The importance of a two-marshmallow approach to government spending


Police supervise a protest against tax cuts for the wealthy on Monday, April 16. (Photo courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons)

Police supervise a protest against tax cuts for the wealthy on Monday, April 16. (Photo courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons)

Possibly the most difficult part of government, other than forcing through Supreme Court Justices credibly accused of sexual assault, is the allocation of government funding. There are strong ideological differences on what programs and initiatives deserve priority. Some of them are based on what we value the most. Conservatives tend to support things like a border wall and increased military funding because they prioritize security and order. Liberals, on the other hand, value social programs like food stamps and Medicaid that help the needy. While these funding differences are important, and deserve their own conversation, today I’m going to talk about something I want to call one versus two marshmallow government spending.

Most of you are probably familiar with the Stanford marshmallow experiment. To summarize, children were offered the choice between one reward (often a marshmallow) immediately or two rewards a short time later. This delayed gratification experiment along with follow-up studies found that the children who waited for greater rewards tended to have better life outcomes as measured by a variety of categories. While a replication of the study failed to produce the same outcome, there is still a large amount of literature linking the ability to defer gratification to positive outcomes.

One of the underlying economic differences between the parties is that one favors policies that provide rewards in the short term while the other supports ideas that foster sustained, long-term growth. Analysis of their respective platforms makes it clear the Republicans are all about short-term gains, while Democrats are much more willing to delay gratification for a greater overall benefit.

If you think of the economic policies of Republicans you’ll probably think of tax cuts. Mostly for the wealthy. Don’t get me wrong, tax cuts under an economic downturn and for the right people (not the wealthy) can be very effective at setting the economy on the right track. But a tax cut like the one passed last year, where the economy was already performing strongly, is a prime example of immediate gratification. It was probably nice to have a little bit of extra cash last year. But as time goes on and individuals budget their lives based on the new tax rates the benefits of a tax cut become diminished. Ten years later it won’t be doing you all that much good (if their tax cut was even helping you in the first place). Added to this is the fact that many Republican tax cuts blow holes in the deficit, which may lead to cuts in government spending on certain programs. This in turn further mitigates the effect of the tax cut.

Historically, Democrats have favored policies that benefit people in the long term. FDR’s New Deal included a large amount of government spending on infrastructure, and provided decent-paying jobs for millions of Americans. In addition to providing jobs, FDR’s Works Progress Administration constructed 650,000 miles of road, built 78,000 bridges, erected 125,000 civilian and military buildings, and constructed or improved 800 airports. This massive government spending, which would give conservatives a heart attack if implemented today, helped pull the U.S. out of the Great Depression and transform it into the greatest economic powerhouse of the 20th century. Projects like these that give people well-paying jobs and an improved society, something that’s much more rewarding than a small tax cut.

It isn’t just tax cuts versus government projects, this principle applies to many issues. Take the environment, for example. Republicans favor less environmental regulations because they want to help keep the profits of companies high in the short term. They fail to understand that the dangers of climate change, including stronger storms, widespread agricultural failure and flooding of many coastal areas, will be exponentially worse than a few big companies struggling if they’re forced to limit emissions. Democrats who have been clamoring for stronger action for the last couple of decades are the only ones acting responsibly regarding this threat. In the long term, making concessions now will be of great benefit to us later.

Democrats are clearly the only party that can think long term. Republicans seem to not have a care whether they leave a broken world for the next generation as long as their rich donors turn a profit. If we want the economy to be handled reliably, electing Democrats is the only viable option. Republicans have been proven that they cannot be trusted.

Jacob Kowalski is opinion editor for The Daily Campus opinion section. He can be reached via email at

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