April 19, 2012

Everyone Opposes Wasteful Government Spending

WASTEFUL SPENDINGAren't we all against wasteful government spending? It seems that nearly everyone opposes it and that the differences lie primarily in what one considers wasteful. The politicians in Congress who oppose efforts to end the development of weapons systems or vehicles that the U.S. military does not want tend to be Republican. The politicians in Congress who oppose efforts to reform social welfare programs tend to be Democrats. And most politicians, regardless of party, seem to support the failed "war on drugs." One would think we could at least agree not to fund programs that lack any meaningful evidence to support their utility, but this is clearly not the case.

I think this is one of the most frustrating things about politics for many of us in the reality-based community because we see such a sharp contract between how we approach our money and how the politicians do so. Imagine paying for a service (e.g., a landline phone) that you never use, don't particularly want, and from which you derive no real benefit. My guess is that it would not take you more than a couple of bills before you'd cancel it and save your money. And yet, we see our elected officials keep paying the bills for their war on drugs, for abstinence-only sex education, and a host of similarly ineffective programs.

One of the things I liked about President Obama during his 2008 campaign was that he talked quite a bit about ending ineffective programs. It sounded like he was committing to somewhat of an evidence-based approach for determining whether a particular program was working and then cutting off the money for those determined to be ineffective. But for many big-ticket programs, like the war on drugs, this has not happened.

Both of the major political parties in the U.S. have revealed a disappointing willingness to put ideology ahead of reality-based decision making, and we've all suffered as a result. This is one of the reasons that the opposition to science (coming primarily but not exclusively from the right) has been so concerning - it looks as though we'll never reach the point of a calm, rational application of facts and the scientific method to our policy decisions. We need an injection of reality into our political system.