Steve McEllistrem

The Devereaux Dilemma

Not Enough Money in the World

We all want our government to pay for certain things. Those wants are different for different people, but we all want government to pay for something. The problem, however, is that there isn’t enough money to pay for all the things we want government to do.

There’s enough money if we choose to do only what some of us want. For example, some of us want a border wall with Mexico and a strong military, not Medicare for all, not government paying for environmental cleanup, not people getting a guaranteed income. What’s important is projecting strength to the world so that we won’t get taken advantage of.

Some silly people are concerned about wild horses. That was in the news recently. The head of the Bureau of Land Management said that it will take $5 billion and 15 years to get an overpopulation of wild horses under control on federal lands across the western U.S. Should we spend our collective money on a project like that? Some of us are adamantly opposed to culling wild horses from the West while others are passionate about shrinking herds to sustainable levels.

Or what about education and student loans?

A top official in the federal student loan program resigned recently, calling the system fundamentally broken and advocating for the forgiveness of $50,000 in student loan debt for everyone, regardless of income. Some laud his position while others call it foolhardy.

On a more basic level, some think public education is a constitutional right while others believe it ought to be privatized. That certainly benefits some. If everyone were to receive a set amount for vouchers, the middle class could use the money to augment their resources and send their kids to the best schools while the poor would be stuck at failing schools.

As for infrastructure, pretty much everybody wants roads and bridges that aren’t falling apart and desires government to pay for them. In northern states particularly, government is tasked with snow and ice removal in the winter as well as pothole repair in spring. Few would argue that government should get out of that business.

Police and fire – again, most of us want the government paying for those services rather than letting the wealthy hire their own private constabulary/firefighters while leaving the rest of us to deal with such misfortune on our own.

But there are myriad areas that require some sort of funding – the opioid crisis; mental health treatment; subsidizing housing and sports teams; protecting Monarch butterflies and bald eagles; building floodwalls in low-lying areas; subsidizing coal, solar or nuclear energy; light rail; mail delivery; SNAP benefits; subsidizing cotton, peanuts, sugar or milk. The list is practically endless – and I haven’t even included Medicare and Social Security, two of the biggest drivers of debt.

Obviously we can’t fund everything. There just isn’t enough money, no matter how much you tax corporations and the rich. That’s not to say they shouldn’t be paying a higher level than they currently are. They definitely should. But that’s not enough to solve all our wants.

The reality is that there just isn’t enough money to pay for everything we want. But if we can only afford to pay for some of what we want, what part should we fund? This is the unanswerable question. Why? Because we as a society can’t agree on what our priorities ought to be. Until we can do that (and I’m increasingly convinced we’ll never be able to do that), we’ll never be satisfied with anyone else’s answer.

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