By Morgan Deane:
I live in Las Vegas and recently listened to the State of the State speech from Governor Brian Sandoval. It was during that speech that I realized how often politicians use the word “invest.” The word is a good way to pass large spending policies that otherwise wouldn’t be palatable to the public, but it doesn’t always mean that money is spent wisely. Investments are usually seen as a good thing that pay off in the long run. But the programs are usually unsuccessful; more government spending often does little to solve problems and usually just pads the paychecks of special interest groups, advisers, consultants, and officials.
The key to understanding why words like “invest” are used to sell new programs lies in the motivation of politicians. It’s often assumed that politicians are noble servants trying to do what is right, but they are often just as self-interested as any other group. The best way to keep their jobs is to look like they are solving problems. And the best way to appear to solve a problem is to announce a fancy-sounding imitative and throw money at it. Those motivations result in politicians announcing initiatives that will “save the children” or “bring jobs back” to thunderous applause, but the same politicians are rarely around long enough to experience the failure and unintended negative consequences of those programs.
Just because someone uses the word “investment” doesn’t mean that a good policy choice is imminent. There are many unintended or ignored side effects of supposedly wise investments. The “Affordable” Care Act actually increased my premiums to the point that I can’t afford it. Higher tax rates usually produce lower revenues, and Las Vegas will be paying for a professional football stadium long after the Raiders move back to Oakland. Additional spending for schools ends funding a bureaucracy that is jealously guarded and expanded by unions.
Above all, there is an added cost to every government program, because the government can only spend by taking other people’s money in the first place, and people spend money much more efficiently than the government. This applies to the wealthy who are generally taxed more to fund these programs. It also applies to the poor, who are often indirectly taxed a great deal through inflationary monetary policies and gas or sales taxes. Unlike the government, both groups actually know how to invest their money, either through the stock market or by going to a thrift store on double coupon day to use 20 dollars to buy new clothes for the entire family. (Personally, I enjoy 99-cent taco night at the local taco shop the most.) Every dollar in taxes to fund a bad government “investment” is a dollar that the people can’t use to invest in their own lives. In short, misusing the word “investment” is an attempt to mask the fact that politicians are gambling with other people’s money to enhance their own positions.
It’s nice that Governor Sandoval and other politicians want to “invest” so heavily in education, infrastructure, and healthcare. But we should question their motives and question the wisdom and efficacy of just throwing more and more money at the problems the country has. Most importantly, instead of constantly asking for more, they should better use what they already have.
Morgan Deane is an OpsLens Contributor and former U.S. Marine Corps infantry rifleman. Deane also served in the National Guard as an Intelligence Analyst.