US Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler Thinks We Already Invest Too Much in Our Kids

US Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler

US Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler

US Representative Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA03) thinks that Senator Elizabeth Warren and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio’s prescription for reviving the American middle class is “chilling,” “frightening,” and “wrong,” whereas I think that Herrera Beutler’s editorial response is just plain stupid:

To build their case that America today is in need of radical change, Warren and de Blasio make the incredible claim that America used to invest in our kids and in policies to build a strong middle class, but “we don’t anymore.” What are those government policies? Social Security, Medicare, free public education. We don’t invest in these policies anymore? Spending for these programs has risen from $195 billion in 1980 to just under $2 trillion today.

Um… huh? Way to transition from red scare to red herring, Jaime.

Social Security and Medicare—the bulk of the federal dollars she cites—have absolutely nothing to do with investing in our kids or building a strong middle class. Sustaining elderly members of the middle class, maybe, but not building one. Also, it’s not strictly federal government spending. Both Social Security and Medicare are paid for through their own separate off-budget trust funds, funded through dedicated payroll taxes.

As for free public education, yes, investing in free public education is absolutely crucial to building a strong middle class. And federal education spending as a percentage of GDP has fallen by half over the past few decades, from a peak of 1.2 percent of GDP in 1979 to only 0.6 percent today. Of the incredibly bullshitty “$2 trillion” number that Herrera Beutler cites as evidence of our lavish investment in kids, only $79 billion can be accounted for by federal spending on primary and secondary education.

And it’s not just in public education where federal spending has fallen short during Herrera Beutler’s precious trickle-down era. Federal investment in economically vital research and development has fallen by 40 percent, from 1.25 percent of GDP in 1977 to only 0.75 percent today, while a $3.6 trillion backlog has left our roads, bridges, dams, and other public infrastructure in desperate disrepair.

So, um, no, Rep. Herrera Beutler. We clearly don’t invest enough in these policies anymore.

But as uninformed as Herrera Beutler is, the larger flaw in her dated trickle-down ideology is that it is contradicted by reality. Everywhere you look around the world the most prosperous nations are also some of the most highly taxed and regulated. As a percentage of GDP, Sweden, Denmark, Canada, and Germany all invest substantially more than the United States in public services and infrastructure, and I don’t hear many of their citizens complaining about “surrendering freedom.” By contrast, the low-spending-per-GDP leaders are such freedom-loving economic powerhouses as Vietnam, Nicaragua, Cambodia, Bangladesh, and of course, Somalia.

And as for Herrera Beutler’s objection to “having the government dictate wages, overtime, vacation and leave policies, child-care requirements, and how much men and women are paid,” we’ve all seen how well New York City’s nail salon industry illegally treats its powerless immigrant workforce. Is this really the sort of unfettered “free market” that Herrera Beutler wants for the rest of American workers?

Over the course of our four-decade-long embrace of trickle-down economics we have pursued a national agenda of public disinvestment and deregulation that has left our infrastructure crumbling, our schools struggling, and income inequality rising to record highs. Rep. Herrera Beutler may genuinely believe that absolute personal freedom is the primary engine of economic growth and prosperity; she just cannot cite any empirical evidence—or articulate a coherent economic theory—to back up her beliefs.

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Goldy
David "Goldy" Goldstein has written about politics for The Stranger, The Nation and the Huffington Post. He hosted “The David Goldstein Show” on Seattle’s news/talk 710-KIRO from 2006 through 2008, and has been pissing off readers at his blog HorsesAss.org for more than a decade.