I call attention to the various chalk protests we see on our campus walkways. Some decry an unjust imbalance between defense spending and spending on education. These chalk slogans are classic examples of the logical fallacy, the “straw man.” In a classic straw man fallacy, attention is drawn away from the real issue by a dramatic rhetorical distraction. In this case, the authors of these claims are misleading their readers by diverting attention from real spending numbers.
The budget figures in the chalk displays are claimed to be about 85 on defense and 5 percent on education. Sometimes (on the more honest displays) it indicates that these are percentages of federal “discretionary spending.” Mandatory federal payments include pensions, Medicare, welfare and state and local transfers. These make up more than half of federal government spending. Discretionary spending, including defense, highways and education, make up the rest.
In the United States, almost all education spending is done at the state and local level. If one counts state and local spending on educational programs, as one must, then we find education spending is in fact higher than defense spending. For example, during the height of the war in Iraq in 2006, the total spending on education in the United States was $788 billion, while $622 billion was spent on defense. In terms of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), that is about 6 percent GDP on education and 5 percent on defense.
Is the University of California suffering from a funding crisis? Yes. Does this justify misleading our community with inaccurate signs? No.