There is only one reason to “slash” budgets, due to fiscal hardship provoked by irresponsible tax giveaways, lawless market manipulation and the ensuing economic recession: the same failure of imagination and recklessness that led to the economic collapse of 2007-2008. There is quite literally no corner of this country that is so “broke” that it is “in danger” of collapse.
The rapidly spreading “budget emergency” is emergent only in the sense that it is suddenly the thought engine driving one major party’s ideological and partisan attack on the economic and political levers that give middle class Americans influence over their government.
At this writing, extreme ideologues with ties to industry, who claim to represent that major party, without living by any of their supporters real principles, are imposing on cash-strapped states unaffordable tax cuts, which they seek to fund by “slashing” what they call “wasteful spending”, such as assistance for new mothers and babies, children’s hospitals, schools and police and fire departments.
The project is so extreme, indeed so desperate and so shrill, it includes plans to eliminate job-creation programs, lay off workers, defund recovery and infrastructure programs, without which new industry cannot invest, and even give at least one governor the power to dissolve entire cities, overrule elections and institute financial emergency rule.
When government cannot do the basic work that makes a free and open democracy flourish, by assuring its people an opportunity to learn, invent and prosper, it is not government at all, and the claim to legitimate authority becomes dubious. For public officials to be planning massive reductions in the basic —already cash-strapped and overextended— services that make us free is a particular kind of moral undiscipline.
If we look seriously at how public funds are invested, we find that spending on education pays huge dividends, both by enriching the population and by helping to shape communities that are more oriented toward citizenship and constructive enterprise. Health funds and infrastructure funds are investments that give us a more resilient, more capable society, better able to capitalize on the opportunities afforded by democratic freedoms.
We need public officials, whether liberal or conservative, who are determined first and foremost to find ways to make sure that government is good, operative, efficient and imaginative. Doing the work of government, the forthright and capable service to the people of the United States, is the only way for public officials to nobly fulfill the obligations of their office.
If we have to withdraw funding from our schools, then we are imposing direct harm on our children to compensate for our own incompetence. If we have to eliminate programs that allow our underprivileged neighbors to be treated for serious health conditions, then we are imposing direct harm on our fellow citizens, to pay the cost of our own intellectual inadequacy. Such a failure of imagination is a collapse of the public trust.
Public officials must be talented enough, smart enough, imaginative enough, and committed enough to the wellbeing of the public they serve, to actually deliver these services. If they are not, they should have the common decency not to accept the responsibility of holding public office.
A few ideas:
- Direct funds from other government programs which have lower investment value to education, health and community-building projects;
- Assess in honest terms the human and citizenship value of specific programs—bombs cost a lot more than individual healthcare or education, but produce less value for real people;
- Require major profit-making organizations to forego major subsidies once operations are “mature”;
- Subsidies: favor spending on infrastructure improvements and new business models that will be integral to coming economic expansion;
- Plan long-term, incremental phasing out of borrowing-based public spending—bond markets will react more positively to intelligent, long-term thinking;
- Require Human Development Index (HDI) analysis of social spending cuts, military spending, corporate subsidies.
Another key to shoring up the long-term budget picture is legislative extortion—the practice of demanding a legislative deal, often an earmark, in exchange for a vote. Some of the most insidious earmarks have needlessly distorted spending at the federal and state levels, undermining intelligent policy planning, by shifting funds irrationally. In one notorious case, Sen. Shelby (R-AL) demanded over $40 billion in exchange for not unilaterally blocking 70 nominations.
The idea that “slashing spending” is helpful “to America” is an ideological and partisan attack on ordinary Americans, their rights, their freedoms and the future of their families and their communities. It stems from a deep failure imagination and a lack of sincere commitment to doing the right thing by the people one serves. We the people need to demand better, at all times, from every public servant.
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Originally published May 25, 2011, at IndependentsOfPrinciple.com