by Jay Johansen | Feb 1, 2011
Feb 1, 2011. A few days ago I saw a TV interview of a conservative politician calling for the government to cut spending by $100 billion per year. The politician was Eric Cantor, Republican of Virginia. The reporter was David Gregory. But the specific people doesn't matter: I'm sure you could hear similar things from many people.
Cantor said that we need to cut hundreds of programs, that there have to be real cuts in many areas.
Gregory asked, "What about defense? Is defense on the table, defense cuts on the table? Do they have to be?" I'm guessing he thought this was a tough question for a right-wing Republican like Cantor. He might make an exception there.
But he didn't. He replied, "Absolutely. ... I've said before, no one can defend the expenditure of every dollar and cent over at the Pentagon."
So the reporter tried a different tack. He threw in his show-stopper question: "Cancer research is on the table?"
I don't want to put words in the reporter's mouth, but the thinking behind this question is surely something like, "How could you possibly cut spending on something as important as cancer research? Cutting cancer research would cause suffering and death! How could you live with yourself?"
This is exactly the sort of reasoning that has led us to a $14 trillion deficit.
Does the fact that something is "important", even "life saving", really mean that it is evil to question how much we spend on it, or whether the money is spent effectively?
Right now the government spends about $5 billion per year on cancer research. It may well be true that if we cut that, that innocent people would suffer and die. But by the same reasoning, if we spent more, surely fewer people would suffer and die. So why aren't we spending $10 billion? Why not $100 billion? Why not $1 trillion? Why not tax 100% of the income of everyone in the country and spend every dime of it on cancer research? If you object, does that mean that you are a heartless jerk who doesn't care about the suffering of all those poor people with cancer?
Yes, I care about people with cancer. Something should be done to help them. But I also care about education of children. I care about the homeless and the hungry. I care about the thousands of other misfortunes that someone could suffer.
It takes only a moment's thought to realize that we cannot spend unlimited amounts of money on any one problem. If $ trillion would be an unreasonable amount to spend on cancer research, then maybe $5 billion is also an unreasonable amount. The amount presently being spent is not sacred. Congress just made that number up one day.
People who talk about how vital some government spending program is regularly talk as if the money comes from nowhere. Every dollar the government spends on one thing must, inevitably, come from somewhere else.
And excuse me for being selfish, but I'd like to enjoy some of the results of my efforts myself: I don't want to give it all to others. I think I should have some right to decide how much of the money I work for I give to charity and how much I keep for myself and my own family.
© 2011 by Jay Johansen