Friends In Need, Friends Indeed

I have a very dear friend whom I correspond with from time to time and we respectfully agree to disagree on most matters political. She recently wrote on her Facebook page a note regarding her frustration over some of the issues that the current election has raised:

I have a job. I make money. I have a choice of what to do with my money. I can decide to save some of my money or spend all of my money. I decide to save some of my money. Now I have to decide how do I want to save my money. I can put it under my mattress. I can keep it in my checking account. I can start a savings account. I can invest it. I decide to invest it. Now I have to decide what kind of investment. My decision to invest has worked out well for me. I make money. Now I have to decide, within the law, what to do with my money. I find out, with advice, I can save my money in different ways.
It is my money, I am within the law, but others have what they think is a better way to use or do with my money. But it is my money. I haven’t broken any laws. I am generous and giving with my money. But others think I am not generous and giving enough with my money. Why do others want my money or tell me what I should be doing with my money? What is wrong with this picture?

This is an interesting note and one worthy of reflection. My friend has a point: it’s her money, where do other people come off telling her where it should be spent?

Unfortunately, we live in a country where the government claims the right to take some of our money and spend it the way they think it should be spent. I also disagree with much of the way my money is spent, and I am frustrated by the waste and abuse. But I recognize the fact that I have little to say about it and as long as I choose to remain in this country I must play by the rules. For example, I would love to see “defense” spending greatly reduced and the money spent on clean energy, health and human services, and education. But I have no say in the matter, unfortunately. Neither does my friend.

For years now I have watched an elderly man walk by my house on his way to work at the local factory. He carries his lunch pail and he walks slowly back and forth like clockwork every day. I worked for years at the regional state university where my salary was paid for by people like the man who walks by my house every day. I have fed at the public trough and I have managed to do quite well. My friend, quoted above, also ate from that same trough and she has managed to do well also. We are the lucky ones, because we made it to retirement. The man I spoke about no longer walks by my house: he has been laid off due to “downsizing” at the local factory — after 20 years of loyal service working on an assembly line putting cabinets together. Now it’s my turn to help him, I figure. He can eat out of the public trough for a while until he can get back on his feet. Why not? It only seems fair.

As I say, I don’t choose where my tax money goes. But I am delighted to know that at least some of it goes to help out people like the man who walks by — and another friend of mine, a former public school superintendent who has been laid off, lost his house, and watched his life fall apart before his eyes. These people are not lazy bums. They are people who need our help and yet we begrudge it because it is “our” money. I  would prefer to think of it as a loan. We have it for a time and we certainly don’t need it all; when others need it they should be welcome to it. I don’t suffer unduly because these people are now feeding out of the public trough. I ate out of it for many years. Now it’s their turn.

“Defense” Spending

You have probably seen the chart here. It is making the rounds on Facebook, and it is alarming — not because our country now spends seven hundred billion dollars on the military, but because of the sharp contrast between this country and the rest of the world (including China!). Our priorities are clearly skewed.

Contrast Between The U.S. and The Rest of The World

In an election year when we might do well to do some deep thinking bout our priorities and about the huge debt we are passing along to our grandchildren it might be wise to consider this chart. We all believe the economy is “the problem,” or most of us seem to do so. It’s not. It’s the fact that we are throwing money into the black hole of the military (in the name of “defense”) while the nation goes deeper into debt. Meanwhile we refuse to pay more taxes while we cut and slash needed social programs, our infrastructure falls to pieces, and our health care system falls behind the rest of the developed world.

Though the military has had the lion’s share of the budget for years, the “war on terror” has given them virtual carte blanche. It is worrisome. It’s one thing for the money to go toward building “drones” that are sent into dark places and kill indiscriminately. That is a moral horror story. But perhaps we can rationalize it, together with our world-wide military presence, on the grounds that these things are keeping us safe from terrorists. Perhaps. But, as we all know, the amount of waste in this part of the budget alone is almost certainly enough to bail Greece out of its present economic woes — though you never hear those calling for tax cuts suggesting that the military budget be cut. No sir!

I recall a few years ago we got a little money at the University where I taught and it was decided that we would resurface two tennis courts with “omnicourt” and if they worked out we would resurface four more. These synthetic courts were terribly expensive and as it turned out we never could afford the four new ones and settled for two courts that were elegant but seldom used. The company that resurfaced those two courts left our town after installing the courts and headed for Omaha where they were scheduled to resurface 12 such courts for the officers at the Air Force base in Bellevue, Nebraska nearby. The tennis courts were located close to the golf course as I understand it.  I am also told the armed forces spend a small fortune in soft balls each year.  All in the name of “defense spending.”

These are anecdotes, of course, and anecdotes don’t prove anything. But they sometimes do tell a story: they reflect a mind-set, and in this case reveal the sorts of waste of taxpayers’ money that are typical — not only in the state’s revenue in the case of our two pathetic tennis courts, but the nation’s tax revenue in the case of the waste on frivolous,  needless luxuries in the name of “defense.” I daresay we could multiply these examples a  thousand-fold and it would give us a headache — especially when our kids aren’t getting an adequate education and the poor and the sick in this country are about to be abandoned, while the military grows fat. We really do need to reshuffle the deck. Someone isn’t playing fair!