The Budget

Certain claims regarding contributions of health programs to the United States federal budget in a debate last night made me curious, and so I checked the figures on this from the Office of Management and Budget. Of special importance to me is the National Science Foundation (NSF), having a budget in 2015 of $6.8 billion, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), having a budget in 2015 of US$5.4 billion. Contrast these with what claims the most in the budget. I’ve never thought that discrepancy wise. And, no, while I respect the work done by people in the Department of Energy and Department of Defense on basic science, much of that is not cutting edge, since it is hid from public peer review and, so, is inaccessible to scientific method, and is not available to the scientific community at large. There is also science related to forestry and biology buried in the Department of the Interior budget, which is $12.9 billion overall.


It is also interesting to track the federal deficit, much touted in certain circles, against outlays for all defense-related programs:


I do not know how much of the budget of various intelligence agencies is included in defense, since, at least at one time or another, these expenditures were considered too secret for the public to see. As a consequence, there is probably some additional expenditure on what can only reasonably be considered defense expenditures not shown in the above coming from these sources. These amounts, according to the Wikipedia reference, could be up to an additional $50 billion. Partial numbers are available.

It is interesting, as well, to track the federal deficit, much touted in certain circles, against outlays for Health and Human Services:


Both series of expenditures strongly correlate with the size of the deficit. However, there’s a strong argument that deficits as accounted in their present form do not matter. Professor Daniel Shaviro, at that link, argues Laurence Kotlikoff‘s idea of generational accounting. In the end, however, Shaviro concludes:

I find this norm unpersuasive. The real issue is the overall distribution of lifetime consumption between succeeding generations. This, in turn, depends less on fiscal policy than on present generations’ overall rate of saving and productivity of investment, along with decisions within the household concerning such matters as child care, educational investment, and the rate of divorce. There is no apparent reason why government fiscal policy, which is merely one component of everything we do that affects our descendants, should be generationally “balanced.” Even the narrower claim that reducing tax lag, by increasing national saving, would shift lifetime consumption in the right direction, may not be correct. For example, if technological advances cause people fifty years from now to be wealthier than we are—just as we are wealthier than people fifty years ago, and they are wealthier than people fifty years earlier still—then changing fiscal policy to benefit future generations would amount to playing Robin Hood in reverse. While per capita societal wealth is not certain to continue increasing, our inability to predict the future makes it hard to know what generational policy would be best.

I’d say, too, that beyond expenditures, the generations alive today and those two preceding them have unfairly burdened future generations with an environmental load and commitment they are going to have to work off. Indeed, much of the expenditure and economic success we have seen in the OECD nations to date is fundamentally tied to wasting future environmental services, services which our children and theirs will not have.

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This entry was posted in American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Meteorological Association, American Statistical Association, AMETSOC, Buckminster Fuller, citizen data, citizenship, climate, climate change, climate economics, climate justice, conservation, consumption, Daniel Kahneman, David Suzuki, destructive economic development, ecological services, ecology, economics, environment, environmental law, Equiterre, George Monbiot, Hyper Anthropocene, Minsky moment, mitigation, population biology, quantitative ecology, Sankey diagram, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Spaceship Earth, sustainability, the right to be and act stupid, the tragedy of our present civilization, the value of financial assets, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Bookmark the permalink.

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