10,000,000. But it would be a crumbling dystopia for everyone else.


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