Protecting Us From Each Other

I recently read a government statement with which both the Republicans and the Democrats seem to agree: The biggest move we make in the short term to save Social Security and Medicare is to eliminate fraud and abuse from the system.

Easy to say and hard to do. People are stealing from each other and cheating the system from one end of the pipe to the other.

Did you ever consider how much money we spend, and waste, on protecting ourselves from each other? Let us count the ways:

1. On an international basis, we support the United Nations, and provide numerous world-wide governments with foreign aid, which includes the supplies, weapons, and training with which they can maintain order and defend themselves.

Don’t forget the Red Cross and other support agencies who render aid to the wounded when that first part doesn’t work.  Also, remember that not all those famines, droughts, and fires we read about are caused solely by forces of nature.

2. Back home, we have the defense budget, which includes the Pentagon and the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, Coast Guard, and all the other uniformed services. We pay to equip and train them, feed and maintain them, and provide benefits and security when they retire.

3. In other parts of the government bureaucracy, we similarly support T-Men, G-Men, Secret Service, the FBI, CIA, NSA, TSA, FEMA, SEC, ATF, DHS, border guards, customs, immigration, and all the other agencies who maintain our defenses against invasion, terrorists, drugs, smugglers, pirates, and various other classes of evil-doers.

4. At the state level we have the highway patrol, state police, National Guard, county sheriffs,  and a host of others agencies that have a “serve and protect” kind of charter.

5. Locally, every city and town has some sort of police force, parole officers, sheriffs, and the like that provide local security. We also have the state version of some of the government agencies listed earlier.

6. We’ve got to remember the courts and penal systems that exist at every level to judge and punish those who who break the law, and for whom we provide free counsel. In some cases, we support the guilty ones in prisons for the rest of their natural lives.

7. Now add the security systems and guards at our shopping malls, the schools, metal detectors everywhere, airport and border security, pepper spray, and remember to add all the locks, alarm systems, and weapons we have in our homes, churches, businesses, and storage sheds. The only reason your car has an alarm and keyed ignition system is so that someone can’t take it without your consent; just as your computer has a code to prevent unauthorized entry and firewalls to guard against identity theft. You pay for all that.

We probably should add something for the drug and food inspectors who make sure we don’t poison each other, self-defense lessons, guard dogs, outside lighting, motion detectors, and that piece of the fire fighters’ budget that deals with arson and the like.

What have I missed? Feel free to add to the list. Let’s throw in a few more bucks for “Miscellaneous.”

Now, what does it all cost, directly and indirectly? The defense budget alone consumes twenty cents of every dollar the government spends. I’d estimate all the rest of it, including foreign aid, consumes another forty cents. That’s about 60% of every dollar spent, everywhere, by everybody. The Gross National Product for 2009 was $14.3 trillion.

Imagine, if that money (up to $8.6 trillion), or at least a good chunk of it, was available for… medical research (say goodbye to cancer, heart disease, and all the other medical killers); education (simply put: goodbye to ignorance); infrastructure (bridges and highways for all!); research and development (a new age of invention and enlightenment); and charity (help for those who really need it).

We could even pay off the national debt in a few years and maybe even have a budget surplus.

Of course there’s no way to do all that at once. It’s mostly pie-in-the-sky and day dreams. But we could make a small start. It all begins with  the corny old stuff we’ve heard all our lives –  like the Golden Rule, Live and Let Live, Mind Your Own Business, and the like. And it all begins at the basic family level, with everybody sticking together, pulling together, and  doing their job. It reminds me of what my Uncle George, the World War I hero, told me on how to get along in the army when it came my turn to serve: “Keep your nose clean and your shoes shined.”

That means it starts with you and me doing what we’re supposed to do.

And we could start right now.

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