After participating in Gabriel's School auction this weekend, I got to thinking about the purchases we made and how the money we spent will go to basic components of their school education (technology in the classroom, art, elementary school plays, supplemental math and reading curriculumn, etc, etc). Overall, our contributions (and the matches that we are getting from Microsoft) are in the thousands and so were many other families contributions. Amazing that it takes hundreds of thousands of dollars every year to make a good public school work and even then they are still sub-par and prone to leave alumns of public education looking for a safety net.
While I was thinking about this I started to examine all this new safety net spending we are putting together and found a nice way to look at where we are at today (before the new spending). I found this federal spending calculator over at Know All Design and a calculator on the CEPR site to convert billions into per/capita spending per/year.
Unfortunately all of the traditional schools of thought overlook the importance of education and as such there are not pools of advocates inside of the think tanks and economic institutions where these policies are made. What I found though seems to lend itself to supporting the need for better thinking in this area, Educationalism?....
We spend 61.3B inside the Department of Agriculture on a group of spending called Food and Nutrition Service. This group of spending includes things like the Food Stamp Program, Child Nutrition Programs, Special Supplemental Nutrition Program (WIC), etc. At first glance, this seems fair – there are people in the US that need assistance getting food of any sort and kids who should be able to eat healthy. The problem is that if we think about why these families are in a situation where they need this assistance, we find a lack of knowledge to be a major source of the problem. People don’t know how to get and keep jobs, they were never trained on how to become motivated, how to stay away from crime and drugs, etc, etc. Clearly if a lack of knowledge is the problem, there should be at least double the amount spent on feeding people spent on educating them to feed themselves. Looking at the entire Department of Education, there is 63.5B outlaid for education. This is only two billion more than we are paying to give free food to those in need. Perhaps the assumption that we as a nation actually pass knowledge on and attempt to raise the level is a misconception.
Examining this issue a little further and thinking about what else the uneducated, unmotivated class of people need, a look at the Department of Health and Human Services (where the Food and Nutrition Service spending should occur vs. the Department of Agriculture), there is 919B spent on Medicare and Medicaid. Medicaid is for pregnant women and children who can’t afford services, in other words if you were not trained at a young age to make a sum of money that could support your medical needs – this service does that for you. I will admit, the Medicaid portion is much less than the group overall, there are only 215B in grants to states for Medicaid. That is still 314% more in medical services for people who could be taught to be smart/motivated enough to pay for the services themselves than we are paying to actually train these people.
Unemployment? Well you guessed it, nearly as much as the Department of Education. 40B to give unemployed people money, yet only 20B more than that to train everyone (employed and unemployed).
Obviously there are some flaws here, all of the traditional safety net items combined (food, health, and basic needs) total 316B. Meanwhile the only spending to ensure the safety net is not needed is 63.5B. Examining this from a per/capita per/yr perspective, we are paying $202.04/yr on Education and $1,005.41 on the Safety Net. This is drastically less then what we spend on defense per/capita per/yr ($2,119.00), but is a major cause for concern. The more money we put into the safety net, the easier it is to obtain those easy to use funds, and the higher the escape velocity becomes for people who have felt the net. This is in steep contrast to the capabilities being built to reach that escape velocity.
It appears we are working to make this problem worse by expanding the safety net and at the same time shrink the education budget. This is the reverse of what is truly needed. This is like taking the gas out of your engine to trade it for booze and telling everyone that walks by, you are trying to stop being an alcoholic but you just can’t drive away from the liquor store and you don’t know why.