What Americans think they know about government spendings

Tom Schaller over at fivethirtyeight.com looks at some polls that question what Americans believe about government spending.

He says:

I don’t know about randomly-selected Americans, but I do know that undergraduates in my POLI 100 classes tend to think the government spends more on defense than it does and less on Medicare and Social Security than it does. In surveys, the median American thinks that we spend about 20 percent of the federal budget on foreign aid, and would like that amount reduced to about 10 percent–when, in fact, actual spending amounts to less than one percent. This may explain why some Americans foolishly believe that tort reform will solve our health care cost problem or that eliminating earmarks will eliminate our deficit problem, even though they will not. I know I’m going to sound like an elitist, but the fact of the matter is that most Americans have a very weak grasp of how the government raises revenues and what it spends those monies on.

This has frustrated me for a long time. McCain built his campaign on the theme of significantly cutting the deficit by cutting earmarks which are nearly, proportionally speaking, non existent.  What we spend on the poor is significantly outweighed by what we spend on our two wars and the middle class or for that matter on maintaining huge banking establishments. We need to increase overall consumer demand which will force an increase in government spending. It does not follow that we should spend our money on anything. We could start by ending our two wars, pass a comprehensive health care bill, provide extensive jobs stimulus, break up the banks, and end some of our more egregious subsidies to the middle class. We can certainly afford to increase taxes on the wealthiest Americans. But we can’t do that if people honestly believe our problems are earmarks and foreign aid.


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