Waste Not, Want Not


2014-11-09 – Right-wingers love to complain about waste in government. Now I’m not going to disagree about this. I am not going to defend waste. Of course, it all depends on how you define waste. Money spent to build infrastructure, assure clean water and safe food, or bring basic services such as health care and education to all the people is not waste to me. Still, there are efficiencies that we don’t take advantage of. That is waste. I’m against it.

Left-wingers love to complain about big oil and deniers of human responsibility for adverse global climate change. There’s plenty to debate in this area. But one thing that should not be debatable: we as a society are extremely wasteful of fossil fuels. Whether you believe the science on global climate or reject it, you still ought to be able to see how wasteful we are.

Yet right-wingers inexplicably defend this waste. And left-wingers inexplicably defend waste in government.

Shouldn’t we be able to agree on at least this: waste is bad?

Apparently not. Part of it has to do with spite. If the right is opposed to government spending, the left will defend it, defensible or not. If the left supports alternative sources of energy, the right will oppose it, regardless of whether their opposition makes and sense. Spite is more powerful than reason.

As always, there’s more to it than that. And the way to find the “more” is to consider who benefits from the waste. In the case of wasteful energy policies, big oil benefits. In the case of wasteful government spending, it’s a coalition of bureaucrats and government contractors.

I have no stake in either. I frankly don’t understand why big oil can’t find profitable opportunities in alternative energy. They could take the lead and drive a clean energy future—and make big bucks in the process. They don’t. I similarly don’t see why advocates of needed government programs aren’t interested in making sure that our tax dollars do the work that is intended. Tax dollars that are wasted today could be used to make a brighter future for us all.

That said, I don’t want to end with the usual “plague on both your houses” argument. While I believe that both sides need to stop defending wastefulness, I don’t think that the magnitude of the waste is equivalent. While government waste is obscenely in the billions, energy waste is in the trillions. The principle is the same: Waste not, want not. But the consequences are very different.


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