Tuesday, March 22, 2011

GIve me your tired, ____, your huddled masses

First things first. I read the entirety of Emma Lazarus's sonnet, "The New Colossus," tattooed on the Statue of Liberty, whose famed line ("Give me your tired . . .") was all that most of us, myself include, had ever read. Here's the whole thing.
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden shore!"
For my part, I don't deny having found myself a little teary-eyed, reading it aloud.

Anyway, I want to mention a quick thought about income inequality, which, as the NYT notes, is growing to near-Great Depression levels, in spite of a striking dearth public concern for that inequality. My question, though, is just what would we have to give up to do something substantive about it? Sure, there are many things that count as 'substantive,' but if we wanted to look at the current budget, what's an avenue that would pretty efficaciously start to close that gap?

In 2009, the United States spent $717 billion on the national defense, while the People's Republic of China, our nearest runner-up, spent $70.3 billion. Suppose the US cut $300 billion from the defense budget, allowing it to grow subsequently in whatever ways Congress would have it, and suppose the US reapportioned that $300 billion annually to endow households with (say) $100,000 interest-earning savings funds. First, we would nonetheless fivefold outspend our 'rivals' on defense. Second, since there are just over 100 million households in the US, endowing every single one of them with such a savings account would take just over a generation, 30-35 years.

Think it sounds crazy? Try third: in Norway, its national Government Pension Fund has saved nearly all of the oil wealth extracted from Norway's North Sea oil wells to produce savings of $89,000 not per household, but per man, woman, and child. And given Norway's low birthrate, and the projected 60% gains in that fund over the next three years, the individual savings amount will increase to $142,000. All of this? It took Norway just forty-five years. The college graduates at the start of the savings are now, today, benefiting.

Talk like that tends to put the talk of the 'profit motive' into perspective, doesn't it?

1 comment:

  1. Or. The $300 billion could also be used to provide 15 million college students with $20,000 scholarships. Annually. And, by the way, there are just over 10 million undergraduates in the US today.