Spending By Any Other Name

The polls tell us the top concern of most Americans in this election year is the economy. And the top problem for the economy is the national debt. The government has been on a spending spree, pouring money into a vast panoply of programs. When they ran out of money, government officials simply borrowed more--and more and more--creating a mind-boggling pile-up of debt, which we are leaving to our children. Well, the public is wising up. Today when people hear about another government spending program, they reach for their wallets. So politicians are finding new ways of getting their programs. They're changing the way they talk. Politicians don't talk about "spending" programs any more. Instead, they talk about government "investment." But a rose by any other name is still a rose, and when you look at what they mean by the term investment, you find that it's the same old programs. For example, President Bush says he wants the government to "invest" more in preschool programs for disadvantaged children and in research programs for new technology. Bill Clinton says he wants government to "invest" more in roads, health care, and social welfare programs. I'm not suggesting that these programs are good or bad. What I am saying is that calling them "investment" is misleading. It disguises the fact that these are still really spending programs. Think of it this way. Everyone agrees that the economy is in trouble. And everyone agrees that the way to boost the economy is to put less money into consumption and more money into savings and investment. That's the way to start new businesses and create jobs. So what are politicians doing? They're taking over the language of economics to dress up their spending programs. Pouring money into building roads and bridges is called investing in the "industrial infrastructure." Pouring money into welfare and Head Start programs is called investing in people. Anything that could remotely benefit the economy is being labelled an investment. The definition has become so broad it includes just about anything. At this rate, even maintaining a police force could be called an investment. After all, if crime takes over a neighborhood, businesses won't risk building shops and factories there. But the traditional economic meaning of the term "investment" is much narrower. It means putting your resources into activities that lead to higher production. A country that puts more money into production than it puts into consumption has a growing economy. It's as simple as that. Our politicians are trying to take advantage of the positive connotations of words like "investment" to cover the same tired old welfare-state spending. They're attaching a shiny new label to discredited political policies. It's nothing but a verbal sleight of hand. Ethics in government ought to start with being honest and straightforward with constituents. So the next time you sift through campaign rhetoric, think carefully about what's really being said. Don't be take in by politicians' word games.


Chuck Colson


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