Do you know how you are going to die? Most people don’t and nobody can say for sure. It is safe to assume that the 13 people who recently died after eating Listeria tainted cantaloupe didn’t think they would die from food poisoning.
But while it is to our benefit not to contemplate (at least excessively) our own specific mortality we should consider mortality in general; because we as tax payers spend a fortune on preventing death and we should decide if we are spending that money wisely.
Do you know the leading cause of death in the US? – If you said heart disease (598,607 deaths in 2009) well done. Following are cancer (568,688), respiratory diseases (137,068), stroke (128,603), accidents (117,176), Alzheimer’s (78,889), diabetes (68,504) flu (53,582), kidney failure (48,714), suicide (36,457), septicemia (35,587), liver disease (30,444), hypertension (25,651) Parkinson’s (20,552) and homicide (16,591).
Food poisoning (3,000) is not in the top 15 and neither is terrorism (hardly any deaths annually and in the worst year 3,000).
But when it comes to spending money the Government has no logical plan. Expenditures do not reflect these mortality statistics.
We spend just over $1 billion on food safety. That seems justifiable, not just because of the 3,000 deaths but also because of the 128,000 hospitalized by food poisoning.
The National Institutes of Health, the agency that coordinates bio-medical research, has a budget of $32 billion. Again that seems justifiable when you consider the huge number of deaths from disease.
Contrast that with The Dept. of Homeland Security with their $55 billion budget and all the other money spent by state and local officials, the FBI, the CIA combating terrorism.
And even those expenditures pale in comparison to the money spent on the wars being fought in response to 9/11 – over $1.2 trillion and counting.
Some might argue that price of terrorism is not just human lives but that there is a significant potential cost to the economy. But that ignores the real cost to the economy of hospital visits and lost productivity that society already pays for food poisoning.
When the total cost of all illness and disease is considered; the potential cost of terrorism seems small.
Some might further argue that the proper role of government is to defend the nation and that all the other stuff is someone else’s business. But that view is not supported by the Constitution which clearly states: “The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare (emphasis mine) of the United States”.
The idea that the Government should spend wads of cash on defense is relatively new; as recently as the eve of WWII America had a relatively puny military. But we have managed to convince ourselves that our military budget should equal the rest of the world’s military budgets combined.
Terrorism is like a shark attack. It is rare but it so dire in our imagination that we lose our perspective. Psychologically we can seem to justify any expenditure fighting a foreign threat but money budgeted to combat domestic threats generates all kinds of debate.
Suggest that we spend too much on our military and counter-terrorism and you will be tarred as unpatriotic. Suggest that we spend more on improving the health of our citizens and you will be labeled a socialist.
But to spend money without considering the costs and benefits is just plain stupid – not to mention un-American.