positive investment: you put money into something in expectation of getting back money or some valuable enhancement of your situation at some point a stated number of years in the future. [eg your tuition]
Negative investment: you get money from some place with the certainty that you will have to cough up that cash plus fees and interest at some point a stated number of years in the future. [eg your college loan]
A government that borrows money to undertake some public program when it lacks cash in hand to pursue that project is engaging in both investments.
We have some awareness that the payoffs of the positive investments are not as certain as the fact that the money in the negative investments will come due. We choose to ignore this painful fact of life at our peril, a deferred peril but crushingly real and inevitable in its diffuse impact upon both our individual and collective financial well being.
Then we ought all to be highly concerned, and particularly our political leaders who instigate these investments should be almost obsessed with the balance of risk and reward that can be assigned to these projects. Instead, industries seeking exclusive benefits and ideologues arrogating pooled monies as the right and due resources of their peculiar views and causes line up at the doors of congress.
What we have lately got instead of monies spent with a reasonable hope of benefiting us is a fraud. To be sure it is a fraud milder, more genteel and more heavily coated with high sounding justifications and appeals to our insecurities than the bald corruption of African and Arab states and all the disgraced regimes of history. But think how the unprecedented scale of the United States Federal budget amplifies these well vetted boondoggles into harms at home an abroad that make all other nation's corruptions pale by comparison.
The negative investments, in the form of our national debt and our decreasing power to borrow publicly or privately now suck the oxygen out of our nation's financial atmosphere and weaken not just today but for decades any hope of undertaking further projects.
Some positive investments have paid back: NASA generated technology and weather satellite images and climate data that save lives and money every day. Internal commerce of the US has exploded in the decades since goods could move cheaply by truck on the interstate system. [Though now, the fuel economy of rail ought to have us rethinking what transport we subsidize]. Social Security and Medicaid with all their leaks and imperfections have made the life of our elderly more uniformly comfortable across the aging population than some haphazard patchwork of state, employer and personal retirement schemes foolish to frugal would have managed.
The fraud by government is however the greater part of many recent "positive" investments. The pretenses for going to war in Iraq included security to be gained from eliminating WMD and Al-Qaeda which were out and out lies. The net effect is in fact negative: we have strengthened the hand [and the oil export income] of our old nemesis Iran and put their veiled intentions to acquire WMD closer to fruition. We have provided fresh affronts to Arab pride that multiply terrorists and make Al-Qaeda's recruiting a breeze. Even if you presume, as I do, that an unstated investment goal of our abortive Iraq strategy was to gain a foothold in the oil rich middle east just as peak oil effects would be emerging from the fog of oil company lies and into the view of the common man...that has backfired. Iraq signs oil deals with the Chinese as it does with us, terrorists blow up Iraqi oil pipelines and we are soon to be paying $4/gallon at US pumps. NOTHING good has come from this poor bet made by the Cheney gang using our money. But as Stiglitz points out, the bill for the borrowed trillions has hardly been fathomed even though it is already having its slowly starving effect on our economy. The negative investment is severely negative.
The main thing your government does, in the end, is spend your money.
any customer in the shops at your local mall who took so little heed of what they got for their money would be instantly recognized as crazy or an idiot. Which are you America?