icon caret-left icon caret-right instagram pinterest linkedin facebook twitter goodreads question-circle facebook circle twitter circle linkedin circle instagram circle goodreads circle pinterest circle

Doris writes a weekly column for LaGaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper, which has pages in English, Spanish, and Italian.  Begun in 1922 for Tampa's immigrant community, it continues to thrive more than a century later.  Her column is titled "In Context," as it aims to put contemporary issues in the context of the past.

What Is the Matter With Us?: How Budget Cuts Hurt Us All

I was trying to schedule lunch with a friend when she mentioned that she had five retirement parties on Friday. She herself is recently retired as the head of federal probation in this area, and because Republicans in the US House are hell-bent on reducing the size of government, her colleagues are retiring, too.

It’s not as though we need law enforcement officers, right? Let’s just let those convicted criminals walk the streets again without any supervision of their parole. Many of the federal probationers are white-collar criminals, after all, and it’s not as though our banks and other revered financial institutions ever fall prey to their con games, right? It’s not as though we are serious when we say that we want to end international sex trafficking or drug running. Let’s just save the money that it costs to keep an eye on these guys.

Or maybe we could let them rot in prison. That would be cost-effective, too, right? No need to pay for guards or for food and other necessities. Let’s just lock the door and throw away the key. That’s the sort of simplistic solution promoted by way too many unthoughtful politicians. It usually works at campaign rallies, if not in real life.

Across-the-board sequesterization also means that we cut our own throats with cuts at the IRS. Studies show that enforcement of the federal tax code brings in four dollars for every dollar expended, so let’s cut there, too. Pink slip those accountants who give us a 400% return on investment. That adds up to good accountability, doesn’t it?

Privatization, everyone knows, is always a cost-effective philosophy. It just makes sense to give contracts to outsiders whose aim is to make a profit instead of directly employing experienced staffers. That must be the reason that public defenders are firing their poorly paid lawyers and instead hiring outside firms that charge hundreds of dollars an hour. Hey, it looks good on the bottom line – fewer government employees is the sole goal, right? It doesn’t have anything to do with getting the job done.

But even that methodology of contracting with outsiders isn’t enough for budget slashers. Instead of employing their own researchers, the National Institute of Health routinely operates by contract, granting money to outside organizations for the study of public health problems. The method works pretty well, as most grant recipients are sincere scholars interested in scientific discovery, not the bottom line of profit. But with sequesterization, the NIH has had to cancel some 700 grants that already were underway.

Down the drain with that research, and people with cancer, heart disease, and any number of other medical conditions can just pull themselves up by their bootstraps. We’ll ignore not only the physical and emotional pain involved, as well as the huge drain on the economy that illness is. We don’t need no NIH. Not until the tea partiers have their own heart attacks, anyway.

There are 57,000 fewer kids in Head Start since sequesterization began, but that doesn’t matter either. No one ever has proved a correlation between educating kids and preventing crime. There’s no evidence that success in school leads to more productive lives. And we can expect that this uneducated population nonetheless will pay taxes at the rate we need to support our military adventures.

* * *

Seriously, we have a long and unacknowledged history of investing in things, while believing that investing in people somehow is “waste, fraud, and abuse.” That’s why, for just one example, we built eleven Navy warships that now are docked -- because we decided not to pay sailors to use them.

I’m certainly not arguing for more military spending, even on personnel, but the point is clear: the bottom line on our balance sheets equates capital investment – spending on things -- as a positive asset, while personnel costs – spending on people to run the things – are posted to operating budgets and seen as both ephemeral and never-ending. Human resources, in the modern terminology, are both here today and back again tomorrow -- and so unlike that stolid plane or drone or whatever. The fact that humans dream up, design, and manufacture these things gets lost.

The fewer tools the human uses in her work, the less respect that work gets and the more sensible it seems to cut it from national priorities. And yes, the probability is, that at this end of the job scale, the worker is a “her.” A teacher with a book and blackboard appears less important than the farmer with his (air-conditioned and TV-equipped) tractor and other machinery.

There’s no comparison at all between the social worker and the farmer – and that is why the agricultural subsidy portion of the farm bill passed the House, while the food stamp portion did not. We’ll pay agribusiness for food production (or non-production, during the years that land lies fallow), but we won’t pay to distribute that food to the needy. Let it rot in warehouses instead. Fire those social workers. As to the hungry, let them eat cake.

* * *

I truly am beginning to fear that some Americans are as out of touch with reality as Marie Antoinette was when the French queen suggested substituting cake for bread. Privileged and protected all of her life, she honestly didn’t understand that peasants were rebelling because they not only lacked bread, but anything at all to eat. For that ignorance, she lost her life.

Thousands of her noble friends similarly were beheaded, but while the young queen might have been excused for her naivety, the sycophants surrounding her cannot be. Their ignorance was intentional. As the Bible says: “They had eyes to see, and they saw not. They had ears to hear, and they heard not.” Most of us know about “income inequality,” but we increasingly toss out the phrase without truly seeing and hearing. Jesus, who chased the moneychangers out of the temple, would not approve.

Although I hate to get personal with examples, there’s nothing like a specific example to make the abstract real. Did you see in the news recently that one of our immensely wealthy sports owners bought a Sarasota mansion worth more than $4 million? And that he plans to bulldoze this big, beautiful, relatively new property to build something even bigger and newer? And we subsidize him. We build stadiums and arenas for these already rich men. We (or at least some of us, mostly young white men who call themselves conservatives) imposed taxes on ourselves to build new playhouses for these guys.

What is the matter with us? How dumb can we get?

Doris Weatherford writes a weekly column for La Gaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper. With pages in Spanish, Italian, and English, it has been published in Tampa since 1922.
Make a comment to the author