Let's Talk About Choices - And Pie
A version of this article first appeared in FCNL's March 2008 Washington Newsletter.
Imagine a game in which you are in charge of a nation of 300 million people. Your country has rich, arable lands and a mild climate. It has successful agriculture, manufacturing, science, and information industries and maintains an active global trade. The country has a relatively progressive (though complicated) tax system through which citizens pool about $3 trillion dollars each year for common goals.You have to decide how to use this $3 trillion. here are some of the things you will have to consider:
- how will you foster good relations with other countries so that your nation is not likely to be attacked?
- What will you do to help people in poorer countries, both because you are concerned about fellow human beings and because you don't want poorer countries to erupt into violence?
- how will you maintain a sound infrastructure and make sure that bridges, roads, dams, levees, public transportation, energy systems, and other utilities are adequate and well-maintained?
- What will you do to address climate change and to put your nation on a path to reduce its dependence on oil and other carbon-emitting energy sources?
- how will you make sure that the people in your country are educated to continue the success of the nation's industries and to contribute to global knowledge and understanding?
- What will you do to maintain the health of the people in your country?
- Will you pay special attention to the children in your country, as the rising generation of leaders, so that they have what they need to grow up
strong and wise?
- What kind of military force will you maintain?
- Will you return some of the $ trillion to your wealthiest taxpayers?
Even with $3 trillion, you have to make choices.
Outside of a game, most of us don't have the ability to decide how a country spends $3 trillion. But we can influence how Congress spends this money in our behalf.
If the budget choices that Congress is making seem out of balance to you, as they do to us at FCNL, help spread the word in your meeting, church, or community group about why the budget matters and what we all can do to change it. here are some suggestions.
How to Make the Budget Choices Real
You can bring home to your community the local effects of the choices Congress makes on your behalf. Using information from the National Priorities Project, you can find out how much of your community's resources go to pay for war in Iraq and how else that money could be invested in your community. Health care, decent homes, college scholarships, renewable energy, public safety, and many more practical needs become possibilities by re-orienting federal spending.
How to Serve a Budget Pie (or Cookies!)
Visual aids are helpful to show the extreme imbalance in the federal budget between military spending and support for human needs and environmental protection. They can get the message across when numbers and percentages makes your audience's eyes glaze over. Here are two suggestions for edible visual aids, courtesy of our colleagues at Women's Action for New Direction and True Majority.
- Bake or purchase a pie. A solid pie, such as pumpkin or meringue, works best.
- Create a pie template -- a circle with the pieces divided roughly in proportion to the way the federal budget is divided or our tax dollars are spent. You can use our tax day flyer to get the numbers. See this example using the president's proposed budget from 2009. Cut out the template and use it to show you where to mark on your pie where your slices will be.
- At your discussion of the budget, cut all of the non-military slices and slivers (health care, responses to poverty, etc.) and offer them to people who have a particular interest in those areas. Almost half the pie will remain. Point out that a small part of the remaining piece is proposed for veteran's care but that other large chunks go to obsolete weapons, support for Cold War strategies, and just plain excess.
- Ask who wants more for their priorities and how they could get more in real life by lobbying their members of Congress to shift money from the military to other priorities.
- Send a report of your pie-cutting session to the local paper and to your congressional delegation. Send the report, along with a picture of the group and your pie, to FCNL.
- Bake or purchase 100 cookies. A smooth-topped cookie will work better than a lumpy cookie.
- Using the same numbers as above, make stacks or piles of cookies representing the percent of the budget proposed for each category. Break cookies in half to represent partial percents.
- Encourage your group to rearrange the cookies to match their priorities (before eating them!) Talk about how they could rearrange the cookies in real life by lobbying their members of Congress to shift money from the military to other priorities.
- Send a report of your cookie-stacking to the local paper and to your congressional delegation. Send the report, along with a picture of the group and your cookies, to FCNL.
Whether you talk about games or choices, pies or cookies, you can help people in your community find out about how the U.S. government currently spends our tax dollars and how they can influence that spending in the next year.