The concept that is at the foundation of the study of economics is scarcity. When I first studied this subject in high school -- and later taught it as a social studies teacher -- I learned that we had an unlimited number of wants in a finite economic reality that could only fulfill a small fraction of these desires. One of the ways this concept of scarcity is expressed is in the inverse relationship between guns and butter. Guns represented everything the economy generates in terms of war or defense, while butter represents consumer goods and services. To the extent that any society has more of one they necessarily have less of the other.
As a practical application of these functions, one might look at the failure of the old Soviet Union. The Soviet Union could not keep pace with the arms build up of the post war that the Cold War required, because the base of its GNP was much smaller than the of the United States. The United States could rebuild its economy after the Great Depression and WWII because it spent a much smaller percentage of its GNP on guns than it did on butter, even though this amount was equal to or greater than what the Soviets could afford given their GNP.
The coup de grace came when the Soviets went into a protracted war in Afghanistan where no power, from Alexander the Great to the British Empire, had ever won a sustained victory in a country that seemed to have been designed for successful guerrilla warfare prosecuted unceasingly by 25 million fearless Pashtun. The denouement of this ill-advised endeavor was the fall of the Soviet Union and the rise of a Russia that still remains somewhat of an enigma.
The hallmark of an uneducated person or one who at the very least has no curiosity is rarely asking the question -- why? These folks find it more comforting to deal with the dismal reality of a $640 million budget shortfall in California without ever seeking to understand why it exists and most importantly what we could do to avoid this problem in the future? For this mentality, there is no logical conflict between slashing $640 million from public education and parroting vacuous slogans like No Child Left Behind or all LAUSD students are going to college.
Brave New Films has just posted the following video on its Facebook page, which seeks to connect the obscene costs of waging two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the clearly avoidable consequence of having to cut public education budgets at all levels in California to the bone. There are several questions that educated citizens of a democracy must ask themselves in concluding whether the expenditures on war are regrettably justifiable given the reality that we faced after 9/11:
1. Do wars in Iraq and Afghanistan make us any safer?
2. Do the expenditures we continue to incur in fighting these wars do more harm to us than Al Quaeda and other bad guys could ever hope to do to us?
3. What is the best defense against a dangerous world?
The direct 2009 cost in California tax dollars that was spent on Afghanistan was $7 billion.
1 soldier per year in Afghanistan costs $1 million
1 year of college at the California State University for a state resident costs $9,285
1 anti-tank missile in Afghanistan cost $85,000
1 year of college books and supplies costs $1,608
1 Predator drone in Afghanistan costs $4.5 million
1 full Pell Grant for a California college student is worth $5,350
For those predominantly minority students of limited financial means who have not had to drop out of school altogether, they are being asked to take on more debt in lieu of grants to assure that they leave school saddled by debt that will limit their options.
Does investing in the future of the next generation of Americans mean fighting two endless wars of questionable justification while maintaining 1000 military bases around the world, or does it mean educating our future citizens to a level where they can be up for the task of determining government policy, which is their job under the constitution?