Five Best Wednesday Columns
On the "warfare/welfare state," the example of Germany, and the off-switch for the Internet
- Ralph Benko on Ending the Welfare/Warfare State Writing in Forbes today, the author of The Websters’ Dictionary: How to Use the Web to Transform the World notes that the majority of the government's budget goes to either military spending or social programs like Medicare and Medicaid. They are both expensive: Benko cites the cost of one soldier at a mind-boggling $1 million dollars a year. Voters are unaware of where the majority of budget spending goes, Benko says, citing a survey that says that only 40 percent of Americans "can correctly identify that most federal spending goes towards national defense, Social Security and Medicare," while "roughly the same number (38%) believes this statement to be false." He notes the changing nature of warfare demands a different military and security apparatus: "a thousand aircraft carriers would not have prevented 9/11 ... That’s a job for the CIA, the NSA, and other intelligence operations." Overall we must end the "charade," he says, where Democrats demand spending on inefficient welfare programs and Republicans on ineffective or outdated notions of military readiness, but "it's up to us and nobody else."
- Peter Baldwin on the the Brilliance of the U.C. System Peter Baldwin, a UCLA professor, remarks on the successes of California's college system in the Los Angeles Times. He notes the "University of California system supplies at least 10% of the top 50 institutions worldwide," which he considers an "extraordinary achievement," especially for an institution that was founded so recently. He points out the efficiency of the system as well, noting that the endowments of the top ten ranked East Coast schools exceed $80 billion, while "the West Coast's 10 top-ranked universities have a combined endowment of just over $21 billion, or about one-fourth of what their East Coast counterparts have amassed." He is worried about the risk of cutting further into the University system's budget. "It is worth taking a moment to ask ourselves how much the imperatives of the current budget shortfall justify cutting back one of the true splendors of Californian civilization."
- Chicago Tribune Editors on Mayor Emanuel's Agenda The Editors of The Chicago Tribune congratulate Rahm Emanuel on last night's victory in the city's mayoral election. They predict, and hope, that even before he takes office Emanuel will work frantically to preserve the remains of the 2011 budget and begin constructing an even tighter budget for 2012. "Until Chicago gets its finances straight, city government can't achieve the educational, economic and other ambitions of its populace--or of its mayor elect," they explain. Emanuel made some big campaign promises, pledging to fix failing schools, garbage collection, and city corruption among them. "Now Emanuel needs all the energy and precision he can muster to rescue the finances of a city government at a precarious tipping point," the write. "Let's hold him right away to some specific promises."
- Jonathan Freedland on Distancing Ourselves from the Internet In the midst of celebrations of the influence of Twitter and Facebook in the current Middle East revolutions, the Guardian's Jonathan Freedland reminds the rest of us of the much-analyzed negative effects the Internet, and particularly social media, on our everyday lives. Shorter attention spans, disregard for social inhibitions and impatience can be blamed not simply on the Internet, but on mobile technology in particular. "We cannot turn back time. Nor, given the Internet's power for good currently on display around the Middle East, should we want to." But, he argues, "we need to reassert control. We need, in short, to rediscover the off switch."
- David Leonhardt's Case for Government Spending David Leonhardt offers a unique argument against government budget cuts: Germany's slowed progress since the recession compared to the U.S.'s is proof that government spending, not austerity, is the key to economic recovery. Until recently, many hard argued that Germany's superior economic performance pointed us in the direction of austerity. But Leonhardt argues, using numbers, that this is not the case: "it turns out the German boom didn't last long." An American stimulus can't last forever, but Leonhardt points out that the newly Republican-heavy Congress can be relied on to reign in spending when the time comes. For now, only wasteful programs should be cut, allowing money saved to fund those more useful. "By all means," he urges, "don't follow the path of the Germans and the British just because it feels morally satisfying."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.