In response to ambitious social democratic programs proposed by candidates such as Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren, the question is posed: How will we pay for it? Taken at face value, this is a very fair question. Programs such as Medicare for all and tuition-free public college, for example, are grandiose and require large amounts of money. Technically all government spending originates from some finite source of revenue which should be carefully allocated.
Medicare for all would dramatically lower domestic healthcare spending and ensure that nobody dies due to poverty, and tuition-free college would eliminate or at least halt $1.5 trillion of student loan debt almost entirely held by young, poor, working class, minority and otherwise marginalized people. But ignoring the obvious social benefits of these policies and the dozens of other countries which implement them successfully, discussing the price of these ideas leads to a troublesome contradiction.
Asking how new social programs will be paid for implies that, in the United States, government spending is usually justified on a logical and financial basis. This idea quickly collapses when we consider some existing expenditures.
In 2015 U.S. subsidy on fossil fuels reached $649 billion, the combustion of which is well documented as destroying the environment and leading to our extinction. The defense budget for 2019 was $716 billion, helping us kill hundreds of thousands of civilians. The congressional nonpartisan Joint-Committee on Taxation predicted before the passing of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act that it would add $1.5 trillion to the budget deficit in the next decade. However, this is simply the most recent example of decades of tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires.
If all of these numbers are dizzying, for reference the federal government spends only $68 billion every year on education. Yes, the federal government spends ten times more on fossil fuel development than education.
Spending such as this has far less to do with meaningful, careful allocation of funds for the good of society and far more to do with competing interest groups. Currently, the interest group in control of the United States government is the wealthy, and this means that government spending tends towards the proliferation of wealth. This explains why so much money goes to fossil fuel companies, the military-industrial complex and overt tax cuts for the wealthiest members of society.
Our government decides to spend money on certain things. Repeatedly, they decide to spend money creating harm and perpetuating power structures rather than on obviously needed programs. Humane and beneficial policies are not too expensive, they are limited by undemocratic government unresponsive to most Americans and unconcerned with our best interest. Until this lack of democracy is remedied, we will never see beneficial policies implemented and we will never hear the end of how they are simply too expensive.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by individual writers in the opinion section do not reflect the views and opinions of The Daily Campus or other staff members. Only articles labeled “Editorial” are the official opinions of The Daily Campus.
Harrison Raskin is campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.