Things to Do With $500 Billion

• Send President Obama on golf outings every day for the next 4,000 years.

• Maintain and operate all 12 of the U.S. Navy’s aircraft carriers for the next century or so.

• Keep 13 million senior citizens out of poverty for one year.

• Bring the nation’s schools up to a Bill Clinton-approved decent minimum standard.

• Fix one quarter of America’s broken roads, bridges, water lines, dams and sewage systems.

• (Or Nothing, because of Congress.)

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12 Comments / Post A Comment

readyornot (#816)

Could also increase the foreign assistance budget tenfold.

Has anyone else noticed that this new daily contributor to the Billfold is using the pen name of a German writer living in Mexico from the first half of the twentieth century? Are we about to have a Treasure of the Sierra Madre screenplay/serial novel come out? That would be fun.

Blondsak (#2,299)

@readyornot I’ve been waiting for Mike and Logan to introduce them, but I guess they’re not going to?

Winfield (#3,368)

How about, and here’s a shocking idea, we don’t spend money just because we have it. Perhaps cut our expenses and not spend so foolishly. And yes, if you think we could spend $500B on education wisely when we have already spent much more so badly on education, then I got a bridge to sell you.

@Winfield Cutting government spending — especially when the economy is way under capacity — is a great way to make GDP go down.

AlliNYC (#1,725)

@Winfield I sort of agree with you, in that if I have $100 in my bank account I should not be thinking “ooh I have $100 to spend” and instead I should be thinking “ooh I have $100 to SAVE”… And I definitely agree with your point on education, although I just think we’ve been throwing our money a bit unwisely at the problem (there are ways to throw our money wisely, I think).

But at the same time, keeping senior citizens out of poverty, or relieving college loans, or some other idea to lift people who have been dealt an unfair hand, is a hard thing to want to deny. I don’t think that just because you’ve had it tough means you deserve government assistance, but as someone who HAS received unemployment money (graduating college in 2008 was TERRIBLE timing, thanks parents for your shitty birth-giving timing?) I would feel like a bit of a hypocrite if I didn’t acknowledge the good that SOME of the government assistance programs do for SOME people.

Winfield (#3,368)

@stuffisthings Spending like fools and leaving future generations hostage to our massive debt is a great way to make your ENTIRE COUNTRY go down. See Portugal, Italy, Greece, Spain.

Winfield (#3,368)

@AlliNYC Good points. I agree that we need to have a robust social safety net. I just worry that the definition of what is “robust” quickly gets away from policymakers and the public. So we just end up shoveling billions (soon to be trillions) into mediocre programs and putting it all on Uncle Sam’s credit card. I fear what our crushing debt will do this country in a generation.

@Winfield They are having trouble because they can’t control their own monetary policy nor borrow in their own currency, due to being part of an ill-conceived currency union (which happens to be run by a completely incompetent central bank). Historically, the only way to get out from under a too-high debt load is to grow the economy, not to shrink it.

Consider this analogy: let’s say you went to school and got an expensive degree. You’ve got an entry-level job in your field, but it is low paying and located in an expensive big city, so you’re having trouble paying off your student loans while also making rent. Fortunately, your parents are phenomenally wealthy and are willing to lend you as much money as you might need — you absolutely MUST pay them back, but not for 10 or 20 years and only at 0.025% interest (the parents are the bond markets here, bear with me).

Do you: A) borrow enough money from your parents each month to keep up the minimum payments on your loans and maybe rent an apartment near your job so you can focus on working hard, moving up, and earning a salary high enough to support yourself and pay back both your parents and the student loan people, or B) don’t take any money from your parents, move back to your hometown and rent a cheap basement apartment, get a minimum-wage job at McDonalds, and spend every free dollar paying back the student loans?

In which scenario is your debt load likely to be more of a burden in the medium-term future?

* DISCLAIMER: I think comparing government finances to household finances is completely wrongheaded, but I’ve tried to make the analogy work.

@Winfield Or perhaps we could look at the empirical data: U.S. public debt was at 127% of GDP by the end of the WWII. The 1950-60s were characterized by high taxes on the wealthy, strong investments in public infrastructure and education, and resulting high rate of growth that reduced the debt-to-GDP ratio even while the actual size of the debt stayed about the same or grew slightly.

We could even afford a misguided war or two!

Abe (#3,483)

@stuffisthings Yeah, you are completely missing Winfield’s point. You could tax the wealthy at 100% and spend billions on infrastructure and education. But what you fail to understand is that taxing the wealthy at the highest levels doesn’t solve the problem of how we spend irresponsibly. Also, you are extremely naive if you think that just by spending more on education and infrastructure things will get better.

You like facts, here’s one for you. We have spend 4x as much on education per student today than we did 40 years ago. How’s that working for us?

Abe (#3,483)

@stuffisthings Yeah, comparing government finances to household finances is moronic at best. Your analogy doesn’t work. Also, the PIGS have been irresponsible spenders for awhile now. The EU does get some of the blame. But each of the countries had crappy governments and ineffective public institutions for many decades.

Example: Have you ever LIVED in Italy? Not visited there in undergrad on some quaint study abroad. Go and spend a year there (especially in southern Italy). The way their government runs is closer to North Africa and the Middle East than it is to alot of Europe. And if you have spent any time in those regions, you will know that is not a compliment. Simple things like paying the electricity bill are exercises in futility. Once you understand that, you will understand how each of these countries got into this mess.

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