One of the courses I took in college—it was a required course if you were a political science major—was economics. I never could quite grasp the concepts involved and just managed to escape with a “C”. About all I remember from that puzzling class is that the textbook was written by Paul Samuelson and that at any given time, a country had to choose between “Guns or Butter.”
Since I was so incredibly bored by this class, I used to imagine guns that shot butter or guns made out of butter. Now that would have been a radical change in the way world worked—don’t you think? But since I was sleeping through the class, I missed my chance to suggest this to the professor.
Anyway, the concept of Guns and Butter was that a government (whether a dictatorship or a democracy) had to choose to invest its money in weapons and troops or food, infrastructure, schools, etc., or some carefully balanced combination of the two.
First, the guns…
To prepare for an interview on my radio show, I just read an article about the history and current incidences of budgetary waste (for waste, you can almost always substitute the word corruption) by the Pentagon and its incestuously intertwined partners, the military contractors and weapons manufacturers.
All of this “waste”, of course, is made possible by Congress, which is supposed to monitor the Pentagon’s budget. (I always liked the term “Congressional oversight”… “Oh, sorry. There was a small oversight and we voted for a twenty million dollar luxury spa in Afghanistan for our general staff”).
…Some Golden Oldies from the Reagan era: the 640 dollar toilet seat and the 8,000 dollar coffee pot. Then there were the ubiquitous planes that could never manage to fly and ships that didn’t float. But of course, it really doesn’t matter who’s in power at any given time, Demoblicans or Republicrats; somehow the flow of unnecessary funding never ceases.
The latest—and current all-time heavy-weight champion—of wasteful military projects is Lockheed-Martin’s F-35 combat aircraft, which, to date, has cost 1.5 Trillion dollars in development costs and cost overruns—and it still doesn’t work.
Despite this slight inconvenience, and the fact that there are lot of military experts who say we don’t even need this plane, Congress has approved continued investment in the project and the Pentagon plans to order a couple of hundred of these gratuitous duds whenever they do manage to take off, fly straight and land.
Now, the butter…
Just the other day, President Obama signed into law a 1 Trillion dollar agriculture bill which contains a section—pushed by Republicans—that cuts 8.7 Billion dollars in funding for the food stamp program. Families who are already existing on a cut-to-the-bone level, will now have even less. This affects millions of people in 16 different states—350,000 in New York State alone.
Of course, this agriculture bill is the result of months of hard negotiations between the White House and the two parties. It’s incredibly complex and provides necessary assistance to farmers, among other benefits to the country at large.
Yes, OK, I get it—it’s all very complex, and the nature of democracy is compromise.
There is, no doubt, as the Republicans claim, waste and fraud in the food stamp program (as there is in most federal programs). But I’m sure that whatever waste and fraud there is in the food stamp program, it pales beside decades-long waste and fraud in the Pentagon budget.
President Obama (or maybe it’s the Secretary of Agriculture) is declaring the bill a “victory” because the Republicans wanted to cut 40 billion dollars to begin with.
Now that’s what I call a victory, cutting the monthly allowance of food to poverty-stricken families. Maybe, to save even more money, Mr. Obama could ask the White House chef to see if the first family could get by on the newly reduced food-stamp allowance. Any kind of savings when you’re in a financial pinch, right?
Just as matter of interest… Last year, the CEO of Lockheed Martin, Marillyn A. Hewson, made $20,163,169 (that works out to roughly 55,000 a day).
A majority of the members of Congress are millionaires. A family is eligible for Food Stamps if their income is less than 30,000 dollars a year.
Guns or butter, the inevitable choice. The question is, who’s doing the choosing and based on what information?
I’m trying to remember if Mr. Samuelson included chapters on greed, immorality, hypocrisy and bullshit—I don’t think he did. If he had, I would have at least awakened from my semi-comatose state; and I certainly would have gotten a real education about American democracy.