Since the last federal U.S. election, much of the debate in Washington has focused on the federal budget. This makes sense, due to the economic recession, unemployment concerns, and the recent influx of fiscally conscious Tea Party politicians.
In fact, when I visited my senators and representative in the Capitol back in February, it was difficult to engage them in anything other than budget trimming discussions. (I tried to compensate, but my attempt to cast the wall along the Mexican border as an unnecessary expense didn't go so well with my congressional representation.) So the budget is a big deal.
Unfortunately, the numbers involved--$480 million here, $78 billion there, $1.6 trillion off in the corner--all have a tendency to blur together into an incomprehensible soup.
Then I came across a blog post by MIT engineering instructor Philip Greenspun that scaled the debate down to a more manageable level. (<http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/philg/2011/04/10/understanding-congresss-solution-to-the-federal-deficit-problem/>)
Essentially, his math goes like this: The fiscal year 2011 federal budget is roughly $3.82 trillion (for perspective, that's $3,820,000,000,000.00). $2.17 trillion will be paid by taxes collected and the remaining $1.65 trillion will not. Last month, a deal cutting $38.5 billion from 2010 funding levels was reached to avoid a government shutdown. Those are the big numbers.
Based on the 2010 Census, there are 308,745,538 residents in the United States. To keep the math simple, Greenspun divided by 100,000,000 to put the figures in terms of one household's spending. To quote him:
We have a family that is spending $38,200 per year. The family's income is $21,700 per year. The family adds $16,500 in credit card debt every year in order to pay its bills. After a long and difficult debate among family members, keeping in mind that it was not going to be possible to borrow $16,500 every year forever, the parents and children agreed that a $380/year premium cable subscription could be terminated. So now the family will have to borrow only $16,120 per year.
I like the model. Sure, it's a messy analogy, and governments probably couldn't function if they were expected to operate like a responsible household; but symbolism counts for something in the world.
This comparison highlights how meager the compromise budget cuts were. It also does well to show how much more we are spending than we are making, so it should be no surprise that many American families have stretched their own credit to considerable lengths. However, I think the family budget model can be extrapolated beyond Greenspun's beef with deficit spending.
The 2011 federal fiscal year budget includes roughly $719 billion in military spending. It should be noted that the defense budget does not include spending for Homeland Security, Veteran's Affairs, Treasury payments to military pensions, past wars' debt, State Department financing of foreign arms sales and military assistance, or Department of Energy nuclear weapons research/production/cleanup. More importantly, the defense budget definitely does not include many of the costs for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which have been funded not through regular appropriations bills, but rather through emergency supplemental appropriations bills that do not get directly calculated into military spending.
Therefore, $7,190 is an extremely low, conservative, and incomplete annual amount spent on guns and ammunition, body armor, home security system, fencing around the yard, the occasional invasion and occupation of someone down the street (because one must think of the neighborhood), and local militia dues. From the sounds of it, there are a lot of enemies out there with their sights on this hypothetical family.
ADT's most expensive home security system costs $549 to install, plus $564 annually in monitoring. That's $1,113. Over at Cabela's I can get a Beretta (because that's my style) semiautomatic pistol for $699 and--because my security is at stake and sometimes my aim isn't so great--a Browning semiautomatic shotgun for $949. Not including magazines and shells or those nebulous R&D/procurement costs, my personal security bill is now $2,761.
Even if I spent $6,000 one year on a nice 300-linear-foot privacy fence, I have a difficult time rationalizing these defense outlays on that kind of household budget; and that's before considering all of that was charged to my Chinese credit card.
This brings us to the inevitable question: What Would Jesus Do? Based on his behavior throughout the Gospels, we are given insights to how Jesus approached his own security and budgeting practices.
The carpentry thing probably didn't work out; at the very least there wasn't enough interpersonal interaction, so to make a living he hit the speaking circuit. He and his personal assistants traveled the land offering life-changing seminars, which were mostly successful, but I'm a bit suspect of his budgeting and math skills. The loaves and fishes episode is enough to show his long-division skills were way off, but I suppose it's better to err on the side of surplus than deficit.
In short, Christ did not put his security in shotgun shells or motion sensors or a second mortgage. He put his security in those around him, often "the least of these," realizing no kingdom on the ground could compare to the one he was bringing forth.
Yes, it ultimately cost Him greatly. But the price He paid has been paying healthy dividends ever since.