Like others, I’ve had my eye on the situation in Wisconsin (and the situation coming in many other states) wherein the solution to state budget shortfalls appears to be to go after public employees and their pesky unions. And then there’s the situation with the federal budget coming out of the House, that seeks to cut a gajillion things that are too depressing to name.
You may be expecting me to launch a grand defense of education, or funding for poor people, or funding for women, or for whatever. I’m not actually going to do that, though. Instead, I want to talk about the title of this post.
I’m sure you’ve all heard that line in the past few days. I most recently heard it this morning while watching the local news coming out of the mouth of some local Tea Party dude. Here is what I have to say about the whole “the money’s got to come from somewhere” thing.
I know the money has got to come from somewhere. I am not an idiot. People who believe in government-funded social programs are not idiots. The difference between me and somebody who wants to cut money for public employees (to give just one example) isn’t that I don’t understand that the money has to come from somewhere. It’s that I ultimately believe that I am part of a community. I believe in every single person pitching in for the greater good, as opposed to every man for himself. I believe that my life is better if my neighbor’s kids have good schools and teachers, even if I don’t myself have children who go to those schools; I believe that my world is better if we, collectively, make a commitment to caring for the elderly, for people in poverty, for our planet. I believe that some things are more important than self-interest.
And I don’t trust that individuals will take care of those things based on their own personal affiliations and interests, and I don’t want to live in a world where all that matters is ME ME ME (or YOU YOU YOU).
But so, the money has to come from somewhere! That’s right: maybe I don’t get another tax cut. Maybe I have to pay more taxes. I don’t think that there is anything wrong with that, and, in fact, I feel like there is a lot right with it.
People who believe in social programs, in education, in publicly funded research, in the arts, in the safety net are not naive, and they are not stupid. Or, perhaps they are, but they are no more naive and stupid than people who believe that this country is a meritocracy in which all people have an equal shot, no more naive and stupid than people who insist that greed should guide public policy and that if it does all things will come out “right” in the end, as if market forces care about right and wrong.
The money does have to come from somewhere. We all know that. But let’s not pretend that belt-tightening in itself is a moral good, that fiscal conservatism is the path to heaven, that budgetary decisions are not motivated by ideology. Let’s not pretend that conservatism equals realism and liberalism equals magical thinking. Let’s not pretend that we won’t get exactly what we pay for if we continue down this path at the federal and state levels.
The money does have to come from somewhere, but you don’t get something for nothing.