Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Misplaced Priorities

I was listening to a story on NPR this morning about the financial crisis in California. Their state budget gap is $24 billion and as usual, kids and the truly needy among us will be the hardest hit. In these situations, the government ends up making decisions that are pennywise and pound foolish.

For example, California is considering closing its poison control center for a savings of $6 million. The center gets over 2,000 calls per day, mostly from parents, concerned about something their child just ingested. Most calls end with simple wait and see or do it-yourself advice. Without this service, ALL of these parents will likely end up in an emergency room somewhere at a HUGE cost to parents and society. The government saves $1 on one side of the equation and the citizens will spend $20 on the other.

In the midst of this fiscal crisis, what really irks me is the 10,000Lb gorilla that no one ever discusses: Our insane military budget. We spend over $1 trillion per year on “defense”. Global military spending hit a record high in 2008, led by the US. Our annual military spending is roughly equal to the rest of the world combined, while the US and its close allies account for 2/3 of global military spending. No wonder we don’t have money for anything else.

One of my saddest days as an adult was at a tax update class for CPAs back in the 80s. It was sad because at the time, I didn’t have the guts to speak up. I was young and there were 40-50 other CPAs in the class. The instructor was giving an update about the fiscal situation in Washington DC and said something to the effect that there was no funding available for any domestic needs because the government was broke. I remember thinking how dishonest all of us were accepting this pathetic nonsense. All of were financial experts. The government had plenty of money but was spending half of all our funds on weapons and war. The same is true today.

It is time for us to speak up about this awful waste. No one disputes the need for a strong defense but we could do that with ½ the budget freeing up $500 billion annually for domestic services. Maybe a little of that can keep California’s poison control center open.

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