Everything happens for a reason.
This slogan is preached from pulpits, treated as a basic rule in scientific labs and used to incriminate suspects in the courtroom. The idea of cause and effect is a fundamental part of our reason.
Yet when we look at some of the biggest social problems in our country, we imagine that this is just the way things are, and rarely question why things are that way.
Take April 28, 2013, when the Joint Chiefs-of-Staff of the U.S. military told Congress "No more tanks, thanks." On cue, Congress passed a law spending $436 million on brand-spanking-new Abrams tanks for the price of $7.5 million a pop, directly against the wishes of the military. It seems a bit crazy, right? So let's think about the reason.
General Dynamics is a company in Fairfax, Va. In 2011, it earned a spot as the fourth biggest defense contractor in the world. It's been having a tough time, though — its revenues shrank by 1 percent last year. How much money is 1 percent of GD's revenue, you ask? A healthy $310 million.
According to nonpartisan watchdog group Center for Responsive Politics, GD spent almost $11 million on lobbying in the U.S. last year. To congressmen, that's a lot of money and a lot of votes and a lot of tanks, which, of course, they happen to make.
In fact, that's about three congressmens' total campaign budget, and 1 percent of the GOP's campaign budget. To GD, on the other hand, that money amounts to 0.035 percent of their revenue.
For GD, that $11 million each year in lobbying gets them $21 billion annually in defense contracts (source: 2012 GD yearly report). That's a 19,000 percent return on their investment. It would take 550,000 Americans each giving $20 to get that amount of political clout on Capital Hill.
Maybe this explains why we'll cut Meals on Wheels before we stop buying nukes — Meals on Wheels doesn't have a big enough lobbying budget.
This type of thinking explains many trends in U.S. social issues, such as the massive increase in the incarceration rate in this country.
Even though crime rates have remained static, America's penal system jails its citizens seven times more frequently than in the 1960s.
Who wins from this trend, and why is it still happening?
Enter the Corrections Corporation of America, a for-profit prison company run by our favorite Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander, a former chancellor at UT in the 1990s. CCA had revenue of more than $1.7 billion last year, $170 million of which was profit.
Their nationwide lobbying budget? $3.2 million per year.
Allowing corporate, special interest money in Washington is, without a doubt, the single most toxic facet of our representative democracy. Working and middle-class Americans can't afford to fork over millions; they don't have that much to gain.
Big business with big government contracts, on the other hand, have a lot to gain. Capitol Hill is simply another way to improve their business.
So next time a report from Nashville or Washington seems odd, think about who wins.
Chances are, it's not personal. Just business.
Evan Ford is a junior in philosophy. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.