The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life
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Monday, August 27, 2012
Economics/Business ... Outer Space ... Politics ...

With the Republican convention underway, I gave some thought to an economist’s kind of question — i.e., how much money is spent each year on politics; how much of our national economic wealth goes into “electioneering”. I did a quick search and got a couple of ballpark answers. One article cites a study of national political costs in the 2008 and 2012 election years; for all elections, from the local school board all the way up to the White House, the predicted total cost of campaigning for votes in 2012 is $9.84 billion, versus $6.98 billion in 2008.

Hmm, a 41% jump, well in excess of the net inflation rate and net GDP growth rate for that period. Another study concluded that the nationwide cost of election politics in the Congressional mid-term election years was $4 billion in 2010 versus $2.85 billion in 2006. Which was also a 40% jump over 4 years. Wow, politics is definitely a growth industry, even in the midst of a “great recession”!

And this doesn’t count the cost of another form of political influence, the more indirect technique of political lobbying. I’m sure that if you piled on all the money spent by corporations, unions and other big interest groups (e.g. trial lawyers) for “access” to our leaders on the state and national level, you could pile another billion or two on to these totals.

Oh wait, here’s a web site for that! In 2006, the nationwide total spent on lobbying was $2.62 billion. Then it reaches $3.3 billion in 2008, hits $3.55 billion in 2010, and looks good for at least another $3.3 billion in 2012. (It could be that corporations have shifted funds away from lobbying and into election PAC’s following the Citizens United Supreme Court decision in 2010).

OK, so at least in presidential election years, our nation spends around $13 billion dollars to select, elect and “communicate with” our political leaders. That’s about $42 per man-woman-child here in the US, or about $93 per taxpayer or voter (voters tend to be taxpayers and taxpayers tend to be voters).

By comparison, the budget of NASA is now about $17.8 billion. Unfortunately, NASA’s estimated budget is capped at around $17.7 billion over the next few years. If political and lobbying expenditures continue their approximate 6% annual growth rate, politics will catch up with national spending on space exploration in another 5 years or so.

Recently, NASA gave us techies and explorers-at-heart a little thrill by successfully landing the “Opportunity” science lab on Mars (in spite of my initial pessimism on it!). Meanwhile, the political world is giving us more and more advertising and “messaging”, and such wondrous spectacles as the big conventions and debates (which have both reached such a low level of integrity and substance as to remind me of the gladiator games in the ancient Roman colosseums). So, enjoy the fewer and fewer headlines and awesome pictures and stories from our dwindling space explorers, and brace yourself for more and more non-stop campaign nonsense on your TV, web sites, radio, newspapers, and where ever you turn. Might as well make the best of your $42 (or looking at it from another perspective, your $93 if you are currently part of our economy’s productive soldier-ants).

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:10 pm      

  1. Jim, I totally agree, but I would say it a slightly different way: It is a crying shame that so much money goes into getting a politician elected (or not elected for those who lose) when there are people starving in Africa. Sure, I know it; I sound like one of those “old nuns”; but the fact of the matter is that just today I got a “gimme” from some organization talking about the starving people in the Sudan, and would I send money. Thus, I can’t help but think…all that money on elections (half for those who win; half for those who lose) and yet that money could be used so much better elsewhere. If not for the starving in Africa, then how about the homeless in the U.S.?

    And in the end for the 4, sometimes 5, political phone calls I get every day and simply hang up on them without even answering, for all the political ads on TV that have me picking up a book to read until they are over, I tend to think that the money is wasted. I’ve made up my mind (as likely most people have) about who I will vote for; so all such prompts to influence me one way or the other are useless. And yet the money keeps geting spent.

    It just makes one say, What’s wrong with that picture? MCS

    Comment by Mary S. — August 28, 2012 @ 1:49 pm

  2. On the surface a strong case can be made that having an informed electorate is more important than any work that NASA does. So I think it is not a question of the amount of dollars spent, it is what those dollars bought. Many (perhaps most) advertisements are outright misleading where candidates attempt to make what is really shades of gray into either black or white. And other commercials are even worse than that; they are outright lies – such as the Romney ads on welfare. If so many ads weren’t designed to make us LESS informed voters, I wouldn’t be nearly as concerned.

    Comment by Zreebs — August 29, 2012 @ 7:36 am

  3. Steve, does it make sense that the cost of informing the electorate is increasing 3 to 4% per year in real terms, in the face of a communications revolution where technology is making the cost of information cheaper and cheaper? Obviously a lot more is going on than helping people make good decisions on how to use their vote.

    Thanks for stopping by, always good to hear from an economics guru!

    Comment by Jim G — August 30, 2012 @ 6:19 pm

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