Q of the Week: How Would You Spend Extra Money?

Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP
Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

On Tuesday, President Trump outlined his plans to increase defense spending and invest in America’s infrastructure. This week, we asked Politics & Policy Daily readers where they would allocate extra funds if they were in charge of the country’s budget. Here are some of our favorite responses.

The vast majority of respondents, including Stella Porto here, would invest more in education:

If I controlled the federal budget, I would strengthen basic public education. Provide more access to pre-school education. Make college more affordable. Expand community colleges. Develop re-training programs for those who jobs have been eliminated by automation or other economic trends.

Everything in the country depends on the level of education of its people—absolutely everything, from preventing illness, choosing a better lifestyle, to raising kids responsibly, to choosing elected officials, to fighting for important causes, etc. Citizenship depends on education. Access to good education is at the root of equality.

Chuck Barnes, a retired university faculty member and geologist, suggested funding a year or two of universal service for high school graduates:

I don’t mean military service, although that could be one option. Other options would include a wide range of work and/or training to help create a wide range of social service, training, physical work, military service, etc. This would accomplish two interrelated goals: 1) recognizing that we are such a great nation and that 1-2 years of service are a debt that should be paid for the privilege of being an American; and 2) helping young people from disparate worlds to interact in positive ways, while growing up and maturing.

Donna Hoffman, a former English and drama teacher, thinks America should invest in a new kind of education:

I would take that fictional extra money and put it into the National Endowment for the Arts and change from our current, terrible system of education to the Montessori System used in Europe and in private school systems around the U.S.  Yes, our education system needs an overhaul, but it needs to be done by Europeans not Americans who are so enmeshed in what we’re doing now that they cannot see the forest for the trees.

Susan Berkow said she wouldn’t increase military spending because it “is already big enough” but she would spend more on support for veterans.

Connie Hellyer said investing in advancing reproductive rights for women around the world would be a “three-fer” because access to contraception “improves women’s health and ability to enter the labor force,” “improves children’s health,” and “relieves pressure on the environment.”

John Friedin would use the extra money to conduct “scores of scientifically run experiments with guaranteed basic income for all.” More on basic income here.

Jerry Purmal would focus on eliminating student debt:

In order to reduce the time over which each student’s debt lingers, those EXTRA funds would be applied to pay the annual interest on student debt, thus permitting the student’s obligatory loan payments—following graduation and gainful employment—to be entirely credited to reduction of each student’s principal sums interest-free.

Finally, in a time of “alternative facts” and “fake news,” Ken Prahl was thinking about how to learn from some of the lessons of 2016:

I’d use the funds to set up adult-education classes on critical thinking, what it is, and how to perform it—also explaining how history can be described using different narratives and giving examples of different narratives tied to various ideologies.