Condoms, Canoes, and Drunken Argentinean Men

The Truly Important Ways the Government Spends Our Money

Taxes, a necessary evil of our society, represent the means by which we fund our government. Or rather, the way our government charges us for its bills. Did you know that the 16th Amendment to the Constitution, which established the income tax, was supposed to be temporary? Did those who ratified this amendment really think that the government would cut off funding to itself?

Representatives in the government should be aware of certain facts that most Americans would consider pertinent. For example, we are fighting a war in Afghanistan right now. And the economy just melted down, leaving millions jobless. And, by the way, our national debt is greater than at any time in history.

Being a logical individual, I would assume that the government would spend its money to deal with the issues that are currently threatening aspects of American life. But we all know what they say about assuming.

In fact, the government is not spending our money on these issues. Take the National Institutes of Health. The name conjures up an image of an important organization dedicated to fighting diseases that threaten American lives. Indeed, their web page states that: “The National Institutes of Health (NIH), a part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is the primary Federal agency for conducting and supporting medical research. Helping to lead the way toward important medical discoveries that improve people’s health and save lives, NIH scientists investigate ways to prevent disease as well as the causes, treatments, and even cures for common and rare diseases.” For once, a government agency doing what it’s supposed to; isn’t that some kind of contradiction? But if something seems too good to be true, it usually is.

And that’s exactly the case here. The NIH decided to spend $178,000 on answering a question that must surely puzzle most Americans: why Thai prostitutes have a high risk of contracting HIV. Thankfully though, if you weren’t planning on having your taxes go to studies like this, the NIH has a study for everyone! If you enjoy boating, look into their $73,000 study on how dragon boating can help cancer survivors. Don’ know what dragon boating is? Don’t worry, neither do I, but I’m sure it’s pertinent to cancer. Alternatively, try their study for figuring out how canoeing helps cultural identity.

Maybe boating’s just not your thing. How about cocaine? There’s a study being funded to figure out exactly how snorting cocaine causes stress. Continuing along the drug topic, $700,000 goes towards determining how taxes, trade, and politics affect tobacco sales in Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, and other Southeast Asia countries. I’m sure you can pick out one of these studies that will directly help pave the way to important cures for diseases.

But wait, there’s more! $65,472 is being spent to determine the relationship between HIV and sex in St. Petersburg, Russia. You want something a little closer to home? The NIH also provides funding to researchers at Indiana University’s Kinsey Institute to study why men don’t like using condoms. In theory at least, a few interviews should make this an inexpensive study. In reality, the bill is $423,000. It makes me think about applying for a few hundred thousand in funding to determine why I like eating candy.

And while we’re on the sex topic, the NIH is also working to figure out why gay men in Buenos Aires engage in risky sexual behavior while drunk — and for the modest price tag of $400,000. Let’s pause here. Why does anyone engage in risky sexual behavior while drunk? After all, it’s not like alcohol clouds judgment. Maybe the NIH should do a study on that as well.

But this entire topic shouldn’t be treated as a joke, because it’s not. This is our money, and the people spending it need a wake-up call. Maybe you think that some of the studies I lampooned above have potentially useful results. Maybe you think that other departments in the government waste far more money than the NIH does. This is true; I only use the NIH as an example, and any other government department would serve as an acceptable stand-in. The Pentagon, for instance, threw away $33 billion in excess purchased goods between 2002 and 2004. The Department of Defense’s Inspector General discovered in 2002 that D.o.D. could not explain $1.1 trillion in financial transactions.

Get real. Obama promised to go through the entire budget with a scalpel, cutting out unnecessary programs and spending. He needs to tell his department heads to do so. Every department in the government needs to take a look at how much they’re spending and what they’re spending it on. Obama also promised during his campaign to curb earmarks. What did he go on to do in the White House? He signed a bailout bill filled with earmarks funding things like tax cuts for companies that made wooden arrows for children.

While he has been making some cuts, the spending that Congress is doing far outweighs those amounts. Obama’s most effective strategy would be to delegate the task of reviewing all the budgets to respective department heads (who will most likely delegate it to several other people). If every one of the government’s numerous departments finds ways to cut wasteful spending, we will all reap the rewards. It is simply unacceptable when the D.o.D. loses enough money to give every American in the country $3,946.59.

When the government agencies are finished with prostitutes in Southeast Asia, I’ve got a great idea for a study: how about asking the American people where they want their money spent? Just send out a checklist with different categories. Imagine the ripples that would have in Washington. “The American people want us to oversee how the banks are spending the bailout money? And they don’t care about culture-enriching canoes? Are you telling me they actually want us to fund things that matter and will produce tangible benefits? They also want us to look at something called ‘unemployment’, whatever that word means.” But, sadly, there is a long waiting list of important studies to be conducted. After all, we still have to fund the NIH’s $592,000 research studying if a mother having poor hygiene predicts neglectful or abusive behavior.

If you’re not sure whether you should be puking, laughing, crying, or screaming, don’t worry. Neither am I. Maybe we can fund a study to figure out which one we should do…