White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s first official press conference was quite an improvement from his first appearance before the press. In large part, this was because he discussed issues that are actually important. One issue, something President Trump rarely discussed in his campaign, was fiscal responsibility and wasteful spending.
Spicer had this to say regarding President Trump’s position: “There’s been frankly, to some degree, a lack of respect for tax payer dollars in this town for a long time…”
I couldn’t agree more with that diagnosis, “a lack of respect for tax payer dollars.” But the qualifier “to some degree” ought to be replaced with “an utter.” The federal government has wastefully spent billions of taxpayer dollars for quite some time.
Federal debts will soon reach $20 trillion, an amount so large that it’s meaningless to both average Americans and, obviously, most members of Congress. The public can’t sense an issue like debt in the same way it can terrorism, deteriorating infrastructure, or expensive healthcare. Largely, that’s because it isn’t an immediate problem: so far as we can perceive, debt doesn’t harm our standards of living.
However, the debt train will soon hit us at lightning speed. Social Security will eventually become completely insolvent, and we might not be able to afford to pay even the interest on our debt. Entitlements are, numerically speaking, our largest fiscal concern.
However, our most immediately manageable problem is wasteful foreign spending.
Senator Rand Paul, a stalwart on fiscal issues, has been releasing reports of such wasteful foreign spending in a multi-part series titled “Worldwide Waste.” His research has found $3 billion of what Paul deems “waste in the government’s foreign assistance programs,” including:
- $153 million in taxpayer exposure to guarantee loans by foreign banks
- $326.5 million to rehabilitate dirt roads in Afghanistan–with mixed success
- $22.3 million, including taxpayer loan guarantees, for seaweed farming in the Philippines
- $14.8 million on airing foreign versions of Sesame Street around the world
- $130,159 in combined support for the Istanbul Jazz Festival in Turkey
- $27,720 to sponsor cultural programs in Peru, such as a Jazz Festival, Dance Festival, Guitar Festival, and others
- $224,950 to organize the Festival of Traditional American music in several cities in Russia
- $1 million to promote the country of Georgia’s hazelnuts
Some might argue that $3 billion is an invisible amount of money in the grand scheme of federal appropriations. But, as a response, invoking Immanuel Kant’s great contribution to ethics, the categorical imperative, is helpful. “[A]ct only in accordance with that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it become a universal law.” In other words, we should each behave in ways that reflect how we wished the whole world would act, as well.
Kant’s complex ethics is beyond our scope of interest here, but the principle applies perfectly In this case? Always budget and spend money in a manner reflecting how you would want the whole world to budget and spend. Any family spending as irresponsibly and wastefully as the federal government would face bankrupt almost immediately.
The same principle ought to apply to Congress. If spending isn’t reigned in, we will continue on this road toward a serious financial crisis.