Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Mexico as Economic Example

It was an argument that ended as quickly as it began.

A friend and I started an e-mail conversation over what was wrong with America under George W. Bush and what should be done to correct it. We both agreed that America needs to cut spending.

"Raise taxes to gain income, stop congressional corruption and the earmarking of millions to lobbyists and corporations, get out of Iraq", proposed I.

"Cut social spending", said he.

"?", asked I. I quoted a phrase that was cliche the moment it had originally been used: "Bush is spending money like a drunken sailor and you want to cut the Social Security check of a grandmother that *earned* that benefit? How courageous!"

"Social spending accounts for 60% of the budget. Cut where you'll get the most bang for the buck." said my friend.

"Exactly. We've spent $400 billion in Iraq and the only persons that have benefitted is the board of Halliburton. Stop the war."

"Whatever", said he.

And that's pretty-much where the conversation stopped.

Now I used to be a Republican. Granted I live on the Left Coast now and the statements above make me sound quite "Lefty". But I do not consider myself either Left or Right anymore and the comments I made above do not cover the nuance of my thoughts on such matters. Sure, if there's a social program that is wasting taxpayer money, kill it. Do we need to make our social spending more efficient? Definitely.

But I'm a big defender of Social Security. The US made a contract with our retired and soon to be retired. You work hard and pay into the system and you'll get a return of X. It ain't much, but you have the US Governments word. Don't fuck with it.

I call it the Ejection Seat example. Why do we put ejection seats in fighter planes? It's not because we need another excuse to add a $2M more to the cost of a plane. It's a demonstration of trust. We show the pilot that we're willing to support him. We're concerned about his welfare and we'll come get him out if he gets into trouble. In return, the fighter pilot is more likely to take more risky moves to get the job done. He'll take more risk than his adversary, who may not benefit from similar promises from his government.

These examples are commonplace in the military. The Marines don't leave men behind. Is it because the *like* to charge into enemy fire just to drag a dead body back? Do we spent billions of dollars are field hospitals and medical help for our wounded warrriors because we like dumping money? It would certainly be easier to just let them die, right?

There are plenty of examples to the contrary. Iraq is one of many examples of militaries that left their men to their own devices. Iraqi soldiers knew quite well what support they'd be getting if they were injured and realized quickly just in whose interest they were fighting -- their own. Iraq's military undoubted had many problems, but their soldiers knew exactly who would be looking out for them if they got injured and it certainly wasn't in their personal interest to test the system.

I don't suggest unlimited support for everyone. But I do suggest that we have a support network available for those who do work hard and get caught short. The trick -- and I suspect the reason that most social support networks suffer such inefficientcy -- is determining who is and is not worthy of support. Sure A worked for 30 years without a single vacation and paid his taxes every time, while B is 37 years old, able-bodied and has never held a job. Are *you* gonna be willing to look B in the eye and tell him to "get lost" while A get a stipend to help him back on his feet? Somebody certainly needs to.

The current administration has certainly pushed further the idea of success for the rich and damn the rest. Cut social programs and allow profits to stay in the top x%. Worked during the Golden Age of Capitalism.

But in our war on government and social spending, I want to know what examples we're pointing to as examples. What countries have made a large rich/poor divide a success for their nation? Not the US. Not Western Europe. Not Canada, not Austrailia, not Japan. A middle-eastern country perhaps? China? India? Mexico?

I heard an anecdote on the radio that Mexico has more billionaires than Switzerland. Is Mexico's "Trickle Down Theory" what is sending their citizens across our borders for opportunity? Where's all the jobs their rich were supposed to create?

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