The Untitled Rant, Part 2: A Gutted Fortress

In Part 1, I explored who "the poor" really are and how they are grossly misunderstood and misrepresented.  I now turn to the current political climate and issues of public policy that can not only keep people in poverty, but can actually make the problem worse.

We're hearing people talk of reducing government spending, as if it is inherently bad or counterproductive every time the feds write a check. "Stop spending!" they cry. But the question is, "spending on what?" "Government spending" can help educate our citizens. "Government spending" helps keep our water, food, roads, cars, airplanes, and buildings safe. "Government spending" helps keep the unemployed off the streets when they are laid off by a company that would rather bonus its top executives than keep jobs at the bottom. "Government spending" pays the salaries of those who keep things working that you and I never see and take for granted. "Government spending" finds, prosecutes, and houses criminals (and some non-criminals). "Government spending" helps ensure that you don't become poor and homeless just because you age and retire. Insofar as government does these things poorly, the private, business sector is no alternative as their goal is profit and they cannot be voted out of office. Do I object to some things government spends money on? Absolutely (see below). But that's what we need: specificity. This non-specific rhetoric about "reducing government spending" is not helpful.

We're seeing people get elected to positions of power who want to go in and just slash everything. Some of the stuff they're trying to cut (like funding for public broadcasting or the National Endowment for the Arts) are tiny, inconsequential portions of the federal budget.  Many states are cutting education, yet today's professional work force requires more education, experience, and creativity as ever. An acquaintance of mine who has worked around the State House for more than 50 years sent me a summary of the most recent legislative session.  Here is an excerpt:
"Without a doubt this was the most difficult and meanest of any of the previous legislative sessions. The majority thought focused on how do we cut. There was very little discussion as to the needs of the citizens of [the state]...Per pupil aid to students K-12 [was] $4433 in Fiscal Year 2008. For Fiscal Year 2012 the per pupil aid will be $3780...Temporary Assistance for Families has not been increased since 1993...The Governor proposed the elimination of Early Head Start...The General Assistance cash program for adults without children and under the age of 65 is totally eliminated for Fiscal Year 2012."  
The effort to cut government and privatize is essentially a move towards "Darwinian economics;" that is, the survival of the fittest. A local pastor put it this way:
"What we are doing whether we know it or not is appealing to the meanest aspects of human nature. We are saying that there is scarcity, and because there is scarcity everyone must fight among themselves for a piece of the pie...and to cover [these ideas] with the mantle of Christian piety is an outrage."
Federal tax receipts as a proportion of GDP are at their lowest level since 1950. Yet, we're told that the problem is out-of-control spending on domestic projects. How about two wars, bank bailouts, and massive tax cuts for the wealthy?  Plug those in and crunch the numbers. There is plenty of money in America to pay our bills; we're just not collecting it, and we're pumping what we do have into guerrilla warfare and wasteful projects in the Middle East. Here's a proposal:  let's put all tax cuts and exemptions on the expenditure side of the balance sheet, and then we can talk about "government spending."  If tax cuts are not an expenditure, how is it they create deficits? In fact, the United States had to borrow money to pay for the new tax cuts of the last decade.

'dscf0254' photo (c) 2006, Andrew Wilkinson - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/I would love to have a real conversation on government spending; particularly, the fact that defense/military accounts for the largest chunk and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have cost us $1.24 trillion at this writing; while things like education, which are already skin and bones, are being cut even more. The image in my head of what America will be if we continue down this track is that of a gutted fortress. High, thick, strong walls around the outside but desolate on the inside. We can't continue to cut funding to things like education, health, safety, rehabilitation, etc.  Some people may be poor because of their sins, but woe to us if they are poor because of our sins. We want people to be independent, right? Let's start with some things on the government level:  stop cutting education, raise the minimum wage, and keep the meat of the health care law in tact (like making sure insurance companies can't drop people when they get sick or deny coverage because of a pre-existing condition). Such things are not handouts, they are investments. Investments make the world go round and are really the only way to have a chance at upward mobility.  You spend money early, and if you spend it on the right things, you'll earn it back and then some.  On the level of government, that's what can happen when you spend on things like health care and education. They are investments that can yield a return greater than the original dollar amount.

Life is not a vending machine.  I don't get to put my money in, pick what I want, and shake the machine if it doesn't deliver. We all have to share this space. Perhaps most of all, we've lost the concept of citizenship.  I choose to be a citizen.  How about you?  I choose to be a citizen of the United States, a country whose founders believed that every person had a God-given right to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."  These are empty words if we're not willing to provide the things necessary to sustain those rights or if we only afford them to a certain class of people.  And I choose to be a citizen of the Kingdom of God, where "the last shall be first, and the first shall be last" and where we all come before our Maker as equals.

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