Monday, January 24, 2011

How Spending Priorities Reflect Moral Committments

A couple revealing polls were released this month that illuminate the moral roots of liberal and conservative policies, particularly regarding taxes, spending, and the deficit.

It boils down to this: People who identify as Republicans generally want to cut spending on social services like education, Medicare, social security, and unemployment benefits; people identifying as Democrats want to reduce military spending and, if necessary, raise taxes. Now, that probably doesn't come as a surprise to anyone, but it's one thing to hear that Republicans want to "trim entitlement spending," but another to see the cold, hard numbers.

A recent CBS poll asked a series of "Would you be willing or not willing to reduce spending on..." questions about various government programs. The answers of Democrats and Republicans were close to each other in several areas. The biggest difference? 40% of Republicans would be willing to cut spending in areas such as health care and education compared to only 12% of Democrats. That is nearing HALF of Republican voters!

A different NYTimes/CBS News poll paints an even starker and grimmer picture. In answering the question "If you had to choose one, which of the following domestic programs would you be willing to reduce in order to cut government spending?" 32% of Republicans said "Aid to the unemployed and poor" compared to 13% of Democrats answering the same.

It could not be clearer. Republicans do not want to fund programs that directly benefit their fellow citizens: education, affordable health care, safety nets for the economically vulnerable, a reasonable retirement age. These are the first things to go for Republicans. Democrats, by contrast, opt to reduce spending on the world's most costly military (almost an order of magnitude more expensive than any other country) and, according to that NYTimes/CBS poll, infrastructure. Or, alternatively, 42% of Democrats would opt to raise taxes on people like themselves, compared to 11% of Republicans.

This shines a bright spotlight not just on the policy priorities but also the moral committments of Republicans and Democrats. Republicans want to keep as much of their income as possible, and if this means denying fundamental social services to their fellow citizens, then so be it. This is the purely self-interested pursuit of utility/pleasure/money lauded by Ayn Rand. It's no wonder so many Republians cite The Fountainhead or Atlas Shrugged as a life-changing book.

Democrats still believe that a moral obligation exists to help the most vulnerable in society. Democrats, in general, are committed to a vision of a single America; one in which citizens make sacrifices for each other, and offer compassionate aid to those who are in need. To the extent that they act contrary to this vision (and there are certainly times when they do), they should be held accountable. Republicans, by contrast, do not even pay lip-service to this moral vision.

No comments:

Post a Comment