The Post Facto State
The Post Facto State
Some Critics Of America turn out to be bean counters. They admit that the American outcomes in certain fields are comparable to what is found in Europe, only to point out that the cost has been higher. The fundamental premise of the recently published American Human Development Report is not so much that the United States is doing poorly in comparison with other nations, though of course some outcomes are nothing short of shameful. More annoying to the authors is that the United States is being inefficient and has not been able to parlay its front-running GDP status into an equivalently primary position in other respects. Tony Judt argues that, “for every dollar the United States spends on education it gets worse results than any other industrial nation.” Indeed, the United States spends more per pupil than anyone else, but gets results that are only in the middle of the European spectrum. From a cost-benefit analysis, America should be getting better value for its money. The same is oft en said of health care, where the United States spends disproportionately even more, yet gets only moderately good results. On three out of four of the fundamental activities of modern government— education, health, social insurance, and defense—America turns out to be a big spender. For education and health, the U.S. state spends as much as any country in Europe, for defense much more so, but for social insurance, it is at the bottom of the European scale. If we look at how American society as a whole—privately and publicly—allocates its resources, however, by European standards it spends lavishly on health, education, and defense, and at about the European average for social insurance. Perhaps there is a pattern here. Consider high spending for a moment, not from the bookkeeper’s vantage, but from the political theorist’s. A nation with a high GDP per head has more wiggle room than poorer countries. It may be that America’s choice to spend freely is in fact a tactical political decision rather than a slothful financial one—to be generous, rather than profligate. For one thing, as James Galbraith has argued, high levels of American spending on education, health care, the military, and even domestic security translate ultimately into high employment.
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