Monday, July 20, 2009

Money for the Soul

According to the United States Federal government, the Gross Domestic Product of the United States for 2005, for instance, was a bit over twelve trillion dollars. The Federal government will spend nearly two and a half trillion, or about twenty percent of that.

What did the government spend money on? Nearly $402 billion was spent on defense, and $28 billion on Homeland Security. $510 billion went for Social Security, $290 billion to Medicair and $180 billion to Medicaid and the State Children's Health Insurance Program. $57 billion was spent by the Department of Education. The Department of Health and Human Services spent more than $68 billion. Almost $30 billion was spent for Veterans Affairs. The Justice Department spent about $19 billion dollars.

Each year, according to Worldwatch Institute, Americans and Europeans spend about $15 billion a year just on cosmetics. They also spend nearly $17 billion a year on pet food. Going to the movies? Americans drop about $10 billion annually.
All this may help put something in perspective. I run across people who believe that the money spent by NASA is a complete waste. “Why spend billions going to the Moon and Mars when we have poor people that need our help?”

Do you know how much the U.S. government will actually spend on NASA in 2009? About $16 billion, which is a billion less than what Americans will spend on pet food. NASA’s piece of the federal pie is actually less than one percent of the Federal budget. Already, more than thirty percent of the US budget is devoted to caring for the poor and suffering.

Let’s put all this in a way that might be easier to comprehend. If your annual income is $36 thousand, then one percent of your annual budget works out to three hundred sixty dollars: about thirty bucks a month.

What a spendthrift you are if you spend that going out to dinner and a movie each month! Why aren’t you donating that windfall to the poor!

Incidentally, if we add up the money that the US population spends on just video games and movies combined, it adds up to about what’s being expended by the space program each year. The sixteen billion dollars that NASA will spend in 2009 works out to about 64 dollars a year for each person in the United States. Only $5.34 per month.

So ask yourself: do you think that trips to Mars are worth $5.34 a month? How much do you spend each month for your cable or satellite TV? How about for cookies?
And remember, it’s thanks to that NASA budget that you have that TV signal beaming into your house while you munch on those cookies. How about the other stuff that the space program has given you in your daily life that you take for granted, like accurate forecasting of hurricanes, instantaneous communication, and the navigation by the Global Positioning Satellite system that guides planes, ships, and smart bombs? Then there are the medical advances we could discuss, like MRIs and medical monitoring, all thanks to that $5.34 a month.

But even if there were no practical benefits, I think going to Mars is worth at least $5.34 a month. There is, after all, more to life than just the practical. It isn’t all just about giving money to the poor. If we do not leave ourselves room for art, for music, for scholarship, and for all the rest that inspires, then haven’t we become even poorer than the poorest outcast? Would the critics of the space program suggest no money be devoted to art, to movie making, to music and books, until we take care of all those who are hurting? Do we cast stones at writers who spend all that time creating novels when they could be devoting their days to volunteering in a homeless shelter?

Those who think the space program is a waste of money haven’t thought things through very well. This isn’t an either/or situation. Those who decry money spent on space are spouting clichés that may sound compassionate, but in the final analysis are just silly or worse. They rob us of our souls. When the philanthropist Ruth Lilly in 2002 gave approximately $100 million to the Modern Poetry Association, which publishes Poetry Magazine, most people thought it wonderful. But some critics complained that the money “could have been given to the poor.” Of course, Judas voiced a similar complaint when a young woman poured expensive perfume over Jesus.
Frankly, I worry about people who think giving money for poetry a waste, just as I worry about those so earthbound they never bother to look up and wonder about the stars.


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