Non-Argument (Part I)

**This post has been edited to attribute to the proper writer, Stephen Hall.  (Though I’m sure you all realized I didn’t write this.)

    The other day I caught a segment on Cavuto discussing Paul Ryan’s proposal that the United States discontinue foreign aid payments to the Palestinians due to their support of terrorist, which morphed into a more general discussion of such support for quasi-hostile states like Pakistan, and even friendly or allied states.

Charles Payne took the position that such foreign aid ought to be curtailed as it was not in the best interest of the United States and that such money could be better spend domestically on such things as infrastructure, or simply not spent at all as we are running a deficit and thus borrowing the money which we are subsequently giving away.

However, it is not about the merits of that position which I wish to write; rather what concerned me in watching the segment was two logical fallacies which were presented as counter-arguments to Mr. Payne’s, and concurrently Mr. Cavuto’s, position.

First, I would address the specious reason presented to support the contrary position by Ben Stein, that such foreign aid is a relatively small portion of the budget, in his words, “a mere drop in the bucket” quoting the oft employed adage.

Essentially that the total foreign aid budget consisted of only about 35 billion dollars, so even if you cut out all of the foreign aid dollars, it would not make a dent in the federal deficit.

That statement irked me.

Let us look at the veracity of that statement mathematically, at 35 billion dollars out of a 3.5 trillion dollar budget, foreign aid is approximately 10/1000 or 1/100 of the federal budget.  One percent does not appear at first blush to be large, but it certainly appears to be more than a mere drop in the bucket.

A typical bucket is approximately 2 ½ gallons, or 10 quarts, 20 pints, 40 cups, or 320 ounces.  Which would make the foreign aid budget a proportionate quantity of liquid out of that bucket of 3.2 ounces, or more than two jiggers, which is considerably more than a mere drop.

(Yes, I know the term jigger is not always a precise 1.5 ounces, but I detest the stingy one ounce shots, and it seemed a more appropriate comparison as who orders a mere drop of scotch?)

So, what would be a “mere drop in the bucket?

Let us estimate the average size of such a droplet to be the approximate quantity of one milliliter as a reasonable estimate from our titration tubes.

(Yes, I am fully aware that the size of such droplets will vary in accordance with the relative size of the aperture of our titration tubes and is not necessarily such a consistent quantity, but give me a break it has been thirty years since I last had to titrate anything.)

Further, assuming an approximate equivalent of 10 liters for the bucket (not withstanding that a liter is more than a quart, I’m trying to simplify things here), and we may thus calculate, or rather loosely estimate, the relative quantity of “a mere drop in the bucket” as 1/10,000, or a meager 1/100 of the previously alluded quantity, or about $350 million in comparison to that federal budget.

Which, as it turns out, is about the same money given every year to the Palestinians, so Ben would be rather precise in assigning their particular foreign aid as a “drop in the bucket”.

All of which is a rather meaningless diversion to any real debate regarding budgeting matters.

At one level or another, all spending is but a drop in the bucket, that is the way in which buckets are filled.  How else does one fill a bucket but with many such droplets?  If you break down the federal budget, or any budget, into component parts, and break down those parts further into its components, as some level all expenditures are mere drops in the bucket.

If we apply this assertion as a reason why any particular expenditure is too small to be worth out time considering or debating, then pretty much each and every expenditure becomes too small to be worth noticing, and we would never bother to waste our time trying to live within our means.

A morning Starbucks cappuccino or a pack of cigarettes are but a measly $6, (more in high expense liberal areas) which is a mere drop in the bucket.  But a pack a day habit adds up to a couple grand a year, college tuition for your child over your lifetime.  Your child’s education is obviously too worthless to think about in terms of your budget.

To dismiss debate over spending on anything is to dismiss the very concept of budgeting in the first place, which is the process of eliminating wasteful or even marginally productive spending to place higher priority on those things which are more important.

To dismiss any expense as “merely a drop in the bucket” could easily be a better argument for eliminating the wasteful spending rather than keeping it.  After all, such a trivial amount will surely not be missed if it is not spent.

And this is the real reason that it is not a real argument so say that foreign aid is merely a drop in the bucket in terms of the budget, because that assertion is neither an argument for or against the spending itself, it is merely a dismissal of the entire discussion on the assertion that is it too trivial to concern yourself considering.

It is a dismissal, not an argument.  As such, to blithely dismiss another’s argument is to disrespect the entire conversation, it is no different than simply saying “I don’t want to talk about this right now” or “I don’t have time for this” or any other blanket dismissal of an issue.

In essence, to say that we should not be discussing cutting funding for foreign aid, or for public broadcasting, or the national helium reserve, by saying it is just a drop in the bucket as far as the federal budget is concerned, is to say that you really don’t care that we are hemorrhaging money, waste deep in red ink of deficit, because it is just not important.

While once can say that it is a waste of time to deal with trifles when the budget is in surplus and there is plenty of money to be had, it is a different consideration when in a time of scarcity, and that money you are spending is borrowed from another at interest.

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