Bernie Sanders has revealed his education plan and it is long in platitudes and short on actual solutions. Among other things, under the guise of “segregation” he wants to ban new charter schools which usually produce better results with fewer resources. The most eye-rolling was his use of the word investment to throw money at the school problem.
“Invest” 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 in the real world are usually seen as a good thing that payoff in the long run. But investments through government spending does little to solve problems and usually just pads the paychecks of special interest groups like advisers, nonprofits, 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 just as self-interested as every 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 initiative and throw money at it. But they can’t say they are going to raise taxes and waste money to make themselves look like heroes. They instead say they will solve the problem through smart investments.
Just because Sanders uses the word investment doesn’t make it a good policy choice. In fact, I’ve already seen enough boondoggles disguised as investments that (using that term) raise alarms. There are many unintended or ignored side effects of supposedly wise investments. The “affordable” care act actually increased my premiums to the point 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 turgid 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 and business investments or by going to a thrift store on double coupon day to use 20 dollars to buy new clothes for the entire family. 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 position.
It’s nice that Bernie Sanders 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 problems. Most important, instead of constantly asking for more they should better use what they already have.