We Pay For What’s Important

On Wednesday, in his NY Times editorial, Nicholas Kristof cited an article by the American Journal of Public Health stating that 45,000 uninsured people die annually as a consequence of not having insurance.

We accept that life is unfair, that some people will live in cramped apartments and others in sprawling mansions. But our existing insurance system is not simply inequitable but also lethal: a very recent, peer-reviewed article in the American Journal of Public Health finds that nearly 45,000 uninsured people die annually as a consequence of not having insurance. That’s one needless death every 12 minutes.

Today Paul Krugman has an editorial on the demise of American education.

…for the past 30 years our political scene has been dominated by the view that any and all government spending is a waste of taxpayer dollars. Education, as one of the largest components of public spending, has inevitably suffered.

Until now, the results of educational neglect have been gradual — a slow-motion erosion of America’s relative position. But things are about to get much worse, as the economic crisis — its effects exacerbated by the penny-wise, pound-foolish behavior that passes for “fiscal responsibility” in Washington — deals a severe blow to education across the board.

Krugman goes on to comment on the recent job loss numbers. Of the 273,000 jobs last month, he says, “29,000 were in state and local education, bringing the total losses in that category over the past five months to 143,000.”

These two stories bounce around my mind in the context of a renewed debate on what our next steps should be in Afghanistan and Iraq. We spend hundreds of millions of dollars per year on our military operations. In my personal life, when money gets tight I prioritize my spending. If it is important, I spend it. If it isn’t important, it doesn’t get funded.

By not funding health care and not funding education we are saying that these things are not important. How can that be? This is baffling to me. How can they not be important?

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