Getting It Right on What Stuff Costs

I think we, as a nation, have a problem with how we discuss money and public policy. Let me compare it to household finances, since that is something everyone can relate to.

Imagine you have $100. You have choices on how to spend it. You could save it or invest it. You can buy something now that will save you money (or earn you money) later. You could buy something you need.

Or you could spend it on something entirely wasteful and frivolous. Like, an Xbox for your goldfish. That’s definitely a waste of money.

The prudent options here are obvious — save it, invest it, or spend it wisely on something you need. For example, I bought a coffee maker. I used to buy coffee out each day. The coffee maker cost money, but it allows me to save hundreds of dollars a year on my coffee habit.

Right now I’m working on my PhD. I pay tuition and school fees, plus I’m spending at least six years of my life in poverty as a poorly paid graduate student. Is that a waste of money? No. Right now, it’s not a profitable decision. In the long run, however, my degree will (hopefully) allow me to earn more money in my career.

When you can afford it, making decisions that allow you to save money or earn more down the road, even when the payoff doesn’t occur until years later, is a wise choice.

When we talk about public spending and the national budget, we all understand the general idea that we should spend our tax dollars on useful things that will benefit all of us. We shouldn’t pay wasteful, inflated prices for what we can get for less. And we certainly shouldn’t spend money on things we don’t need at all.

Where we really miss the boat is on the decisions we can make now to save or earn money later. And we often miss some of the larger implications of our choices.

What happens when we spend now to improve education and health care? Eventually, we save more and earn more through a healthier and better educated population.

If we get better coverage with universal health care for less than we spend on our privatized system, isn’t that a good investment — even if it costs money upfront? If the next generation of workers earns a better living because we invested in their education today, wasn’t that smart spending?

Money spent isn’t always just money down the drain. When you buy groceries and eat them, they’re gone. Does that mean you might as well live on ramen alone, since it’s cheap?

Of course not, because what you eat affects your long term health. Maybe that salad costs a bit more than ramen noodles now, but it will be a net gain in terms of health later. That means increased quality of life and economic productivity and decreased health expenses later.

The same is true when we discuss immigration and jobs.

Yes, immigrants who come here take jobs (though the question of whether “they” take “our” jobs is a lot more complicated, and requires a lot of unpacking besides). Regardless, they also create jobs. Immigrants are consumers, just like everyone else. When they consume housing, cars, furniture, clothes, and groceries, they contribute to the economy, and that creates new jobs.

When we discuss policy, we must remember that the first and most immediate result of a policy is not its only result. Often there is an initial cost but long term benefit for the American people. If there is long term gain to be had for our nation, then spending now is worthwhile.

More articles by:
August 21, 2019
Craig Collins
Endangered Species Act: A Failure Worth Fighting For?
Colin Todhunter
Offering Choice But Delivering Tyranny: the Corporate Capture of Agriculture
Michael Welton
That Couldn’t Be True: Restorying and Reconciliation
John Feffer
‘Slowbalization’: Is the Slowing Global Economy a Boon or Bane?
Johnny Hazard
In Protest Against Police Raping Spree, Women Burn Their Station in Mexico City.
Tom Engelhardt
2084: Orwell Revisited in the Age of Trump
Binoy Kampmark
Condescension and Climate Change: Australia and the Failure of the Pacific Islands Forum
Kenn Orphan – Phil Rockstroh
The Dead Letter Office of Capitalist Imperium: a Poverty of Mundus Imaginalis 
George Wuerthner
The Forest Service Puts Ranchers Ahead of Grizzlies (and the Public Interest)
Stephen Martin
Geopolitics of Arse and Elbow, with Apologies to Schopenhauer.
Gary Lindorff
The Smiling Turtle
August 20, 2019
James Bovard
America’s Forgotten Bullshit Bombing of Serbia
Peter Bolton
Biden’s Complicity in Obama’s Toxic Legacy
James Phillips
Calm and Conflict: a Dispatch From Nicaragua
Karl Grossman
Einstein’s Atomic Regrets
Colter Louwerse
Kushner’s Threat to Palestine: An Interview with Norman Finkelstein
Nyla Ali Khan
Jammu and Kashmir: the Legitimacy of Article 370
Dean Baker
The Mythology of the Stock Market
Daniel Warner
Is Hong Kong Important? For Whom?
Frederick B. Mills
Monroeism is the Other Side of Jim Crow, the Side Facing South
Binoy Kampmark
God, Guns and Video Games
John Kendall Hawkins
Toni Morrison: Beloved or Belovéd?
Martin Billheimer
A Clerk’s Guide to the Unspectacular, 1914
Elliot Sperber
On the 10-Year Treasury Bonds 
August 19, 2019
John Davis
The Isle of White: a Tale of the Have-Lots Versus the Have-Nots
John O'Kane
Supreme Nihilism: the El Paso Shooter’s Manifesto
Robert Fisk
If Chinese Tanks Take Hong Kong, Who’ll be Surprised?
Ipek S. Burnett
White Terror: Toni Morrison on the Construct of Racism
Arshad Khan
India’s Mangled Economy
Howard Lisnoff
The Proud Boys Take Over the Streets of Portland, Oregon
Steven Krichbaum
Put an End to the Endless War Inflicted Upon Our National Forests
Cal Winslow
A Brief History of Harlan County, USA
Jim Goodman
Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue is Just Part of a Loathsome Administration
Brian Horejsi
Bears’ Lives Undervalued
Thomas Knapp
Lung Disease Outbreak: First Casualties of the War on Vaping?
Susie Day
Dear Guys Who Got Arrested for Throwing Water on NYPD Cops
Weekend Edition
August 16, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Uncle Sam was Born Lethal
Jennifer Matsui
La Danse Mossad: Robert Maxwell and Jeffrey Epstein
Rob Urie
Neoliberalism and Environmental Calamity
Stuart A. Newman
The Biotech-Industrial Complex Gets Ready to Define What is Human
Nick Alexandrov
Prevention Through Deterrence: The Strategy Shared by the El Paso Shooter and the U.S. Border Patrol
Jeffrey St. Clair
The First Dambuster: a Coyote Tale
Eric Draitser
“Bernie is Trump” (and other Corporate Media Bullsh*t)
Nick Pemberton
Is White Supremacism a Mental Illness?
Jim Kavanagh
Dead Man’s Hand: The Impeachment Gambit